A Completely Unbiased Ranking of UC Mascots

I’ve become reacquainted with the University of California system of late. You learn a lot about them when you grow up in California, especially if you have older siblings. I probably would have gone to one of them myself, if I hadn’t felt desperate to get out of California at seventeen. (You know that scene in Lady Bird, where she moans about wanting to go “where writers come from?” Like that, except instead of breaking my wrist senior year, I sprained my ankle.)

I’m something of an expert on bad mascots, having gone to NYU. Our team name is the “Violets,” and our mascot is the Bobcat, named after our library catalog. No one cared about sports — in fact, student government officers would have to bribe us into coming to games with promises of free food and t-shirts. We hadn’t had a football team since World War II, which was something of a joke on campus: the best-selling sports t-shirt in the student store said “NYU Football.” (I bought one and couldn’t wait for someone to say “I didn’t know you liked football, Mara,” so I could respond with “I don’t. I like irony.” Eighteen-year-old me was the worst.)

Anyway, I think the UC system is a great one, and sometimes I wish I had gone to one of their schools. But some of them really need to take a look at themselves and their teams. Here’s how I rank them.

  1. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos

I had no idea what UCSB’s team name was until a few weeks ago, and I’ve got to say, this just makes no sense. What is a Gaucho, you might ask, particularly if you are white and American? They are South American horsemen of the Pampas, roughly 6,000 miles away from Santa Barbara, California. What do they have to do with Santa Barbara, you might also ask? Absolutely nothing.

The original justification was that Santa Barbara’s name and architecture were “Spanish-influenced” and Gauchos are “essentially Spanish.” Huh. Some people also claim that it was named after a Douglas Fairbanks movie called The Gaucho. But this feels different than, say, Toronto naming its basketball team after Jurassic Park. I’m not claiming to speak for the people of the Pampas, but I think it is, at the very least, weird to name a team after a group of people, especially without their permission and when you have no connection to them. Santa Barbara is home to all kinds of beautiful flora and fauna, there’s inspiration all around them. There’s got to be a better name out there.

  1. UC Irvine Anteaters

I hate anteaters. I hate them. I think they one of the creepiest animals in the world. They can kill a person. They were probably the inspiration for ALF. I couldn’t even Google Image Search them without a huge shudder. The only good anteater is Arthur, and even then, they had to soften down his edges and make him look like a bear-mouse hybrid. (EDIT: apparently Arthur is an aardvark? Which is slightly cuter and less terrifying than an anteater.) UCI named its mascot after a creepy animal in a bad comic strip. This mascot sucks.

Also, there’s the city of Irvine itself. Oh, Irvine. In my mind, you are where all the blonde female Fox News anchors come from. You want so badly to be Newport Beach, but you’re just not. At least Riverside and Merced know what they are.

  1. UC Riverside Highlanders

Up until a few weeks ago, the only person I knew who went to UC Riverside was an engineer I briefly dated. I broke up with him after he told me 1) he thought Skyler White from Breaking Bad was “a bitch,” 2) he wanted to try getting his dog high, and 3) he didn’t really have an ethical problem with humans having sex with dolphins, because they’re “so smart that they can consent.”

So, yeah, my impression of UC Riverside is not the best. Which is really not fair, because it is not a bad school, even if it is in a city that smells like cows all the time. This name almost makes sense, though: UC Riverside is surrounded by hills, and sits at an elevation of around 1,500 feet above sea level. I went to high school at an elevation of ~5,500 feet, so I’m less than impressed, but considering most of the other UCs are either in valleys or at sea level, “Highlanders” seems apt in comparison.

…Maybe they should get rid of the kilt and Scottish thing, though? I can’t imagine Scotland would be happy to be associated with Riverside.

  1. UC San Diego Tritons

It just occurred to me that I can’t think of anyone I know who graduated from UCSD. My best friend from childhood went there, but transferred out. I got that feeling that it was a big, cold, impersonal place, a good place to go if you wanted to study engineering in a creepy awesome brutalist library and do nothing else. Then again, I went to NYU, which is also known for being big, cold, and impersonal.

Anyway, Triton was a god of the sea, and UC San Diego is… near the sea? Story checks out. Not super exciting, though. Who’d ever even heard of King Triton before The Little Mermaid? He’s no Poseidon.

  1. UC Davis Aggies/Mustang

Aggies is one of those cop-out state school team names. It’s not as bad as “Hoosiers” (it is a nonsense word, Indiana), but it’s nothing special, either. They, like NYU, have a different mascot than team name, though: Gunrock the Mustang, based after a real horse. That’s a link to their own history, which is more than a lot of the other schools on this list can say.

  1. UC Merced Golden Bobcats

You’re the baby of the UC system, UC Merced, and everyone makes fun of you. And it’s not unearned: I’ve been to Merced. There’s not much there.

But a golden bobcat? That’s adorable, and very Californian. I have a soft spot for bobcats, partly because of NYU, and also because they’re fierce but scruffily cute and they make a lot of noise. Like me on a good day.

  1. UC Berkeley Golden Bears

Yes, it’s annoying how much you guys love to talk about how you were the original, how you are the University of California. But I have to admit, you are a good school with a good mascot. A bear is quintessentially Californian (even if our state flag was originally supposed to have a pear on it.) It’s classic, and Berkeley is a great city.

Or at least it was, until everyone got priced out. But that’s a rant for another time.

  1. UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs

My first experience with UC Santa Cruz was reading one of their school newspapers after my brother’s friend brought one home. The top articles were a list of famous campus orgies, and interviews with people who’d claimed to have seen God on psychedelic trips. (My favorite was the guy who described God as round and fluffy and purple, and eventually admitted he might have just been thinking of Grimace.)

A few years later I went to Santa Cruz while visiting a friend, and we asked a passing guy what time it was.

“4:20,” he smirked.

“Is it really?” I said.

“Well… it’s 4:18,” he admitted.

That’s Santa Cruz for you. So while I know their mascot is a polarizing one, and that a lot of people find it ridiculous, I love it. It shows that UCSC knows exactly what kind of school it is. It’s a school that does not give one shit about sports — ultimate frisbee and hacky sack don’t count — and loves its surroundings. They love the weird-as-hell yellow slugs that populate their gorgeous forests. They even kiss them for good luck! (Anna did this when we visited, and said it was awesome and that her lips tingled after. I did not, and this might tell you everything you need to know about the two of us.) UC Santa Cruz is letting their fluorescent yellow freak flag fly, and I salute them.

  1. UCLA Bruins

OK, I’m a bad liar. This list is totally biased. I love UCLA. I’ve loved it since my brother went there years ago, and let me visit their beautiful campus and amazing dining halls. I know the fight song. I make fun of USC constantly. I probably have as much UCLA gear as NYU.

I know, objectively, that “bruin” is just another word for bear. I know they’re forever seen as UC Berkeley’s little sibling. But hell, I’m a little sibling, too, and I’m proud to be a Bruin sister. And, as of a few weeks ago, I am a Bruin sister two times over: Anna is going to UCLA! She was accepted into an extremely competitive program at the School of Arts and Architecture.

So yeah, that’s what this list is. This is really all an excuse to brag about Anna. UCLA was her dream school, and she’s worked incredibly hard to get there. I’m unbelievably proud of her.

After I took this photo Anna said, “Do you want to maybe cut the tags off?” I hadn’t even noticed they were still on. I’m not that bright, sometimes. Maybe I would be if I had gone to a UC.

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