The Elephant in the Room: How Alabama got ‘Big Al’

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Image Courtesy of etsy.com

Anyone familiar with Alabama football knows that although their athletics nickname is the “Crimson Tide,” their mascot is an elephant. There’s no clear connection between crimson and elephants, nor the “Roll Tide” shout, so how did this come to be?

History

The story starts with Wallace Wade, legendary Alabama coach (as well as a legendary Duke coach, and the namesake of their football stadium). Wade’s 1930 Alabama team was like many others he had coached; menacing and tough. They were known for their strength and blocking abilities.

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Image Courtesy of pinterest.com

Following a hard-fought victory over Ole Miss, Everett Strupper of the Atlanta Journal used very imaginative language to describe the sheer power of the Alabama football team:

“Coach Wade started his second team that was plenty big and they went right to their knitting scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against one of the best fighting small lines that I have seen. For Ole Miss was truly battling the big boys for every inch of ground.

At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity.

It was the first time that I had seen it and the size of the entire eleven nearly knocked me cold, men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size.”

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Image Courtesy of bsnscb.com

“Elephants” wasn’t a team nickname at the time, but it soon became one. Sports writers would refer to the Alabama linemen as the “Red Elephants.” That 1930 team would go on to have an undefeated season, one of Alabama’s claimed national championships.

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Image Courtesy of pinterest.com

Alabama informally accepted the moniker. In the 1940’s the University actually kept a live elephant. This elephant would carry the homecoming queen every year. When keeping a live elephant became too expensive, Alabama began renting elephants for homecoming weekend.

Big Al

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Image Courtesy of rolltide.com

The first use of an elephant mascot suit was in 1960, when student Melford Espey Jr. began wearing elephant costume head to games. Espey would go on to become an administrator at the University of Alabama, and Coach Bear Bryant would ask him to don the elephant head for games.

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Image Courtesy of ncaa.com

In 1979, Alabama’s homecoming committee decided they wanted an official mascot suit. They met with Coach Bryant, who approved the idea, and then purchased the first Big Al suit from Disney with athletic department funds. Big Al debuted at the 1980 Sugar Bowl, in which Alabama defeated Arkansas. The actual name “Big Al’ came from a student vote. Al Brown was a popular DJ on campus at the time, and thus was voted in.

Since his formal adoption, Big Al has appeared in many forms as an alternate logo for Alabama. Many incarnations of this are shown throughout this article, with the most recent form below and at the start of this article:

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Image Courtesy of tirecovers.com

Love Big Al? Hate him? Think Aubie is better? Leave your comments below, and check out our last historical branding spotlight here!

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