Boilermakers and Wolverines. Both terms are synonymous with their respective universities and beloved by fans for decades. But how are those terms brought to life? Purdue and Michigan have two different approaches to their mascot, with Purdue having both a real train as the official mascot and Purdue Pete as a traditional sideline figure while Michigan has not had a live mascot in nearly 100 years. Let’s take a look into the “mascotorial” history of these schools:
First and foremost, the official mascot for Purdue is not Purdue Pete. The official mascot is the Boilermaker Special, a literal driving replica of a Victorian-style locomotive. The Boilermaker Special has been around since 1940, when it originally debuted and has had several editions since then. Currently, the Boilermaker Special VII is the mascot, being dedicated in 2011. This mascot is street legal and can go up to 75 mph so that it can attend Purdue’s away games. On the field, there is another train that will lead the players out of the tunnel. This train is the Boilermaker Xtra Special, a modified golf cart that can be used for indoor purposes such as Purdue basketball and volleyball games. Both the Boilermaker Special and the Xtra Special are maintained and designed by Purdue’s Reamer Club.
Often referred to as one of the creepiest mascots in collegiate sports, Purdue Pete has been around for a while. Beginning in 1940 ads at Purdue’s University Bookstore, Pete would take over a decade to make his live debut on the field, as in 1956, a paper-mache head was used to bring Pete to life. Pete has undergone several design changes for the head as modern materials have been introduced to make the head lighter and easier to maintain. The current Pete has been around since 1989 and is around for all Purdue sporting events with his hat and hammer.
Michigan has had a long-standing tradition of lacking a live mascot at sporting events, but there was once a time that a wolverine was on the field for the Maize and Blue. In 1923, coach Fielding Yost set out to obtain a live wolverine after seeing the University of Wisconsin sport a live badger. The only problem was that wolverines were not native to Michigan. Yost’s request would take 4 years of effort but in 1927, 10 wolverines were given to the Detroit Zoo from Alaska and 2 of those wolverines, named Bennie and Biff, were brought to games in a cage. Originally expected to go out on leashes and greet the live goat mascot of Navy, the wolverines were too aggressive, so they stayed in the cage. This aggression by the wolverines resulted in a short stint as mascot as they were no longer used after one season. Biff was actually taken to the University of Michigan Zoo so that students could see him, but he never returned to the field. Since the days of the live wolverine, Michigan has gone 95 years without donning a mascot on the field. The University has clung to the belief that it does not need a mascot and has thwarted several attempts at an official mascot being made. This includes a group of students that market-tested and created “Willy the Wolverine” back in the 1980’s. Willy was the closest attempt to a modern-day mascot for Michigan, so there is no telling if one will ever be used by the university. Oddly enough, Willy the Wolverine is the mascot for Utah Valley University.