Stanford and UNC have strange nicknames, stranger mascots

EL PASO, Texas - Stanford and North Carolina, the two schools playing in this year's Sun Bowl, have something in common: strange nicknames and even stranger mascots.

The Stanford Cardinal's mascot is a pine tree while the North Carolina Tar Heel's mascot is a ram.

Stanford has never really had an official mascot. The "Stanford Tree" is actually the Stanford Band's mascot.

The school is nicknamed Cardinal, a reference to the color, not the songbird.

Throughout the years, various versions of the Stanford Tree have been called one of the country's most bizarre college mascots and regularly appears at the top of "worst mascot" lists.

The tree is supposed to represent "El Palo Alto," the tree that appears on both the official seal of Stanford University and the municipal seal of Palo Alto, a California city near the University.

In an article titled "Why We're All Called Tar Heels," William S. Powell reveals the Tar Heel moniker is "rooted in the state's earliest history, derived from the production of naval stores - tar, pitch and turpentine - extracted from the vast pine forests of the state."

Powell further states "early explorers from Jamestown pointed out the possibilities for naval stores production along the Chowan River ... and North Carolina became an important source of tar and pitch for the English navy."

The colony shipped more than 100,000 barrels of tar and pitch annually to England, Powell states. According to the article, "the distillation process for tar and pitch was messy and smelly. Rich pine logs were stacked, covered with earth and burned. The tar ran out through channels dug on the lower side of the pile. Because of this product, so extensively produced in North Carolina, the people of the state were called 'tarboilers.'"

So why the ram?

According to the website, school officials in the early 1920s felt the university needed a symbol. 

"(In 1922) the Tar Heels had posted a brilliant 9-1 record. The star of that 1922 team was a bruising fullback named Jack Merritt. Merritt was nicknamed 'the battering ram' for the way he plunged into lines," the article states, explaining how the ram was selected as the school's mascot.

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