The popularity of college football is largely rooted in the repeat of annual rituals and rivalries that transform games into great social events.
Yale-Harvard. Army-Navy. Ohio State-Michigan. Tailgating and barbeque sauces, candelabras and fine china, beers and fine wine. And so forth and so on.
But the sport’s history is also replete with examples of tomfoolery, instances when students or alumni get too involved in the hype and end up hyperextending the normal course of human events.
Last Saturday at West Point, the Air Force falcons “Aurora” and “Oblio” were taken by a pair of cadets from the home of an Army colonel. The captors tossed sweaters over them and stuffed them into animal crates.
The act apparently caused the cadets a great deal of regret because it wasn’t long before they contritely returned the mascots to their caretaker.
Sam Dollar, the Air Force academy’s falconry adviser, told The New York Times on Sunday that Aurora’s wings had been bloodied, likely the result of her panicked thrashing while in captivity.
“I think they had them for a couple hours, and then they realized it was a bad mistake,” Dollar told The Times. “When Aurora started thrashing around in the crate, they decided that wasn’t a good thing.”
The Colorado Springs Gazette described Aurora as the grand dame of the Air Force Academy’s six birds that are managed by cadets.
There was some initial concern that Aurora, 22, was in danger of being euthanized. Birds like her kept in captivity have an expected lifespan of 25 years, even if they are as well-cared for as Aurora is.
The good news if that Aurora, 22, is back in Colorado Springs and soaring around like always. An Academy spokesperson categorized her spritely behavior as a good sign, but she will continue to receive medical treatment just to make sure.
Interestingly, the abuse of animals in the government’s care is considered a military crime and has been since the founding of West Point to protect its mules and horses.
As you can imagine, friends and well-wishers have been bombarding social media and in-boxes with messages of support.
Of course, this kind of stuff has been going on forever at college campuses in the United States. We call them pranks. That doesn’t mean the commandants at West Point were any less apologetic.
They expressed public remorse and promised “a full investigation” of an incident which garnered nationwide attention on network and cable news stations, regardless of their political predispositions.
“We are taking this situation very seriously, and this occurrence does not reflect the Army or USMA core values of dignity and respect,” the academy said in a statement.
For those who have never seen Aurora, she is quite a sight. She is as dear to Air Force as Handsome Dan is to Yale, Uga is to the University of Georgia and Bevo is to the University of Texas.
Harvard students kidnapped Dan II and sent a photo back to New Haven of Dan licking a hamburger as the base of John Harvard’s statue in Harvard Square.
As far as we know, Aurora was not photo-bombed by the Cadets.
“Unless you are federally licensed, you can’t even touch them,” Dollar told The Times. Air Force cadets must train for two months before they are allowed to touch Aurora.
In the past, Army cadets and Navy midshipmen have exchanged frivolous blows of behavior. In 1953, someone stole Navy’s mascot, a goat named Bill. It took an executive order from President Dwight Eisenhower, who was a five-star general and graduate of West Point, before Bill was returned.
Both Bill and his successors have been considered fair prey since. One time, Bill was found tied to a post in the neighborhood surrounding the Pentagon. Navy finally topped it in 1991 by managing to commander Army’s mule. The Army decided in 1899 that it needed its own mascot to counter the goat, which was introduced six years earlier.
Ranger III will be expected to proudly stride into this year’s Army-Navy game, unless, of course, he ends up being shipped to Topeka the night before.
One of the most memorable mascot pranks ever occurred in 1916, shortly after Texas introduced Bevo I, an orange-tinted longhorn. Four Texas A&M students spied Bevo in a stockyard and branded him “13-0”, which just happened to be the final score of the previous season’s Aggies win.
Unfortunately for Bevo, Texas eventually turning him into T-Bones and served him in 1920 at a football banquet between the teams. The Longhorns even gave the Aggies the hide bearing the tattoo.
Moral of the story: Being a mascot can be a dangerous business.