The Student News Site of Clemson University

The Tiger

The Tiger

The Tiger

The Tiger Mascot: More than just a suit

Kim Montuoro, Alumnus

The Tiger mascot began appearing at sporting events in 1954.

Clemson adopted the Tiger mascot when Walter Riggs came over from Auburn in 1896 to start a football program in the Upstate. Riggs also brought with him the school’s colors from handed-down practice jerseys that were orange and a faded purple called Regalia. 

Although named the Tigers, Clemson’s first mascot was actually called the Southern Gentleman. A student dressed up in a formal suit, colored purple, complete with top hat and cane. An editor from the Greenville News gave the mascot this name and it stuck until 1972 when the costume was discontinued in an effort to regress away from pre-Civil War southern culture. 

The Tiger mascot that can be seen at all major sporting events on campus was introduced in 1954. His smaller companion, the Cub, started appearing in 1993 and wears a ½ jersey. 

The mascot enjoys the tradition of doing a number of pushups during every Clemson football score equal to the amount of points they currently have. Zach Mills was the student who came up with the practice in 1978, and recorded 287 push-ups that game. Ricky Capps would later break that record with 465 push-ups during the 82-24 blowout of Wake Forest in 1981. 

Although tigers in the wild are generally fierce and regal creatures, the mascot is generally known to be a bit creepier looking than others. Kids sometimes find it scary because of the yellow, wide open eyes that don’t make too much sense given the context of the character. Every other team with a tiger mascot has a large, cute head and big, round eyes on its anthropomorphic body that try to convey a sense

of playfulness. 

In 2014, CBS Sports actually ranked the Tiger as the fourth scariest mascot on its list. The Tiger was only beaten out by Oklahoma State’s Pistol Pete, Maryland’s Testudo (basically an irradiated turtle), and Purdue’s Purde Pete.

The appearances aren’t limited to sports games either. The Tiger and Co. have made appearances at over 500 events in 2016 alone. The Tiger has shown up to birthday parties, weddings and hospital beds. They don’t go to every event, though, as they did turn down a bachelorette party. 

In 2014, the Tiger turned 60 years old and a reunion was held for all previous mascots. Billy McCown was the oldest returning mascot and the first one to be seen on TV. He was the mascot during the 1959 Sugar Bowl when Clemson played number one LSU, also named the Tigers, in New Orleans. Mike Bays, who played the Tiger in the 1990s recalls what it felt like to be in the suit. 

“To me it’s more than wearing a suit.  It’s the bringing of joy to people, especially children.  I have visited children in hospitals, appeared at Special Olympics and the smiles on little children’s faces is something you never forget,” Bays said. 

“Being the Clemson Tiger is a special experience.  At the end of the day, we hope we added to the event and brought laughter and made people happy.”

Traditionally, whoever plays the Tiger and the Cub will wear the paws of their character’s costume when they cross the stage to graduate. The secret is finally revealed to the world, but by then to torch has been passed on and a new Tiger awaits football season to cheer on South Carolina’s best team.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Tiger

Your donation will support the student journalists of Clemson University . Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Tiger

Comments (0)

All The Tiger Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *