We live in a time when the world seems very finite. The kingdom of college football feels even smaller, with all its major programs easily recognizable from coast to coast. But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the days – before Nike, Adidas, and Under Armor – college football was not such big business.
In fact, even before Russel, Starter, and Champion, many Universities didn’t have a standardized, reproducible logo. Licensing as we know it today did not exist, and the concept of owning one’s logo wasn’t a prime concern of a school’s athletic department. In fact, many programs lacked a singular mascot logo altogether.
It is in this time that we find a man named Arthur Evans. He was a former Disney employee who made a name for himself with the Angelus Pacific Co. of Fullerton, CA. Well… sort of. It has been said that he is the most prolific illustrator no one has ever heard of. By 1963, he had penned over 100 logos that spanned many of the biggest name programs in the country. in fact, Angelus Pacific claims to be responsible for designing over 90 percent of college mascots being used at the time.
In a world without google, their company thrived by criss-crossing the nation and selling mascots to anyone who wanted one. This was all done before the days of trademarking athletic logos, much less licensing and royalty revenue. So if your team was the Tigers, you’d buy the tiger logo and slap your school’s letters across the cap.
“What kind of hat is that anyway?” you may ask… Well that seems to be open to a bit of interpretation. Many will instantly recognize it as a “sailor’s cap.” This relic of Navy days past was made popular by such small screen icons as Gilligan and Popeye, and embraced by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy along with many college athletic programs.
“So why the hang-up on sailor’s caps?” Another excellent question. It turns out that many universities had a tradition of forcing their freshmen to wear distinctive headgear during their first year on campus. These “freshmen beanies” were common during this era, and some versions of this cap looked quite similar to the ones adorned by Arthur Evan’s creations.
These caps, also known as “pots,” were featured prominently in the movie Animal House and would have been instantly recognizable to the college sport fan of their era. The tradition of the pots held that freshman, under the supervision of upperclassmen, would wear them all year or risk being “punished.” Most schools held a ritual at the end of the year where the surviving members of the class would burn their caps en masse.
I would argue that it was these freshmen pots that made Evan’s logos so successful. They gave a youthful, innocent vibe to the mascots that helped them to be embraced by young and old. By balancing their menacing scowls and furrowed brows with silly hats, these logos may have laid the groundwork for the more ferocious mascots we are familiar with today.
Documentation on most of these logos is scarce, and schools have a hard time trademarking or reviving them. Some have updated them, including Oregon, a program not normally known for its focus on the past. Though The Ducks have made some questionable mascot decisions in the past, they have never fully ditched the pot!