It’s been 12 years since the University of Illinois had an official symbol/mascot. In the wake of the Chief’s departure, the University decided not to take a hard turn to some other mascot unlike other schools facing mascot controversies, and instead left a void, which allowed controversy to keep festering. So we intend to fix that, and though there are definitely bad ideas in brainstorming, that’s not going to stop us from still trying to make a case for them.
And so, without further ado, let’s talk pumpkin.
The Case for The Great Pumpkin and pumpkins in general as a mascot:
- Illinois is the king of pumpkins. As evidenced by the lovely scents of the South Farms wafting through campus when a southerly wind rolls in, Illinois is an ag school, and it’d make sense if we were represented by some sort of agricultural product. Now, you may say Illinois is the king of corn, and you would be corre…(gets drowned out by cacophony of Iowans and Nebraskans who stumbled their way upon this article)…ok ok, it’s at least disputed. Illinois’ dominance in pumpkin production is unmatched though. Last year, Illinois produced over 500 million pounds of pumpkin, while no other state got over the 200 million-pound mark. So let’s celebrate our undisputed agricultural title.
- It matches school colors. Pumpkins are orange (when ripe), which is one of the two colors we specifically hail. It makes sense.
- Under the correct circumstances, it can win a mascot fight. Those circumstances are it being lifted above the other mascot with a crane and then dropped on top of said mascot. But we are also the conference’s best engineering school, so yeah, that shouldn’t be an issue.
- Pumpkins in general aren’t considered racist (unless someone really messes up).
Arguments and My Counterarguments
It’s not the Chief.
Congratulations on threading the needle of being observant enough to notice this, but not observant enough to realize that society is moving further and further away from Native American imagery representing sports teams.
It makes it easy for other marketing departments to make hype videos and whatnot because destroying pumpkins looks cool.
This is true, which is why we should co-opt the destruction of pumpkins as our own. Make a pumpkin toss a slightly more dangerous version of what Penn does with toast and Texas Tech does with tortillas. Give me all the hypothetical videos of the golf teams exploding pumpkins with drivers or the baseball and softball teams destroying orange hanging sliders. For science purposes, give Blake Hayes an assortment of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes (maybe even some gourds) and see what sort of magic he can do punting them.
The costume for the mascot will look stupid, and yes, I brought video evidence for my argument.
Yes, the Pumpkin Knight is objectively terrible, so let’s stay away from that. Whatever mascot we have needs to be powerful, robust, inspirational, and as close to the peak of humanity as possible. Something befitting the title of “the Great Pumpkin” (which is my current placeholder name for the costumed mascot that runs around on the field). Something like…
…but pumpkin. It’s not that hard to picture.
It’s too similar to Otto the Orange, and we want to be unique.
Oranges and pumpkins are both fruits that are orange, and the Great Pumpkin would look at least somewhat similar to Otto, but I would hope the general public would be able to discern between an orange and a pumpkin.
Also, it’s not the worst thing to do things similar to Syracuse when it comes to transitioning from Native American imagery. You don’t hear much about New Yorkers clamoring for bringing back the Saltine Warrior, and part of that has to be due to them immediately bringing in a new mascot instead of leaving a general void.
Your placeholder name might cause some copyright and other legal issues with the Peanuts franchise.
I’m not sure how litigious the Schulz family is with their IP, but I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t be too hard to use the rights of the Great Pumpkin, especially considering it famously never shows up in its eponymous holiday special.
Speaking of which, there probably isn’t a better metaphor for the general Illini fan waiting for #WeWillWin to turn into #WeAreWinning than Linus and the Great Pumpkin. There’s doubters, sure, but that’s not going to stop us from freezing our butts off in the pumpkin patch on gameday, either metaphorically or quite literally.
There’s something there, and it’s definitely more positive than the obvious relationship between Illini football and Charlie Brown trying to kick a football.
It’s pointless to try to come up with a mascot that will make everyone happy. No mascot will completely replace the reverence people still have for the Chief, so the Great Pumpkin wouldn’t be a one-to-one replacement for it. However, if a dingus malingus like me can find ways where it could be weird, fun, unique, and Illinois-themed, there’s at least something there.