Arizona Wildcats Mascot History

    The Arizona Wildcats mascot has a rich history dating back to 1915, but why does the program use a wildcat as its mascot, and how has it evolved?

    The term “Mascotte” was first popularized in the 1880s by a French opera called La Mascotte. A farmer’s crops return when he is in the presence of a mysterious woman, known as La Mascotte.

    Since then, one “t” and the “e” have been dropped and most teams now have their own regional representatives of good fortune in the form of a mascot. For the University of Arizona, that symbol is the Wildcat, and it has a rich history.

    Who (or What) Is the Wildcats Mascot?

    After starting its football program in 1899, Arizona’s original mascot was introduced in 1915, but it wasn’t a student in a cartoonish costume like it is today.

    The first mascot, and the next several, were live bobcats cared for by the school and brought out in a cage for games. Tom Easter was the name of the first one, purchased by the freshman football team from a local blacksmith for $9.19 (valued at $280.63 today).

    Tom Easter’s name was soon changed to Rufus Arizona, in honor of the school’s president, Rufus von KelinSmid. However, it didn’t live a full year, dying after hanging on a tree limb it was tied to.

    Arizona continued the practice of live mascots for over 50 years until a costumed mascot, Wilbur the Wildcat, was introduced at a football game against Texas Tech in 1959.

    The idea was adopted by Cal, who had a costumed bear, Oskie, to rally support at football games.

    Wilbur the Wildcat became increasingly popular and was soon utilized at basketball games, luncheons, award presentations, and other events meant to promote school spirit.

    The mascot’s look was upgraded with a makeover in 1976, followed by a wife being introduced as a character, Wilma the Wildcat, in 1986. The two are still married to this day.

    Originally donned in western wear with pistols, the duo now sport athletic gear to disassociate the school’s reputation from gun violence.

    Why Is Wildcat the Mascot?

    If you are wondering if a Wildcat is a specific species of feline or if it is more of a descriptive term encompassing many different breeds of wild cats — the answer is yes.

    There are two different types of traditional wildcats: the African wildcat (felis lybica) and the European wildcat (felis silvestris). While they differ in color and size, both are smaller cats and are evolutionary ancestors to what we now know as the domesticated house cat.

    While it is estimated that free-ranging domesticated cats kill 2.4 billion birds and between 6.3-22.3 billion mammals annually, most of us recognize “wildcats” as cute and cuddly, which doesn’t instill much fear in opponents.

    MORE: 2024 College Football Realignment

    The University of Arizona decided its use of Wildcat would be best utilized to describe a larger, more ferocious wild cat. Bobcats (lynx rufus) are plentiful across the Arizona deserts, so Arizona opted to use it as a symbol for its version of a Wildcat.

    Miss any action from the top college QB Rankings during the 2023 football season? Want to track all the movement with the college football transfer portal? College Football Network has you covered with that and more!

    College Football Transfer Portal Tracker

    Never miss a beat with the CFN-exclusive College Football Transfer Portal Tracker, listing the student-athletes entering and exiting the transfer portal.

    Related Articles