Mascot Monday rolls on to another week and you may be wondering why I’m revisiting another mascot. Welp, you are wrong there as I am not talking about Kansas State’s Willie the Wildcat but Northwestern’s Willie the Wildcat. They have the same name, the same color, and almost the same history. It’s going to be hard to avoid comparisons but I”m going to do my best. I mean one is from the cold winds of Chicago and the other is from the Little Apple of Manhattan, Kansas. See there we go, let’s see what else we find.
Northwestern, a charter member of the Big 10 Conference, kicked into existence way back in 1851 and is the only private institution in the conference. It sounds like the football team started kicking dirt up around 1876, but there’s no hard evidence that points to it. The name ‘Wildcats’ was not the first one for Northwestern. Before 1924, they were known as ‘The Purple’ and in some circles, ‘The Fighting Methodists.’ That all changed when Wallace Abbey called the team ‘Wildcats’ in an article for the Chicago Daily Tribune.
So when did Willie the Wildcat show up? Well, his start wasn’t the first for mascots at Northwestern. A caged bear cub by the name of Furpaw made treks from the Lincoln Park Zoo starting in 1923. After a couple of years and a bad losing season, they dumped Furpaw. The athletic department partnered with an advertising firm in 1933 to create the first image of Willie. It took 14 years but the image manifested itself as a costumed mascot when the Alpha Delta fraternity dressed up as him for Homecoming.
A reboot of the Willie the Wildcat costume debuted in 2007 so let’s take a look. Willie the Wildcat has a full fur suit from head to toe. Northwestern opted for grey fur but the head is just a little bit different. Willie’s head has white tufts of fur that stick out at the top and the sides. There also appears to be stripes of black around the cheeks. I don’t see any protruding whiskers on Willie. Willie also sports the football jersey but it bottomless. You know, Disney style.
Okay Okay I can’t help it. Both Willie the Wildcats are just too similar. But the Northwestern Willie was first, as the Kansas State Willie came in the 1960s. Did Kansas State rip off Northwestern? Maybe. They both have grey heads (even though Kansas State Willie was yellowish first), they both wear the purple, they both have white fur stripes. My take is that it is a half-assed rip off. The Kansas State Willie has the grey head but wears a full football uniform with no extra body fur. The Northwestern Willie is bottomless but has fur all the way around. It’s a good thing that order is not switched.
I’m done confusing you. Northwestern Willie has the edge over Kansas State Willie. The full fur body trumps human football uniform always. Also, I did that the fur tufts stick out on Northwestern Willie’s head versus Kansas State Willie’s military cut just doesn’t do it for me. Before you ask, yes, I had long hair in college. So while both Willies aren’t the best out there, they both are pretty decent. Northwestern’s Willie the Wildcat has the most street cred, though.