Owl You Need To Know About Owl Mascots
1:48 PM EDT on April 1, 2023
I rushed to the elevator at Madison Square Garden after Florida Atlantic won. I wanted to get down to the court. Some of this was for work-related reasons, and I did get color for my game stories about their trip to the Final Four. Some of it was so I could steal some confetti. And even after writing about sports more than half my life, it’s still pretty exhilarating to get close to others’ moments of exuberance. I have to be honest, though. I really just wanted to see Owlsley.
Owlsley is the mascot of the Florida Atlantic Owls. The school website lists him at 6-feet tall; it does not give a wingspan. From context, we can learn that Owlsley uses he/him pronouns. He debuted in 2011, when FAU opened a new football stadium. By 2012 he was rated “superior.” The South Florida Sun-Sentinel explains: “He earned that distinction at a recent University of Alabama cheerleading spirit camp, where he learned new crowd-pleasing techniques.”
The school also talks him up like as if it was writing an overly-effusive dating profile. “With his large muscles and gazing blue eyes Owlsley is easily the center of attention,” FAU says. “The popular Owl is seen all over campus, but more commonly you can find Owlsley at Florida Atlantic sporting events, special events on campus and in the weight room building his muscles.”
I did see Owlsley on the floor of the arena, as it happened, and it was a treat. I go to the gym, and as such can appreciate a jacked man, or mascot. Owlsley clearly does work out, though his wings blunt the effect a bit. He also wears a large gold rope chain. I liked him. I was happy to be in his presence.
Only four NCAA Division I schools use the owl as their mascot, and only nine NCAA schools in all. No major pro teams call themselves the Owls. There are 81 schools nicknamed Owls in Ken Massey’s database; compare this to the 762 Wildcats and 891 Bulldogs. There are 1,350 teams nicknamed the Eagles!
I think that’s a shame. The blog Owl Things Considered figures it’s because Owls are considered “more mathletes than athletes.” No team wants to be thought of as a bookworm. (No teams in Massey’s database use the nickname Worms.) I think this is a shame. “Sure they look cuddly enough, with their big eyes and almost human appearance,” Owl Things Considered writes. “But owls are killers. They’re predator birds. Some of your larger owls will take on hawks and falcons. Owls swallow their victims whole or rip them into shreds before swallowing them, for heaven’s sake!”
Not all sports mascots are alike, though. Since so few NCAA schools use the nickname, I figured I’d do an analysis of their nicknames, logos, costumed mascots and related pellets. Schools will be rated from 1-4 Athena owl coins from ancient Greece.
Reason for nickname: In 1971 the Audubon Society designated the FAU campus as a burrowing owl sanctuary. At the time the Palm Beach Post called them “abundant” on campus; more than 100 had been counted. Athene cunicularia, endemic to parts of North and South America, is one of the few owls active during the day. They lack ear tufts.
Logo: An owl head with menacing red eyebrows in an oval shape with the letters FAU above it.
Costumed mascot: Owlsley, a very jacked bird. We've been over that part. Other jacked mascots I’ve met are Hip-Hop, the former Sixers mascot, and the early 2000s penis-shaped muscleman used by La Salle University.
Sidekick: Hoot. Here’s how the school describes him: “One day, Owsley [sic] met a gopher tortoise, who spun a tale of an adventurous baby burrowing owl. Not much later, Owlsley tripped over that baby owl. Who was that you may ask? Hoot! The clumsy yet sweet and lovable owl.” Hoot’s origin story is that Owlsley kicked him.
The FAU logo is a little 1990s, but it’s also really clean and well-shaped. Minimalist design is on the way out, anyway. As you might have guessed, the name "Owlsley" is pretty annoying to write. I only sort of think I know how to say it. Re-read the above paragraph. The school itself even spells it wrong! Also, if I am being honest with myself and with you, I should confess that I do not really know how to say it.
Owlsley recently had a little tiff with the Empire State Building in New York. The 1931 art deco skyscraper has recently been stunting for social media clout, perhaps in hope that such behavior attracts tenants. The ESB has a costumed mascot itself, an anthropomorphic Empire State Building. And Owlsley was not in the photo with the mascots of other teams in the East Regional last week. Slighted! The Palm Beach Post explains:
The historic building's official account soon rebuked the mascot's claims, asking, “Where were you?” and claiming, “You were invited,” to the account's more than 270,000 followers.
I guess the invitation was placed in the wrong burrow.
One curious feature of Owlsley: In 2018, students in the costume refused to admit to University Press managing editor Katrina Scales that there were, indeed, students in the costume. “After getting no response for days from the mascot’s current manager, I decided to reach out to former Owlsleys, who are mostly graduated students and alumni,” she wrote. “And while I did get some feedback, I realized the answers all had something in common. They were phrased as if Owlsley was a real-life burrowing owl. I shit you not.” Emphasis hers. An incredible column. An incredible mascot. (The school has since become less reticent about mascot-related issues.)
Reason for nickname: Temple began using the owl mascot in the 1880s; here’s evidence of the nickname in use in 1900, when the Temple Owls lost to the Germantown Spiders, 28-2. Rev. Russell Conwell began holding night classes in the basement of the Grace Baptist Temple in 1884. “Story has it that the owl, a nocturnal hunter, was initially adopted as a symbol because Temple University began as a night school for ambitious young people of limited means,” the school says. It continues: “Since those modest beginnings more than a hundred years ago, the owl's role and significance have expanded along with those of the University. The owl, in its splendid variety, inhabits all parts of the world. The Temple Owl is Everywhere!”
Logo: Temple’s ‘T’ logo was designed by students at Tyler School of Art in 1983. It rules. It one of two great letter logos—Penn’s ‘Split P’ is the other—of Division I schools in Philadelphia. It’s clean and works in lots of places. It is a testament to Temple’s design school that students did it. In the 1990s and 2000s, the school used various owl-related logos that were clearly designed in the 1990s and 2000s.
Costumed mascot: Hooter the Owl began as Victor E. Owl in 1977. When the school gave the costume a much-needed upgrade in 1984, the school held a contest to rename him. They picked a great name. Two Division III schools (University of Maine-Presque Isle and Keene State) have owl mascots named Hootie, clearly afraid of being compared to the breast-focused restaurant that began opening locations in 1983. Temple has no such qualms. It’s great to stick to your principles. The current design is a little freaky: Hooter’s mouth looks like the symbol for infinity and I would bet his eyes would not be able to detect predators.
Sidekicks: Oh, so many. Temple began using a live owl, Stella, in 2013. Elmwood Park Zoo handler Rebecca Oulton told the NCAA’s website a few years ago that Stella will likely live for another two decades, so she’ll be around for a while. That’s good, because she was married to an owl named Sherlock in 2019. Love at first flight! Temple also has previously used several sidekicks for Hooter, including Baby Owl (who does not look like a baby to me) and T-Bird (who debuted in 2006). “T-Bird has developed a reputation for being rebellious,” The Temple News reported, a little ominously.
It’s nice that the school’s sports teams have returned to the Temple ‘T’, especially on the football helmets. It looks great. For mascots, Temple has a whole nest of owls for its team; Hooter and T-Bird are acceptable, but I would not shed a tear if Baby Owl were buried under an acre of diamonds.
Hooter gets bonus points for being involved in an incredible incident on New Year’s Eve 2001. Coach John Chaney got a late technical foul after the referees did not call a foul on Penn’s Jeff Schiffner on a David Hawkins three-point attempt. Thinking the game was in a timeout, Hooter stormed on the court to flap his wings at the referee. The game was not in timeout. Hooter received a technical foul and was ejected from the game. Penn won, 68-62.
Reason for nickname: Rice actually has owls in its school seal. Per the school's website, “the academic seal of Rice University was designed in 1912 by Pierre de Chaignon la Rose of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who combined the main elements of the arms of 16 prominent families bearing the names 'Rice' or 'Houston.'” Owls of Athena, symbolic of wisdom, were chosen for the charges. The Athenian owls on the Rice seal were, the school's website explains, "patterned after a design found on a small, silver tetradrachmenon coin dating from the middle of the fifth century B.C." Deep! The school's sports teams began using the owl as their mascot that same year.
Logo: A stylized ‘R’, plus a secondary mark of an owl’s head and a tertiary mark of an owl in flight. All are simple designs in the same blue color. Easy for screenprinting!
Costumed mascot: Sammy the Owl. Rice says Sammy stemmed out of an incident where Texas A&M students kidnapped a “canvas” owl mascot.
A group of Rice students calling themselves the Owl Protective Association hired a private detective to find the missing bird. The detective located the mascot in College Station and sent the students a coded telegram: “Sammy is better and would like to see his parents at 11 o’clock.”
Upon receipt of the telegram, 17 Rice men raced to College Station to rescue the mascot from the U.S. Armory, where a night watchman fired his pistol at them.
Rice students risked their lives to save this mascot. Its form has varied over the years, and its current one is admittedly kind of weak, but this tale is so impressive I will let it go.
Sidekick: None, but in 2011 a photographer spotted three owlets on campus.
Rice’s current version of Sammy is not my cup of tea. But his backstory is incredible. If Rice wants a return to its glory days, the school needs to bring back the version with a gun and a sword.
Reason for nickname: The school colors and nickname were chosen upon the school’s founding in 1963. Dr. Horace W. Sturgis, the school’s first president, picked the owl. “The owl has the general connotation of being a bird of learning,” he said. “You will see the wise owl… It seemed that it went perhaps better with academics than some others, and we were trying to make the emphasis on academics.”
Logo: The school has used various cartoon owls, ranging from cuddly to menacing, in the last few decades. The current owl is perhaps the most menacing yet.
Costumed mascot: Scrappy the Owl. Per the school, he is from Owlberta and his favorite bands are Winger, Night Ranger, and Owl B. Sure. The current version was introduced in 2012. FAU talks about Owlsley being jacked, but he has nothing on Scrappy. Owlsley just works out a lot. Scrappy is almost certainly on muscle-enhancing drugs. There is no way those arms are natural.
Sidekick: His own tremendous arms.
This is one of the most jacked mascots I’ve ever seen. I would go so far as to say Scrappy spends too much time in the gym. Does Scrappy even have time for studying? I cannot believe that Scrappy does. But some people successfully skate through college, and I cannot fault this owl for that—even if Scrappy has been there for a decade.
So that’s all four Division I teams to use Owls as a nickname! Perhaps one day I will look into the five Division II and III schools that also use the moniker. However, this particular blog is over.