History of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Mascot

While the football team has been a must-watch program in recent years, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers mascot has become a beloved fixture of the sport.

Their free-scoring, high-volume passing offenses of recent seasons have made them a must-watch college football program. Yet, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers mascot might be more beloved by fans across the nation than the football team itself. After all, who doesn’t love a big red blob?

What Is the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Mascot?

With his furry, red, shapeless body, gaping black hole-esque mouth, and sinister, dark, some-might-say overgrown eyebrows, the Hilltoppers mascot could be described as part children’s cartoon, part children’s nightmare fuel and wouldn’t look out of place at the local blood drive.

He is, of course, “Big Red.” The Hilltoppers mascot first represented the program in 1979 and has since become a part of college football folklore. He is essentially a big red blob, but he’s become the loveable furry face of Western Kentucky athletics.

While most college programs have a nickname that lends itself to an obvious mascot, Western Kentucky struggled to define what a representative of the Hilltoppers might actually look like.

After a series of failed designs and attempts to create a captivating and charismatic Hilltoppers mascot, Ralph Carey was enlisted to finally solve the dilemma. His experience at King’s Island Amusement Park made him the perfect person to craft a loveable and excitement-inducing face of the university.

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Carey sketched the original artwork for “Big Red” and then designed the costume that would become the Hilltoppers mascot. His vision would come to life in 1979, and with an appearance at a December basketball came his first exposure to the Western Kentucky fan base.

In the over 40 years that he’s been representing the program as the Hilltoppers mascot, “Big Red” has become more than the face of the program’s sports team. He makes appearances around the campus, in classrooms, and at community events in and around the Bowling Green area.

“Big Red is seen as a part of the spirit of Western,” Carey told the WKU Herald. “He’s the head cheerleader and the unquestionable spirit of the student body, alumni, and community that contributes to make WKU what it is.”

While furry and loveable, “Big Red” hasn’t escaped controversy during his tenure as the Hilltoppers mascot. In 1990, an Italian television company created a mascot called Gabibbo, who bore a striking resemblance to the Western Kentucky phenom. However, it was argued that there were enough differences between the two for a lawsuit to eventually be dismissed.

What Was the Western Kentucky Mascot Before Big Red?

Big Red has served as the Hilltoppers mascot since 1979 and has established himself as a piece of college football folklore. However, he wasn’t the original Western Kentucky mascot, with two previous characters failing to gain any traction before the introduction of the beloved red blob.

The first Hilltoppers mascot was a red tuxedo sporting man named Topper. Exquisitely dressed in a top hat and accompanying cane, Topper may have been the epitome of gaudy sophistication to look at, but he failed to excite. His successor, Hilltopper, was another man in fancy dress. Sporting a Daniel Boone-style hat and a rifle — he also failed to enthrall.

Why Is Western Kentucky Called the Hilltoppers?

While “Big Red” has become a college football icon, there has always been some confusion about the connection to the Hilltoppers. Even during his creation, there was difficulty envisioning what a “Hilltopper” might actually be characterized by. Why is Western Kentucky even known as the Hilltoppers?

Well, that is slightly easier to explain. Back when the program was known as Western Kentucky Normal School, the university relocated to the top of the hill overlooking the Barren River valley.

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Students carried supplies up to the top of the hill, which saw the program adopt the nickname “Hilltoppers,” one of the more unusual nicknames in all of college football.

The pride in the name is evident, with phrases such as “Hilltoppers down that life at the top is worth the climb” and “the flat path is easy, but for the inspired there is a spirit that kindles a desire to climb higher” adorning the university website.