- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

There's no escaping Maryland athletics these days. Is this program en fuego or what? The football team goes to the Orange Bowl. The men's basketball team wins the NCAA tournament. Lonny Baxter is featured on the cover of U.S. News and World Report. Juan Dixon flies solo on the front of Sports Illustrated. This week the Terps even got mentioned in Time magazine.
Or at least, their mascot, Testudo the turtle, did. In a brief item titled, "No More Mister Nice Mascot," Time reports: "To capture better the fighting spirit of their sports teams, many colleges are redesigning their logos and mascots with more of a World Wrestling Federation feel. The University of Maryland is one of the latest institutions of higher learning to update its mascot. Officials hope that their newly buff diamondback Terrapin turtle will put a little fear in the hearts of opposing sports teams."
Accompanying the text are before and after pictures of the Old and New Testudo. The Old Testudo was a cuddly creature who waved the Maryland state flag and appeared to be cheering the Terps on. Not very inspirational, admittedly, but these were kinder, gentler times. (A certain segment of the population, after all, still believed that slow and steady wins the race.)
The New Testudo, on the other hand, looks like the Old Testudo on steroids. Like Robert Conrad challenging viewers on that commercial to "knock this battery off my shoulder." Like Robert DeNiro staring into the mirror in "Taxi Driver" and saying, "You talkin' to me?" The New Testudo looks like the man Maryland football coach Ralph "Thin Thighs in 30 Days" Friedgen is trying his darnedest to be. Like a Mutant Ninja Turtle's iron-pumping older brother.
And that, apparently, is the idea. Athletic programs across America are changing their logos and mascots from Disney-type characters to David Lynch-type creations. The smile has been replaced by the smirk, the wink by the glare, inertia by action.
"The FIU Golden Panther got a makeover," Florida International University alumni were informed in a newsletter last September, "and the result is a meaner, leaner predator ready for a fight.
"'We felt that the University's maturing athletic program deserves a more intimidating mascot,' said Rick Mello, FIU athletic director."
Nevada-Reno's new logo is "a wolf with just a little attitude," the artist told the Reno Gazette-Journal. It's the kind of wolf, women's basketball coach Ada Gee says, that "you don't want to look in the eye." St. Mary's University in Winona, Minn., meanwhile, now has "a tougher-looking Cardinal," according to AD Chris Kendall though "there's much more to it" than just that.
Kent State redid its logo so it could "move forward with a bold, aggressive image." Loyola of New Orleans traded in its old wolf for a new one that sound familiar? "looks more aggressive." Boston College modernized its logo to put some "pop" in it. Franklin Pierce College formed a committee to design a "fresh, new and dynamic mascot."
It's probably only a matter of time before the Cal-Irvine Anteaters update their logo and have the Anteater eating real aunts.
Some of these athletic programs really have their work cut out for them. As Time notes, "It's hard to make a turtle intimidating." Lions, Tigers, Wildcats, Panthers, Bulldogs all those animals are naturally ferocious. But what are you supposed to do with an Osprey (University of North Florida)? Or a Blue Hen (which Delaware, making the best of a bad situation, has transformed into a Fighting Blue Hen)? Or, for that matter, a White Mule (Colby)?
And what about Horned Frogs (TCU)? I've always wondered about them. Are they really any scarier than regular frogs? I mean, can you impale yourself on them or something?
"It's kind of interesting that Time chose us [to focus on]," says Dave Haglund, the school's associate AD for media relations, "but we'll take it. It's a carryover, I guess, from all the success we've enjoyed. The interest from the national media has been unprecedented, and this is just another example of that."
Actually, I kinda like Testudo. A turtle, with its hard shell, is a great mascot for football, anyway.
And besides, "the Maryland Armadillos" wouldn't sound right.

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