Academy mascot vying for national title

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Rick Burnham
  • Air Force Print News
He doesn't have the pageantry of the Indian on the horse with the flaming spear, the "homeyness" of that dog from Tennessee, or the in-your-face attitude of that "other" bird in South Florida.

He lacks the tradition of the guy in the leprechaun suit, the ability to pull a wagon like that Oklahoma pony, and the raw power of that big ole Colorado ox.

But, there is one thing the Air Force Academy's mascot has that the rest do not. The "Bird," as he is commonly referred to in Colorado Springs, possesses a firm grip on second place in the Mascot of the Year contest, sponsored by Capital One Bank. And he is very quickly gaining ground on the pussycat from Penn State.

As of Oct. 24, the Bird had captured 35 percent of the vote during the contest, a close second behind Penn State University's "The Nittany Lion," who has 36 percent. A distant third was "Sebastian the Ibis" from the University of Miami with 21 percent.

Pam Girado, Capital One spokeswoman, said the contest is a good way to recognize the team mascots, who she called the "unsung heroes" of college sporting events.

"Each year the best college football players are named to the All-America teams, and for the first time ever, college mascots will have their own team," she said. "Mascots have a passion and energy that keeps thousands of college football fans screaming and yelling and coming back each week for great football."

In addition to the USAFA, PSU and UM, the 12 finalists for this year's crown include the mascots from the University of Florida, the University of Tennessee, the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Alabama, Western Kentucky University, Georgia Tech University, the University of Montana, Syracuse University and the University at Buffalo.

First Lt. Chris Backus, cheerleading coach, said the Bird plays a key role in establishing the right atmosphere at academy games.

"Sometimes it can get really intense during the game," he said. "The Bird adds a little levity to the situation. He's big crowd favorite, especially with the kids."

Tryouts are held each year to determine which academy student will don the uniform and perform before thousands on Saturdays, he added.

"We hold tryouts at the beginning of the year for new mascots, and we judge them on creativity," he said. "They do a skit, and have to have a specific walk and mannerisms. You don't want someone who doesn't look like the bird."

If the team's performance is any indication, this year's selectee is obviously doing something right. The Falcons were 6-1 going into the Oct. 26 game at Wyoming, and need only a win Nov. 9 at Army to wrap up the Commander in Chief's Trophy, recognizing the top team among the military academies.

Fans across the country can vote for their favorite mascot through real-time, online polling at (The Air Force Academy Public Affairs Office contributed to this story)