If the BCS rankings factored a school's nickname into its formula—and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy's final pass of Saturday's Big 12 Championship Game had fluttered in the air for one second longer—Alabama would probably be playing the TCU Horned Frogs in the national championship game. As it is, the Crimson Tide will square off against the Longhorns, which isn't so bad. Here are the stories behind the nicknames of the 10 schools in this year's BCS bowls.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Hugh Roberts, sports editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald, is widely credited as being the first to use "Crimson Tide" to refer to Alabama's football team. Roberts used the term to describe crimson-and-white-clad Alabama's surprising performance during a rain-soaked 6-6 tie with heavily favored Auburn in 1907. Henry "Zipp" Newman, who became the sports editor of the Birmingham News at the age of 25, helped popularize the nickname. Sportswriters are also to thank for the elephant that serves as Alabama's mascot. The elephant reference dates back to the school's 10-0 season in 1930, when sportswriters began referring to Alabama head coach Wallace Wade's hulking linemen as the Red Elephants.
2. Texas Longhorns
In the early 1900s, Texas's athletic teams were known primarily as the Varsity or Steers, and occasionally the Longhorns. In 1913, school benefactor H.J. Lutcher Stark, who had previously served as the football team's manager, donated warm-up blankets with the word "Longhorn" sewn into them. The student body adopted Longhorns as the school's official nickname and introduced a live Longhorn as the official mascot in 1916.
3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech's athletic teams are most commonly referred to as the Yellow Jackets, but they are alternatively known, particularly among students and alumni, as the Ramblin' Wreck. The Yellow Jackets nickname originally had nothing to do with the six-legged flying insect that appears on Georgia Tech's logos in the form of the school's mascot, Buzz. Instead, Yellowjackets, as a single word, was used to describe fans who attended Georgia Tech athletic events wearing yellow coats and jackets.
The Ramblin' Wreck nickname dates to the late 19th century when Georgia Tech engineering students working in the jungles of South America constructed makeshift motorized vehicles out of spare tractor and automotive parts. The students' fellow workers referred to the vehicles as the Ramblin' Wrecks of Georgia Tech, and the nickname was eventually popularized in the school fight song. Several cars were used to represent the Ramblin' Wreck on campus until 1961, when a Delta Air Lines pilot sold a restored 1930 Model A Ford Sport Coupe to the school that has been used to lead the football team on the field before every home game ever since.
4. Iowa Hawkeyes
People living in the territory that would become the state of Iowa adopted Hawkeyes as their nickname in 1838. Hawkeye was the name of the white scout who lived among the Delaware Indians in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, which was published 12 years earlier. The University of Iowa borrowed the state nickname for its athletics teams and later introduced a cartoon mascot, Herky the Hawk, in 1948.
5. TCU Horned Frogs
There are at least two accounts of how TCU's athletic teams became the Horned Frogs, but both of them trace the nickname to the late 19th century, when the school was still known as AddRan College. According to one story, the school's football team practiced on a field that was teeming with horned frogs. The players shared some attributes with the fierce reptiles, not including their ability to shoot a stream of blood through their eyes, and reportedly began referring to themselves as horned frogs. According to another story, a four-student committee chose the nickname in 1897 for the football team and school yearbook.
6. Boise State Broncos
Boise State's nickname dates back to the school's days as Boise Junior College. Originally founded by the Episcopal Church in 1932, the school attained four-year status and became Boise College in 1965. After a short stint as Boise State College, the school attained university status in 1974.
7. Ohio State Buckeyes
Like Iowa, Ohio State borrows the state nickname for its athletic teams. A buckeye is a tree prevalent in the Ohio River Valley that produces shiny brown nuts with tan patches that resemble the eye of a deer, or buck. By 1800, Buckeye was being used as a term to refer to residents of the area. William Henry Harrison popularized the nickname by using the buckeye tree as a campaign symbol during the election of 1840. Ohio State football players who make important plays earn buckeye leaf decals to place on their gray helmets.
8. Oregon Ducks
Oregon's athletic teams were originally known as the Webfoots. Californians used Webfoots as a derisive nickname for their rain-soaked neighbors to the north, while Oregonians embraced the moniker with pride. According to Oregon's athletics website, the Ducks nickname emerged out of sportswriters' need for a shortened version of Webfoots to appear in headlines. The student body adopted Ducks as their official nickname and Oregon's first athletic director, Leo Harris, made an informal agreement with Walt Disney that granted Oregon permission to use Donald Duck's likeness in the team logo.
9. Florida Gators
In 1911, Florida's student monthly, The Pennant, nicknamed Everglades native and UF center Neal Storter "Bo Gator." According to The Pennant, the Alligator nickname was extended to the whole team during Florida's trip to South Carolina that same year. Florida would finish undefeated that season and a local vendor ordered banners that featured an alligator. The nickname stuck.
10. Cincinnati Bearcats
The Cincinnati Bearcats trace their nickname to a chant inspired by fullback Leonard "Teddy" Baehr at a 1914 football game against rival Kentucky. As the story goes, cheerleader Norman "Pat" Lyon, who was an editor for the school's weekly student newspaper, told Cincinnati's student section, "They may be Wildcats, but we have a Baehr-cat on our side." The students chanted "Come on, Baehr-cat" during the second half of Cincinnati's 14-7 win. John "Paddy" Reece, a cartoonist for the student newspaper, commemorated the win and his editor's cheer with a sketch on the front page of the next issue. Reece's cartoon depicted a Kentucky Wildcat being chased by a mythical creature that he labeled a "Cincinnati Bear Cat." The nickname dropped out of use in print after Baehr graduated in 1916, but returned in 1919 when Cincinnati Enquirer sports reporter Jack Ryder referred to Cincinnati's football team as the "Bear Cats" in his story about the team's loss at Tennessee. Cincinnati's teams have been referred to as the Bearcats ever since.