The NCAA Tournament is well underway. And, as anticipated, March Madness is officially going mad.
With so many teams all vying to be NCAA champions, some with a better chance than others and some whose hopes have already been dashed, one might wonder where they got their names.
As a distraction from your already-busted bracket, here’s a look at some of the more interesting origin stories for names of teams still in the Tournament.
Gonzaga traces their school’s team names to a football game gone wrong. In 1921, Gonzaga’s football team took on West Virginia University in the Christmas Bowl in San Diego. Gonzaga was handed a gut-wrenching 24-0 loss, but would remember this game in a positive way, as the night they got their school’s team name. A San Diego reporter on the sidelines stated that the persistence and tenacity held by Gonzaga was like that of a feisty bulldog. The team loved the comparison and went home to Washington as the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The name ‘boilermakers,’ as in craftsmen who make things out of steel plates and tubes, might not make sense at first. But to those over at Purdue, the name couldn’t make any more sense. Purdue’s moniker also originated from a football game, however it was one that they won. In 1889, Purdue defeated Wabash College, 18-4, and sent the town and students into a frenzy over the loss. The town started calling Purdue the ‘corn-huskers,’ rail-splitters’ and ‘log-haulers’ — and later they’d call them the boilermakers. All are references to the school’s working-class roots. A few years later, Purdue returned to Wabash and slammed the team, 44-0. A local reporter began his coverage of the game with: ‘Wabash Snowed Completely Under by the Burly Boiler Makers from Purdue.’ The name stuck and Purdue now proudly faces opponents as the Boilermakers.
North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina cites two possible stories for the origin of how they received the name ‘Tar Heels.’ The first story dates back to the Revolutionary War and states that when British soldiers began wading through the waters of North Carolina, they were halted by the tar that lines the floor of the waters. Many believe that the people of North Carolina dumped their tar there to slow the soldiers. The second story resides with the Civil War and tells the story of North Carolinian soldiers who reprimanded their fellow soldiers for fleeing the battlefield. The soldiers threatened that anyone who might want to flee in the future — they would line their heels with tar to keep them there. General Robert E. Lee is also believed to have exclaimed: “God bless the Tar Heel boys.” Whichever story is the origin, North Carolinians couldn’t be any more proud of their team name.
The Florida Gators received their moniker in 1907 from an unlikely place. A local businessman Phillip Miller, who owned a office supply and founded a soda shop that the students often visited, went to visit his son Austin who was attending the University of Virginia’s School of Law. While there, Miller visited Michie’s Company, a printing company that made law books and school pennants. Miller wanted to create pennants for Florida, knowing the students would like them, but Florida had no mascot or nickname. Miller’s son suggested ‘Gators’ in reference to Florida’s alligator population, to which they discovered the shop owner had never seen an alligator before. After a quick visit to the library to show the store owner an alligator, Miller had the pennants printed, and the school loved them so much it became the school’s official team name.
The students and alumni of the University of Michigan began referring to themselves as ‘Wolverines’ as early as 1861. The true origin of the name remains a mystery but the University has several theories of how the name came to be. One theory credits a Michigan great, one of the school’s football coaches, Fielding H. Yost, who said, in 1944, that be believed the name came as a result of wolverine pelt trading that historically occurred at Sault Ste. The second theory came up in 1952 and stated that the French were the first to settle in Michigan and were referred to as Wolverines due to their gluttonous nature. The most popular reason, though, traces to the Michigan-Ohio territory feud, in which Ohio dubbed the inhabitants of Michigan ‘Wolverines’ because of their aggression and gluttony. Regardless, it provided Michigan with a fierce and powerful nickname.