Welcome to Wolfpack Awareness Week
Oct. 18, 2010
Editor's note: Since 1996, the third week of October has been set aside by various wildlife organizations as National Wolf Awareness Week. The governors of 26 states, including North Carolina, recognize the week to bring awareness about endangered wolves around the country. North Carolina, the only place in the world where endangered red wolves live in the wild, is also home of the Wolfpack, the nickname for NC State's athletics teams. So, in the spirit of awareness and education, GoPack.com managing editor Tim Peeler will write every day of Wolf Awareness Week writing about NC State's history with the wolf. Visit this page, which will be located on the tab at the far right of the GoPack.com homepage, every day this week for more information.
The Origin of the 'Wolfpack'
NC State was tagged with the nickname "Wolfpack" out of anger.
In 1921, an anonymous alum was upset that the behavior of some players on the football team was "as unruly as a pack of wolves." Within weeks, both the NC State Alumni News and the new student newspaper, Technician, began referring to the football team as "The Wolfpack."
In the first three decades of athletics at the North Carolina School for Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, from 1892-1920, there was no formal nickname for the varsity teams that represented the school in intercollegiate athletics. Local wags often referred to the football, baseball, basketball, track and tennis teams as the "Techs," "Farmers," "Aggies" -- anything that might represent the school's agrarian and technical roots.
Other than the interlocking AMC monogram used for athletes who won varsity letters, there were no official logos, no marketing campaigns, no official branding of any sort. The school sold a few pennants, letterman sweaters and red ribbons to fans who gathered at Riddick Field for games, but other school merchandise was limited.
In 1918, as the school changed its name to North Carolina State College, the AMC logo was replaced by a new NSC monogram that eventually morphed into the Block S logo that is still in use today. Three years later, the school was ready for a more consistent nickname, and the anonymous letter-writer provided the perfect opportunity.
That unruly bunch of football players, by the way, finished with a 3-3-3 record for head coach Harry Hartsell, a season highlighted primarily by a 7-0 victory over North Carolina during the State Fair. That victory, played in front of the largest crowd that had ever gathered at Riddick Field, secured the mythical state championship for the newly nicknamed squad.
However, only the football team was called the Wolfpack. Other teams were still referred to as the Aggies or Farmers or Techs until 1925, when new basketball coach Gus Tebell unveiled bright red silk basketball uniforms. Previous togs had been mostly white, with red trim. Because of Tebell's intricate passing schemes that made the team so successful - and the fact that the team had ginger-haired captain Rochelle "Red" Johnson - writers of the daybegan referring to Tebell's team as the "Red Terrors."
That name stuck to every varsity program except football, which has been consistently called the "Wolfpack" since 1921.
Keeping the Name
During World War II, NC State served as a military training ground for the Navy, Army and the early aviators who eventually became part of the Air Force. The campus swelled from less than 2,000 students prior to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, to more than 4,500 by Victory over Europe Day on May 8, 1945.
However, enrollment at the school in 1945 was only about 750 college students, while the rest of the personnel on campus were military trainees. By the fall of 1946, however, the population exploded to some 5,000 college students, mostly war veterans who were taking advantage of the GI Bill to get an affordable education. There was barely any place to house such an enormous population of students.
It's little wonder, with such a heavy population of veterans, that some questioned the use of the nickname "Wolfpack," since that was the name Hitler proudly called the German U-boats that terrorized the Atlantic Ocean throughout the war.
In July, 1946, less than a year after he was named the school's first chancellor, Col. John W. Harrelson asked students to consider a new nickname for the football team, because of the negative connotation of the German submarines and the bad reputation of the predatory animals. Harrelson had served in the U.S. Army during World War I and was particularly eager to please a campus bulging with veterans and their families.
"The only thing lower than a wolf is a snake in the grass," Harrelson proclaimed.
In late 1946, students and alumni were asked to come up with a single nickname to represent all varsity athletic teams. First prize in the contest was six season football tickets.
The nominees were less than inspiring: The North Staters, the Cardinals, the Hornets, the Cultivators, the Cotton Pickers and the Pine-rooters (a down-east name for pigs), the Auctioneers and the Calumets. The latter two were reference to tobacco auctions that had been common for nearly 200 years in the state.
As the contest drew to a close, there were more letters in support of retaining the Wolfpack nickname than anything else, so Harrelson relented and allowed the name to stick.
It didn't hurt that the Wolfpack football team, led by newly hired coach Beattie Feathers, made its first post-season bowl appearance, facing Oklahoma in the Gator Bowl. New basketball coach Everett Case led the hoops team, still called the "Red Terrors," to its first Southern Conference championship since 1929. And new baseball coach Vic Sorrell, a long-time star pitcher of the Detroit Tigers, began building his successful baseball program.
Because of alumni support and a school spirit that reached a fever pitch among the veterans, the nickname Wolfpack stuck, for all teams.
Long before NC State teams were known as "The Wolfpack," the football and baseball teams had bulldog mascots named "Togo" and, later, "Tige." Teams of that time were referred to as simply Farmers or Techs or Aggies. Togo was led onto the field by the school's chief "rooter," a student who led cheers on the sidelines. The dogs made on-and-off appearances at outdoor events, but were almost always featured in the team photos.
From "The Wolfpack... Intercollegiate Athletics at NC State" by Dr. Bill Beezley: In the 1940s, "cheerleaders for several years had brought a Minnesota timber wolf to football games. But the animal, called `State,' had never become accustomed to the crowds. It would cringe and cry and try to slink out of the stadium every time spectators cheered. `State' was sold to a traveling animal show because of its unbecoming timidity."
A live Minnesota timberwolf, Lobo was purchased in 1959 to be a sideline mascot for the football team. He was a sickly animal when he arrived and died shortly after receiving a vitamin shot. He was kept in a pen behind the house of Lawrence Burnette, an employee of the NC State chemistry department.
A true timberwolf, or canis lupus, Lobo II was kept in a cage and rolled into Riddick Stadium by two cheerleaders. He made his debut at the State-Carolina football game in Chapel Hill on Oct. 3, 1959. But he soon suffered a nervous breakdown after appearing before 40,000 screaming fans and never fully recovered. He was also kept in a pen at Burnette's home. One night, someone left his cage door open and he escaped into the woods of Wake County, and was never heard from again.
This is the most famous of all the live mascots. In celebration of the opening of Carter Stadium in 1966, students in summer school began a fundraising campaign to purchase a new wolf to roam the sidelines. They sold "shares" at 25 cents each, and raised $700 to have a live mascot. They paid $125 to Osborn Zoo Supply Company in Viking, Minn., for what they thought was a four-month-old timber wolf, and spent another $125 to have the animal shipped to Raleigh. They used the rest of the money to pay Burnette to pay Lobo's room and board.
He was particularly popular because he would often howl.
After pre-vet students noticed that the animal looked a little funny, Dr. Fred Barkalow of the NC State Zoology Department examined Lobo III and confirmed that he was, in fact, a coyote, not a timber wolf. He thought that was good.
"[Coyotes] are much finer animals, much more able to stand civilization," he said in a February 1967 interview with Technician. "Wolves are dangerous...they're unpredictable when they are old, and they are tremendous animals besides. One could crush a man's arm. It's not inconceivable that the University might have been faced with a lawsuit had either Lobo I or II reached maturity.
"People have seen too many Walt-Disney-type stories to fully appreciate the temperament of this animal."
"Frankly, I am glad we didn't get a wolf. Wolves are very high-strung and nervous. They're animals of the wild spaces and it's cruel and inhumane to subject them to 20,000 howling people. The coyote is a far better mascot. He has a temperament more like a dog's and he can stand up to civilization. Lobo III is a friendly creature and he has taken to the crowds."
The revelation that Lobo III was really a coyote made front-page news in Raleigh's News & Observer. A Technician editorial urged the students to keep the coyote. Following the Wolfpack's win at second-ranked Houston - still one of the biggest football wins in school history - Sports Illustrated dubbed the Wolfpack and its White Shoes defense the "Kool Kyoties." The team went on to finish 9-2 on the season and win the first post-season bowl game in school history, a 14-7 victory over Georgia in the Liberty Bowl.
But fans eventually lost interest in the coyote, especially after the football team finished with a 3-6-1 record in 1969. They never really got over the fact he wasn't a wolf.
"I think that's what turned everyone against Lobo III. When they found out he was a coyote instead of a wolf they didn't care about him anymore," Burnette said in 1972. "I'd really like to see them get a wolf again. I tried to get one myself a while back, but I found out that wolves are on the government's endangered species list, so it's just about impossible to get one legally. I'd still be willing to keep a wolf. Still got my pens and everything."
Lobo was retired in 1970 and was scheduled to be put to sleep. However, a "Save Lobo" campaign led by former State Representative Archie McMillan put off those plans. The coyote was supposed to be retired to the North Carolina Zoo, which was under construction in Asheboro at the time. But he died of heartworms before the zoo was completed.
In 1972, five dogs roamed the sidelines at Carter Stadium, two purebred Siberian Huskies and three Alaska Malamutes, owned by students Harry Rattelade and Nick Koch. Again, the dog mascots never caught on and their use was discontinued in the late 1970s.
For many years, alumni and students fondly recalled the live mascots on the sidelines at Carter-Finley Stadium and asked to have another at outdoor events. But wolves are protected as an endangered species and have proven unsuitable in the stadium environment.
In the fall of 2010, NC State found a new mascot named Tuffy. He is not a wolf, but a Tasmaskan dog that looks strikingly like a wolf. Tamaskans originated from Finland, with Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes. The first Tuffy is cared for by a family in Eastern North Carolina, and is transported to home football games, where he roams the sidelines during the action.