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‘B’s’ are prevalent in teams’ nicknames

November 16, 2012
By BETTY POKAS - Buckeye Blitz ( , Times Leader

WHEN it comes to nicknames - at least of the teams played by the Ohio State Buckeyes - the "B's" have it.

In addition to the Buckeyes, other teams with the "B" nicknames on this year's schedule include the UAB Blazers, Purdue Boilermakers, Wisconsin Badgers and the California Golden Bears.

The wild kingdom also provides some monikers. OSU's season began with the Miami RedHawks and later, the Nittany Lions. The Michigan Wolverines are upcoming.

California's Golden Bears fit in both those categories. The Wisconsin Badgers didn't take their name directly from an animal but from workers.

Also, Buckeye is related to an animal. Markings on the shiny, brown nut resemble the eye of a buck so the American Indians called it "hetuck" or "buckeye."

Ohio is the Buckeye State, and the word predated the presidential campaign of William Henry Harrison when it gained more notice. Harrison's opponents indicated he was well-suited to sit in a log cabin and drink hard cider.

Henry Howe in "Historical Collections of Ohio," reported: "The remark was at once taken up by his friends and became a party slogan ... Harrison became the log-cabin candidate, and was pictured as sitting by the door of a rude log-cabin ... (containing) a barrel of hard cider, while the walls were hung with coon-skins and decorated with strings of buckeyes."

The cabin reportedly was made of buckeye timbers.

An Ohio State publication notes: "It is rare for an athletic team to be named after a tree; but the Buckeye name is so ingrained in the history and lore of the state and the university that few stop to consider how unusual it is. It is native, tenacious, attractive and unique - traits that Ohioans and Ohio State alumni are proud to be associated with."

Some nicknames indicate the teams are in the fighting mode, especially the Illinois Fighting Illini.

One also thinks of combat regarding the Central Florida Knights and Michigan State Spartans.

Although Indiana is the Hoosier State, nobody seems to know what Hoosier means although the Indiana Historical Society reports it was used in 1827 when a letter contained the sentence: "There is a yankee trick for you - done up by a Hoosier."

"The Hoosier's Nest" was a poem written by John Finley in the 1830s. The Indiana History website notes that in Finley's poem, "the word 'hoosier' seems to refer less to the state's pioneers and more to qualities he thought they possessed, like self-reliance and bravery.

The Nittany Lions date from early 1900s when a student was embarrassed because Penn State didn't have a mascot. The lion evolved as Penn State's emblem, and the student suggested that animal, noting it was the king of beasts and "dignified, courageous, magnificent, representing what Penn State's "college spirit should be."

The university reports, "Mountain lions had roamed on nearby Mount Nittany until the 1880s.

The origin of the name 'Mount Nittany' is obscure, the most commonly accepted explanation being that it is derived of Native American words (loosely pronounced as 'neet-a-nee')" named after those cougars.

Other Big Ten schools faced by OSU this season include Illinois, Michigan State, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The Fighting Illini was used first in 1921, although Illini was the name of the student newspaper, beginning in 1874. The song, "Fight, Illini," was composed in 1921, and the words of that song seem to link the term "to ideals of wartime service and courage," according to the university website.

It took a sports editor to help in naming the Michigan State Spartans when a contest was held to replace the nickname, "Aggies,' as the institution no longer was an agricultural college.

The winner was "The Michigan Staters," and the sports editor decided that was too cumbersome for newspaper writing and found another entry with the name, "Spartans."

The name of the Purdue Boilermakers also stems from newspapers.

In 1891, the Purdue football team was, for the first time, called "Boiler Makers" by a Crawfordsville reporter writing about the team's 44-0 win over Wabash College. Later, Lafayette newspapers picked up the name, and in 1892,

The Purdue Exponent approved it.

Still another sportswriter Charles S. "Cy" Sherman, who also helped to originate The Associated Press Poll, was tired of the Nebraska team's unglamouous nickname, Bugeaters, and provided the name, Cornhuskers.

Wisconsin is the Badger State, and the university borrowed the name for its team. That name wasn't in honor of animals but was associated with lead miners in the 1820s. Lacking shelter in winter, the miners lived like badgers in tunnels burrowed into hillsides.

Origin of the name, "Wolverine," referring to the state of Michigan and the athletic teams is a mystery, but several theories have been given, and one involves a dispute between Michigan and Ohio.

The university's website reports that theory involved a border dispute in 1803. During the argument, "Michiganders were called wolverines. It is unclear, however, whether the Michigan natives pinned this name upon themselves to show their tenacity and strength, or whether Ohioans chose the name in reference to the gluttonous, aggressive, habits of the wolverine.

From then on, Michigan was labeled the 'Wolverine state' and when the University of Michigan was founded," it adopted that nickname.

Pokas can be reached at



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