Friday, June 02, 2006

University Colors

I am that kind of nerd who is occasionally taken by manic obsessions. For a week all I’ll do is watch a particular type of animation, or read Greek tragedies, or paint, and so on. Pretty much everyone who knows me can, often to their chagrin, confirm this aspect of my personality.

Here is today’s mania.

Last night Sarah and I were talking about what flowers we are going to use in our wedding and she asked if I knew how much orange daisies cost. Surprised, I said I had no idea, and asked why she was thinking in this direction. Come to find out she’d heard that Tennessee had gotten its distinctive team colors (an almost bright orange and white) from the orange and white American daisies that grew on the Hill (more properly Barbara Hill), which made up the center of main campus in the old days and which still dominates UT’s scientific disciplines.

Jumping French Acrobats, I thought, that is awesome.

I looked it up and damned if the UT athletics website ( didn’t say this:

The colors Orange and White were selected by Charles Moore, a member of the first football team in 1891, and were later approved by a vote of the student body. The colors were those of the common American daisy which grew in profusion on The Hill. Tennessee football players did not appear in the now-famous Orange jerseys until the season-opening game in 1922. Coach M.B. Banks' Vols won that game over Emory and Henry by a score of 50-0.

After crying a little for my blessed E&H, I had a thought: I have never, ever, ever seen a wild daisy that was orange in any sense. Hmm.

I did another search. Dig:

The school colors of orange & white date to April 12,1889, when Charles Moore, president of the University's athletic association, chose the colors for the first field day. His inspiration came from the orange and white daisies which grew profusely on the Hill. In 1891, students again wore orange and white to the Sewanee football game. In 1892 students endorsed the colors at a special meeting called for the purpose, but two years later were dissatisfied with the choice and voted to drop the colors. After a heated one-day debate no other colors proved satisfactory, so the students returned to orange and white.
One recent student has called Moore "color-blind" after checking with a UT instructor of ornamental horticulture and design landscape who has never seen such a daisy, wild or hybrid. Several local florists concur. At any rate, PMSO21 from the Pantone Matching System is the official University of Tennessee, Knoxville, orange color with white.

Colorblind. Awesome. Almost as awesome as yelling, “GO WHITE AND PMS021!!! WHOO!”

All this got me thinking. Because I’m a thinker. I decided to figure out where other major university colors in the region came from, if I could. Note that I won’t even touch West Virginia University because blue and gold, being of course the state colors, are so manifestly obvious. And awesome. Consider:

Marshall University (Kelly green and white)

Okay, so I could find nothing on how Marshall got their colors, which seem to have been established pretty darn early, but I did find this ( absolutely fascinating article:

Why The Thundering Herd?

The Thundering Herd is American folklore ... as old as the buffalo that roam the western plains. The Herd once provided nearly every substance needed for human survival, including food, clothing, tools and weapons. The Herd still provides Marshall University's athletic teams with their nickname.

"Thundering Herd" has long been recognized by sports enthusiasts as one of the great, distinctive nicknames in college athletics. But on several occasions throughout Marshall's history other nicknames have been suggested and, on occasion, been hung on the school.

The first nickname of record is Indians, a moniker bestowed upon the pre-1900 athletic teams. By about 1910, sparked by the color of team uniforms, Big Green began to be used in reference to Marshall athletics. Criticized by some from its inception as being boring, Big Green was soon ripe for replacement.

When Huntington Herald-Dispatch sportswriter Duke Ridgley referred to a late-1920s squad as a Thundering Herd, after a then-current movie based on the 1925 Zane Gray novel of the same name, it caught on quickly. Both Thundering Herd and Big Green have been used in reference to Marshall ever since.

It didn't take long, however, for Thundering Herd to draw criticism as well. Some folks thought it inappropriate since it came with connotations of the western plains and didn't represent West Virginia or founding father John Marshall. One suggested nickname, which never caught on, would have honored John Marshall by calling the school's teams the Judges.

Huntington Advertiser sportswriter Dug Freutel in 1933 started referring to Marshall teams as the Boogercats (referring to Scotland's Bogie Cats, a "fleet, elusive, courageous" animal) and some other scribes followed in using that nickname. Freutel complained that Thundering Herd made one think of "cows stampeding down a country road," but many people thought Boogercats stirred up worse images than that.

The Boogercat controversy sparked the Marshall alumni association to hold a special meeting, in which a vote was taken to refer to the school teams as the Thundering Herd for the time being - but that a study should be undertaken to find a mascot that had a connection with the school or West Virginia.

Despite Freutel's attempts to keep Boogercat alive for the next couple of years, Thundering Herd and Big Green remained the commonly used nicknames. In 1958 the Marshall student body, without input from the faculty, administration or alumni, decided that two nicknames wouldn't do and held a vote to settle the issue. Along with Thundering Herd and Big Green, one group of students bought a turkey as a suggested mascot and promoted the name Green Gobblers.

The students voted on Big Green as the nickname, but the media continued to use Thundering Herd to refer to the teams.

In the fall of 1964 Marshall president Stewart Smith appointed a faculty-student committee to suggest a more permanent nickname, feeling that Big Green denoted no action and was not appropriately symbolic. The nine-member committee narrowed its field to Big Green, Thundering Herd and Rams, which had been suggested by Huntington businessman Leonard Samworth, a past president of the alumni association.

On January 5, 1965, over 85 percent of the Marshall students picked Thundering Herd above the others and chose the buffalo as the official mascot and green and white as the official school colors. The athletic fundraising organization took on the name Big Green, and Rams was left by the wayside along with Judges, Indians and, of course, Boogercats.
Boogercats. So frigging awesome.

Virginia Tech (Chicago maroon and burnt orange) (

The official university school colors - Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange - also were introduced in 1896. The colors were chosen by a committee because they made a 'unique combination' not worn elsewhere at the time.
Wow. How exiciting.

University of Kentucky (royal blue and white)

The University of Kentucky adopted blue and white as its official colors in 1892. Originally, however, UK students had decided on blue and light yellow prior to the Kentucky-Centre College football game on December 19, 1891. The shade of blue, which is close to a royal blue, was chosen when a student asked the question, "What color blue?" At the time, Richard C. Stoll (who lettered in football at UK in 1889-94) pulled off his necktie and held it up. The students then adopted that particular shade of blue. A year later, UK students officially dropped the light yellow color for white.

Also, if you’re a nerd, you can check out this. (

University of Virginia (navy blue and orange)
Orange and blue were adopted as the University of Virginia's official athletic colors at a mass student meeting in 1888. UVa athletic teams had previously worn silver gray and cardinal red, but those colors did not stand out on muddy football fields, prompting a student movement to change them.

One of the students attending the mass meeting was Allen Potts, a star athlete who played on Virginia's first football team in 1888. Potts showed up at the meeting wearing a navy blue-and-orange scarf that he had acquired during a summer boating expedition at Oxford University. Orange and blue were chosen as the official athletic colors after one of Potts' fellow students pulled the scarf off Potts' neck and, waving it to the crowd, yelled, "How will this do?"

Okay, this story has one major flaw - red and silver were hard to see on the football field? What tha'? Guess no one told Ohio State . . . or UVA - Wise for that matter.
A nifty little waste of time, eh?

By the way, my primary resource for all this data mining is this site right here (, which is simply a collection of “color traditions” made by a “fiscally interested party.” Hah.


Jonesie said...

As a UT alum, I had originally heard the color-blind story, then found the daisy story in the book by former University Historian Milton Klein, Volunteer Moments: Vignettes of the History of The University of Tennessee, 1794-1994. Thanks for the stories from other Appalachian schools. This was fun!

Funky-Redhead said...

MU Alum here. Transplanted to KY. Thoroughly enjoyed the history lesson! WIll come back whenever I need a piece of home sweet home!But, for now we're looking forward to taking our 9 & 7 year old to the Exhibition coal mine in Beckley in October.