As Saturday's game approaches and my mind drifts blissfully farther from the qualify of football we are likely to see on the field, I've found myself questioning the legitimacy of Cincinnati's mascot, the Bearcat. Some mascots make sense, like the West Virginia Mountaineers, Florida Gators, Nebraska Cornhuskers, and Texas Longhorns. Others do not, like the Cincinnati Bearcats. I mean, seriously. A bearcat? The animal doesn't even exist! It's like they couldn't decide between the Bears and the Cats, so they compromised and combined them or something. I mean, isn't that what you'd expect from a school that has switched conferences more often than 5th Year Senior changes his underwear?
Pictured above, the UC Bearcat presents as a cute, fuzzy, teddy bear-like mammal with red eyebrows and a nose bright enough to lead Santa's team of reindeer on Christmas Eve. The thing also looks to have a combover, giving it an eledrly pervert kind of vibe. No offense to those of you who are elderly. And wha's with the red eyes? I guess if I went to a school surrounded by crime-infested urban blight I wouldn't get much sleep either. In light of all this, the mascot makes so little sense that I just had to find out the story behind it all. So, with nothing to do on a sunny Veterans Day besides organize my socks and drink some bourbon, I did some research. My findings are after the jump.
My first theory was that the Bearcat was a reference to popular culture, or at least something derived from pop culture, like the Liger from Napoleon Dynamite. But a Liger is a real animal, so I had to rule it out immediately. There's no way UC would base its ridiculous mascot on a real animal. But how about the ManBearPig from South Park:
Unfortunately, I discovered that episode of South Park didn't air until 2006 and I'm pretty sure Cincinnati started playing football in 2005, the year they joined the Big East. So clearly that's not it. Although, the rendition that appeared in South Park does look eerily similar to the creeper pacing the sidelines at UC sporting events. Perhaps the pair are related, or at least operate an ice cream truck in suburban Cinicnnati together in the summer.
A google search for "Bearcat" gave me a few more leads. One possibility was the Grumman F8F Bearcat figher plane used extensively in World War 2:
Fast, fierce, and able to destroy all manner of propeller aircrat, I thought we might have been on to something. And given UC's nationally ranked aerospace engineering program things started to come together. But then I figured that Cincy wouldn't want their nationally ranked engineering program to overshadow their not-nationally ranked football and basketball programs, so I started to have my doubts. Plus, the whole airplane angle does little to explain the ridiculous looking ball of fur they always show on their commercials. Again, we must press on.
The next result from my Google search turned out this silly creature:
Hey! Now there's a resemblance! Whiskers, black fur, ears. Inferiority complex. But where's the red nose? And the combover? No, this can't be where Cincinnati got its inspiration. Doing a little more digging, turns out I was right. This isn't a Bearcat. It's a Binturong. As it turns out, Binturongs are natives of Southeast Asia, are nocturnal, and are known to be especially vicious if provoked. Yep, entirely unlike the UC Bearcats we've come to know.
As I'm getting ready to head to the liquor store to get more bourbon (yes, I ran out and I clearly need more for this weekend), I finally stumbled upon the real story. And, much like the resulting faunal monstrosity that UC calls its mascot, the story just does not make much sense.
As it turns out, the star of the game for UC against Kentucky on October 31, 1914 was a fullback named Teddy Baehr. In the second half, a male cheerleader from UC yelled out "They may be Wildcats, but we have a Baehr-cat on our side!" The next day, after UC won, a cartoonist for the student newspaper drew a picture of a large mammal beating up on a UK Wildcat and labeled the thing a "Baehr-cat." And the name stuck.
To summarize, a male cheerleader came up with a nickname for a guy who doesn't show up anywhere in UC's record book for rushing offense and the student newspaper drew a picture the next morning. That's it. And yet somehow, I'm not surprised.
You stay creative, Cincy.