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Why is an elephant the mascot for Alabama Crimson Tide Football?

Joshua Rogers January 11, 2022
Since the 1930s, Big Al, the Alabama Crimson Tide football team mascot has cheered the team to victo
Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

The Crimson Tide just lost the college football national championship against the Georgia Bulldogs. During the game, fans wondered why an elephant is the official mascot for Alabama, so here’s more on the history of the animal, as well as Big Al.

After their loss to the Georgia Bulldogs, many casual and hardcore college football fans were left wondering why Alabama’s mascot is an elephant.

It’s easy to understand the confusion. The elephant is an exotic animal and not exactly one synonymous with the state of Alabama. So, why is an elephant the mascot for Alabama Football?

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Why is an elephant the mascot for Alabama?

The origins of Alabama’s elephant date to the 1930s and sportswriter Everett Strupper, of the Atlanta Journal. When writing about a game between Alabama and Ole Miss in October 1930, Strupper described the atmosphere and impressive size of the Crimson Tide.

He wrote: “At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity.”

Other reporters starting referring to Alabama’s team as the “Red Elephants” afterwards. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s when Alabama recognised the animal as its official mascot, and Big Al came along.

Photo by Jamie Gilliam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The history of ‘Big Al’

Even before the days of Big Al in the 1970s, Alabama had started using elephants as part of their game-day tradition. According to Yahoo Sports!, in the 1940s the school kept a live elephant mascot named Alamite, who would appear on game days and even carry that year’s homecoming queen on to the field prior to games.

By the 1950s it was proving expensive to keep an elephant around all year long. Instead, the school started hiring elephants from travelling circuses for every homecoming. One student even dressed as the animal in the 1960s to cheer on his team.

However, it wasn’t until 1979 when Big Al made his first appearance as the Crimson Tide’s official mascot. Bear Bryant, Alabama’s football coach and athletic director, initially took some convincing as he thought it was “not representative of football players”. He eventually gave in, though, and is quoted as saying “If that’s what students want, that’s what it should be.”

The Big Al mascot officially debuted at the 1980 Sugar Bowl, when the 1979 Alabama Crimson Tide football team defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks. Over the next 30 years, Alabama’s elephant mascot has roamed the sidelines cheering on the Crimson Tide. Big Al is sometimes joined by a female counterpart at athletics events, an elephant named Big Alice.

Photo by Lance King/Replay Photos via Getty Images

Crimson Tide lose national championship to Georgia Bulldogs

Sadly, Big Al’s efforts from the sidelines weren’t enough to spur Alabama to victory in the national championship. Alabama lost to the Georgia Bulldogs 33-18, with head coach Nick Saban being denied his seventh national title in the past 13 years with Alabama.

“We played a heck of a game against a heck of a team for the first three quarters of the game,” said Saban. “Nobody can take the SEC championship away from this team, the Cotton Bowl championship.

“We just didn’t finish the way we needed to finish.”

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Joshua is a senior sports writer with over four years' experience in online writing. He graduated with a BA in Ancient History from The University of Manchester before receiving an MA in Sports Journalism from The University of Central Lancashire. He became a trending writer for a leading social publisher and later spent time covering the 2018 World Cup for The Mirror Online. He then moved to a social marketing agency where he acted as website editor. His specialties on The Focus include F1, tennis, NBA, NFL and combat sports.