Fur over feathers: In my perfect NCAA bracket, people mascots are creepy and cats reign supreme

Fur over feathers: How to pick the best mascot bracket

The mascots decide in this 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Bracket. The rules? Animals over people (or objects) and mammals over birds. In the end, it’s a cat’s world. Go Tigers.
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The mascots decide in this 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Bracket. The rules? Animals over people (or objects) and mammals over birds. In the end, it’s a cat’s world. Go Tigers.

If you know anything about me, without even reading you know I picked some kind of cat to win the NCAA Tournament.

That’s how my mascot bracket rolls. It’s not about which mascot looks the fiercest or which mascot could beat another mascot in a fight. That’s your father’s mascot bracket. This is about which mascot I personally prefer/find cuter — my own personal species biases on display for the world to see.

Spending hours poring over records and schedules and RPIs before filling out the NCAA bracket may work for some people, but the truth is you can pick all your winners based on team colors or by drawing names out of a hat and do just as well. In fact, the best I ever entered in our company pool was a mascot bracket nine years ago.

Team seed or ranking is irrelevant in my bracket. Strength of schedule? More like the power of cute. Team allegiance is also out the window. I don’t care if you’re a No. 1 seed from the ACC. Don’t be a 17th-century British sympathizer playing against a bulldog and we’ll talk, Virginia.

With the first full day of March Madness action starting Thursday, here are my personal rules for mascot supremacy:

1. Animals over people, almost always. (The only exception to this would be if the animal-adjacent Richmond Spiders were in play, and they are not. And if you’re tempted to email me to tell me spiders aren’t animals, use your time more constructively.)

2. Anything over inanimate objects, usually. I don’t root for Oranges. Unless they’re playing Spiders.

3. Fur over feathers. Nothing against birds, I really do love them. But give me a soft kitty or fuzzy bear any time.

4. Feathers over fish or scales. I’m looking at you, Saint Mary’s Rattler Man.

The Saint Louis University mascot, the Billiken. The school says the Billiken is a symbol of good luck on campus . Julio Cortez AP

After Googling 68 team mascots — which involved a lot of head-shaking and mumbled expletives — the picking was fairly easy.

But there were a few First Round hiccups, which I’ll explain.

The Duke Blue Devils mascot dances during a time out in the second half of the ACC Tournament semi-final game against North Carolina, March 10, 2017. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

First, there was some office debate about the Blue Devil. Is it a person? An animal? An existential idea? In the end, we decided it’s people-based, hence the fall of my first No. 1 seed. (The Virginia Cavalier falling to the Gardner-Webb Bulldog is my other No. 1 seed slated to go down).

Texas Tech’s cowboy (Raider Red) vs. the Northern Kentucky Viking (Victor E. Viking) stumped me for a minute. They’re both people, so it took a little more analysis. I finally decided the Viking looked like he would plunder and pillage your town and kidnap your daughters, while the cowboy had a more friendly Yosemite Sam/Gilbert Giddyup (Google it) vibe.

I picked the Virginia Tech Hokie Bird over the Saint Louis Billiken, even though neither are real things, because the Billiken looks ridiculous. A similar theory applies to the Michigan State Spartan over the Bradley Gargoyles. That gargoyle is Ernest Borgnine-inspired nightmare fuel (and yet, still not as terrifying as the Providence College Friar, who is not in play this year).

The Bradley University Gargoyle. Bradley University

The Tennessee Volunteers, much like the North Carolina Tar Heels, were smart enough to adopt a cuddly animal to represent the symbols that represent their teams. Therefore, Tennessee’s Bluetick Hound dog over the Colgate Raiders. (Similarly, Ramses the Ram shall defeat the Iona Burly Man, who looks like a deranged Abraham Lincoln.) And here I’ll add a note to Ohio State: putting a face on a nut doesn’t cut it.

Someone please explain to me what’s going on at Ole Miss. First they had the plantation owner mascot, which was understandably problematic. Then they switched to a really cute black bear, and apparently people hated him. So now they have … a landshark? (And yes, I read the origin story but I still shake my head.) Therefore, Oklahoma Horse (and I use the word “horse” generously) for the win.

Mississippi mascot Landshark Tony gestures to the crowd during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game between Mississippi and LSU in Oxford, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Thomas Graning AP

Auburn’s Aubie the Tiger vs. the New Mexico State Pistol Pete is a no-brainer, but I just need to say to New Mexico State: please do better. My Googling indicates this is an actual man (not even a mascot suit!) with a hat and fake mustache.

The Houston Cougars vs. the Georgia State Panthers game is tough. Houston’s Cougar is named Shasta, and he has a cute costume (plus, there’s a female cougar partner, a la N.C. State’s Mr. and Mrs. Wuf). Georgia State’s Panther, named Pounce, is cute, and I love black panthers. But this panther is royal blue, and I’m strongly opposed to dyeing animals, so I feel this sets a bad example. Get ‘em, Shasta!

Finally, in perhaps my most difficult First Round match-up, we have the Kentucky Wildcats vs. the Abilene Christian College Wildcats. This is complicated. No one likes Kentucky, and superfan Ashley Judd once called me a “brat” on Twitter (she isn’t wrong). But the Abilene Wildcat is really weird. He looks like a cat-person hybrid. Like a witch put a spell on a prospector and he woke up a cat. So, reluctantly, go Kentucky.

Aubie the Auburn Tiger greets fans during Tiger Walk before the Alabama State NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Auburn, Ala. Vasha Hunt AP

And the winner is ...

In later rounds there are a lot of Cat vs. Cat match-ups, and those took a lot of soul searching. (I mostly just looked at the mascot in costume and picked the one I thought was cuter.)

It finally came down to the LSU Tiger (Mike) vs. the Auburn Tiger (Aubie) in the final game. I’m not gonna lie, I had to take a walk and think this one through.

In the end, I went with Mike.

Why? His costume coloring is more realistic — he’s less Tony the Tiger — so he has a very slight edge over Aubie. Very slight.

In fact, I predict a close game.

Go Tigers! (And please, no death threats, Billiken fans. Thanks.)

Louisiana State University’s mascot is Mike the Tiger. Here, Mike flexes in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Baton Rouge, La., Jan. 5, 2016. BILL FEIG AP

For more of Brooke Cain’s hot takes, follow her “Happiness Is a Warm TV” blog at newsobserver.com/warm-tv-blog, Happiness Is a Warm TV on Facebook and @WarmTV on Twitter.

The News & Observer's Joe Giglio breaks down his picks for the perfect 2019 NCAA bracket. He tells you what he thinks the big upsets will be and whether Duke and North Carolina will make it to Minneapolis for the Final Four.

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Brooke Cain is a North Carolina native who has worked at The News & Observer for more than 20 years. She writes about TV and local media for the Happiness is a Warm TV blog, and answers CuriousNC questions for readers.