The word mascot can be traced to the medieval Latin word masca, meaning “mask” or “witch.”
The notion of a mascot as a lucky charm stems from the 1880 French operetta La Mascotte, in which a farm girl bestowed fortune on anyone she met. Translated into English, the show became The Mascot and debuted in theaters in Boston and New York.
The first team mascot, an actual bulldog named Handsome Dan, was a tradition started by a Yale student in 1889. Today bulldogs audition for the Yale title (strutting with the band, staring down a stuffed Princeton Tiger). The latest, Dan the 16th, beat nine others for the job.
The online Mascot Hall of Fame (mascothalloffame.com), started by a bunch of guys who once inhabited the suits, has inducted 14 collegiate and professional mascots, including Big Red from Western Kentucky University and the Houston Rockets’ Clutch the Bear.