Monday, September 16, 2013

Zipping through mascot world

When I was a student at Michigan, I found a fortunate item in the lost and found drawer at The Michigan Daily – a knit wool cap – on a particularly cold January afternoon. It had gone unclaimed for months and the business manager didn’t care who wore it, so long as it provided comfort from the below-zero conditions.
That individual was me; and to this day, it has remained in my possession, emblazoned with the “Akron Zips” logo on the front, complete with a bouncing kangaroo (some 40 years later).
It could be a decade before Michigan’s football team plays a school with a more unique nickname than the University of Akron Zips. In a city and area, best known for being the Tire Capital of the World, the school has stuck with this strange moniker and even stranger mascot (which does not match the nickname at all).
The Zips stems from the term, “zippers,” which were the type of rubber overshoes (or boots), made by the B.F. Goodrich Company (headquartered in Akron), and that were very popular in the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1925, Akron held a campus-wide contest to select a nickname for the school’s athletic teams. Submissions by students, faculty and alumni included such entries as Golden Blue Devils, Tip Toppers, Rubbernecks, Hillbillies, Kangaroos and Cheveliers.
The winner was freshman Margaret Hamlin, and for her creative genius, she got a prize – $10 to buy some “Zippers.”
In 1950, athletic director Kenneth Cochrane officially shortened the nickname to Zips; which is not unprecedented in NCAA history. In the early 70s, Northwestern seemed tired of being Wildcats so the students were given a chance to change it.
However, the NU admission felt the students’ choice – Purple Haze – was NOT appropriate so, today, it remains the Wildcats.
The university’s live mascot is “Zippy,” a kangaroo, one of only a few female college mascots in the United States (A&M’s collie, Reveille, is also a female).
You might ask why Akron didn’t more directly itself with the industry is was best known for … tires and rubber products. The team could have been called the Radials, Flying Shoes, Tiger Paws, the Wheels … or a dozen other avenues.
Akron is tied to the railroad tracks of the tire industry like a damsel in distress.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber was founded in 1989 in Akron and its headquarters continue to house there.Interesting note: the company is named for Charles Goodyear, the man who invented vulcanized rubber (in 1839), but who had nothing to do with the actual business.
As mentioned, B.F. Goodrich began in Akron in 1870, and it was a fierce competitive battle between the tire giants.
However, as has been the case with many American industries, it has disappeared from the landscape; merging with Uniroyal in 1986 (sold in 1988 to Michelin) and by 2002, after going all-in with the aerospace industries, the official Goodrich name was gone from the scene.
Firestone was begun in 1900 (in Akron), but does not have its offices there anymore.
Firestone, thanks to a close relationship between Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford, kept its market share as the tire slapped on every Ford motor product produced off the assembly line.
Another name that no longer exist include General Tire (founded in Akron in 1915) before being sold to German-based Continental Tire.
It would NOT be unusual for a team to align itself closely with a familiar symbol of that community.
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL use the same logo on its helmets as created by U.S. Steel – the Steelmark logo belonging to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). The logo was a circle containing three hypocycloids.
In the 1950s, when helmet logos first became popular, the Steelers added players’ numbers to either side of their gold helmets. But towards the end of the 50s, those numbers were eliminated and replaced by the Steelmark symbol.
In fact, it was a suggested by a rival steel manufacturer (Republic Steel) in an “enemy” city – Cleveland. So in 1962, the Steelers unveiled a new helmet with the new logo on just one side.
The “M” on the current Milwaukee Brewers cap is the same as done every bottle of Miller beer (obviously the “brewer” of note).
It even happens on the high school level, here in Texas. Shiner is a town of about 3,000 people, and home to great sausage and the Spoetzel Brewery, which was at last home-owned beermaker in the state. There is hardly a Texan who doesn’t instantly recognize the products – Shiner Beer, Shiner Bock and a fistful of other beverages.
The high school football team plays on Friday nights and has the nickname “Comanches” on its program. BUT when the Comanches take the field, on both sides of their helmets resides the Shiner beer logo (without the word “beer,” of course).
Yet it is unmistakable where that logo came from – the front of a cold Shiner longneck.
Still … let’s NOT give Dave Brandon any new ideas! This needs to stay “un-Brandoned.”

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