The College Football Playoff championship game between Alabama and Clemson once again pits two long-time rivals. As fate and the stats would have it, even though Alabama’s Crimson Tide took home the win and bragging rights last year, the odds-on favorite for 2017 by several sources is calling Alabama the 'underdogs' — and Clemson the 'victor.'
Beginning in 2014, the College Football Playoff (CFP) is an annual postseason tournament in American college football for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)'s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
But what about each team’s winning mascots? On the one end of the field, you have the exuberant elephant who on most days goes by the name Dakota in real life, but on game day is known as “Big Al.” On the other, Crimson’s high-energy, back-flipping yellow-eyed Tiger is a bit of showman at his game appearances. He is manned by a Clemson student named Jordan.
However Dakota and Jordan can never reveal their actual last names. You see it’s part of The Code, and breaking it would fly in the face of tradition, where anonymity is expected when they don their respective mascot costumes.
The story of how Alabama became associated with the "elephant" goes back to the 1930 season when Coach Wallace Wade recruited a great football team. Sports writer, Everett Strupper described the verisimilitude of the Alabama team as a herd of thundering “Red Elephants.” where the “red” was a nod to the player’s crimson jerseys.
Despite the wildlife nickname, it would take nearly five decades before Alabama would recognize the elephant as its official mascot. In the early 1960s, Melford Espey, Jr., then a student, was the first to wear a pachyderm head costume to portray the Crimson Tide's unofficial mascot. Espey later became a university administrator, and football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant asked him to take responsibility when student groups petitioned that someone assume the role of the costumed mascot at games.
Today, Big Al is sometimes joined by a female counterpart at athletics events, an elephant named "Big Alice."
Clemson's athletic teams were first nicknamed the Tigers in 1896, when coach Walter Merritt Riggs brought the name from his alma mater, Auburn University. The first costumed tiger mascot appeared in 1954. A smaller, ostensibly younger, companion named The Cub was introduced in 1993.
As traditions go, one of the nation’s most celebrated entrances (and described as the most exciting 25 seconds in college football for a football team) is Clemson’s touching the rock and running down the hill.
But when Jordan first donned the mascot's costume, he wanting to take the tiger mascot to another level, so has incorporated backflips into his entrances.
Performing is what he has done his entire life, starting with dance lessons at a very early age. His younger brother nicknamed him "Extra" because he always "goes above and beyond, making things bigger, louder and more entertaining."
So who is your favorite mascot?
As a new South Carolinian transplant, I'm rooting for Clemson. But what about you? Will it be the Elephant or the Tiger? Will Big Al turn the “tide” [no pun intended], or will they not be able sway the results one way or the other? Will Alabama come back to replicate last year’s win, or do you believe the prognosticators who are favoring a Clemson win in 2017? Seems odd to call an elephant an underdog, but tigers are known for their speed in the wild, so what is your bet, readers?
This game will be won with heart, attitude and determination. The two teams are fairly even across the board, and the team that makes the fewest mistakes and shows the most heart will likely hoist the trophy. These two respective mascots put a lot of themselves into each game as well. Perhaps wearing their hearts on their sleeves might be just what Alabama or Clemson need to tip the scales?
Kickoff is Monday, January 9th on ESPN at 8PM, EST. See you on the 50-yard line.
Final Score Update: The Tigers brings it home for Clemson! Where's that tiger? ~ hold that tiger!