As one of Midwest Sports Fans’ primary college football writers, I followed the sport – and in particular those teams in the Midwest – closer than I have in years.
I watched a ton of Big Ten football and followed the story lines closely: first year coaches in Ann Arbor and Columbus; a transfer quarterback and a Heisman finalist in the backfield for an explosive Wisconsin team; the Spartans’ continued ascent to elite status as a football program; the introduction of a conference championship game; the welcoming of the Cornhuskers; and of course, in Happy Valley, the fall of one of the all-time great sports figures and a respected program having its very foundation shaken to the core.
Needless to say, I was exuberant when, on behalf of Midwest Sports Fans and as a guest of Capital One, I was given an opportunity to attend the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
Nebraska, fresh off a 9-3 inaugural Big Ten season, faced South Carolina of the SEC, and the game was fantastic fun, even if the Big Ten’s bowl woes continued at the Citrus Bowl.
Just as fun was Capital One’s Mascot Challenge, an annual, season-long competition between the nation’s best mascots. Even though my favorite team has never really had a mascot, I always enjoy seeing the costumed characters roaming the sidelines of games.
For the Mascot Challenge, Capital One selects 16 mascots, nominated by their schools, to compete in a weekly online fan voting competition. After 12 weeks, the top 8 mascots advance to the postseason, with winners advancing and losers heading back to their schools with their tails between their legs (or more literally, in their duffel bags). The winning mascot earns his school a $20,000 scholarship prize to go toward the mascot program from Capital One.
This year, the playoffs included Ohio State’s Brutus, The Duck from Oregon, Arizona’s Wilbur, Michigan State’s Sparty, Aubie from Auburn, Big Blue from Old Dominion, Nevada’s Wolfie Jr. and Georgia Tech’s Buzz. After steamrolling their way to over 10 million votes apiece, Nevada’s Wolfie Jr. and Georgia Tech’s Buzz, the two top seeds after both going 12-0 in the regular season, squared off in the finals.
Monday morning, with special mascot guests Cocky (South Carolina) and Herbie Husker (Nebraska) Capital One announced this year’s winner: Wolfie Jr. of Nevada.
In seeing Wolfie in action at the Capital One Fan Zone, I can see why his appeal was unmatched this year (my personal favorite move of his is using his tail as an air guitar). Nevada’s students, fans, and community members totaled over 15 million votes for this year’s competition, and in doing so helped secure the $20,000 scholarship for the university’s mascot program. Congratulations are in order to Wolfie Jr. and the University of Nevada.
As for me, I really enjoyed the Mascot Challenge. There is something undeniably laughable about mascots. Seeing Wolfie mime and pump up the crowd was great.
College football’s atmosphere is unmatched in sports. Mascots, bands and intense cheering sections all add to the festive environment, and the passion in the venue feels more pure than during professional contests.
If you want to catch up on this year’s competition and have a good laugh while you’re at it, head on over to the Capital One Mascot Challenge page and watch the videos for each contestant. The back stories are hilarious, and you get to see why these mascots were chosen above all others.
You can also check out the Mascot Challenge Facebook page, which will keep you updated as 2012’s contestants are chosen. Wolfie will certainly be a tough act to follow, so mascots across the nation had better step up their training.