Wed Nov 24 03:59pm EST
Jim Weber runs the college football and men’s basketball site LostLettermen.com. This week, he looks at the early trials of Bevo, introduced to Texas on Thanksgiving 1916, ahead of Thursday night's rivalry showdown between the Longhorns and Texas A&M in Austin.
There isn't a fan base more proud of its school or more in love with its mascot than the faithful from the University of Texas. Longhorn fans stay true to their school by traveling en masse to road games, decking themselves head to toe in burnt orange and obsessively lashing the "Hook 'em Horns."
And they show their affection for the live longhorn mascot, Bevo, with endless merchandise that ranges from golf head covers to Halloween costumes, as well as a student group, the Silver Spurs, whose sole purpose is the care and transport of the 2,000-pound steer. These days, he's treated like royalty while taking in games from the field.
It wasn't always that way. Texas had been known as the "Longhorns" for years, but before a group of students dragged a gaunt, frightened steer onto the field at halftime of Texas' Thanksgiving Day game against A&M College of Texas in 1916, the preferred mascot was a dog. UT alum Stephen Pinckney had spotted the orange-tinged longhorn on a cattle raid in Laredo and bought him with $1 contributions from 124 fellow alumni. It arrived just in time for the A&M game on a boxcar with no food or water.
But the Longhorns won, 21-7, thanks to two punt returns for touchdowns after the steer was introduced, and he stuck as a good luck charm. He was shipped to a stockyard in South Austin for a photograph (he reportedly charged the photographer immediately after the picture was snapped), which soon ran with a story in an alumni magazine that dubbed the new mascot as "Bevo."
Still, the original longhorn was far from the prized, pampered and protected symbol he is today. In fact, he was almost an afterthought. Security at the South Austin stockyard was lax enough that Texas A&M students broke into Bevo's pen in the winter of 1917 and branded "13-0" on one side – the score of the Aggies' 1915 win in College Station. Fearing a wholesale kidnapping, the university moved Bevo again. But when the U.S. entered World War I the same year, the mascot was all but forgotten.
Then came a dirty little secret that still makes Texas fans shudder: When Bevo was what's for dinner.
With food and care for the longhorn costing the University fifty cents a day, and nostalgic pangs of school spirit still taking a backseat to a good meal, the original mascot was slaughtered and served at the team's banquet in the winter of 1920, where the freshly defeated A&M players were even invited to chow down. The visiting Aggies were served the side they had branded three years earlier and presented with a part of the hide that still read "13-0."
The final insult came years later, after Bevo I's head had been stuffed and placed in a UT gymnasium. Another villainous Aggie snuck in and cut the horns off its head because of the lyrics in the Aggie War Hymn that instruct revelers to "Saw varsity's horns off." Thus did Bevo I end up branded, ostracized, slaughtered and emasculated.
Fortunately, the live longhorn mascot eventually caught on at Texas and the mascot is now treated like a prized possession. For last January’s BCS Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif., Bevo was driven 1,400 miles by four members of the Silver Spurs, then received his own private paddock to prepare for the big game.
The current mascot, Bevo XIV, has reigned since 2004 and resides just north of Austin in a private ranch owned by John T. Baker and his wife, Betty. They also housed Bevo XIII, as the two were both tabbed as the Chosen One by the powers that be at Texas from a selection of the best longhorn steers in the area.
The Bakers have treated their two prized longhorns like their own and Bevo XIV has a special place in their hearts.
"I am very attached to this one, I mean extremely," Betty said this week. "He's like my big pet. I can go out on the ranch, actually go up to him and scratch him and put my arms around him and give him kisses. He is just absolutely fabulous."
Even though Bevo XIII wasn't as personable, the Bakers had a soft spot for it as well. After it passed away in 2006, the Bakers had the head stuffed and mounted on their wall. And no, eating the late school mascot never crossed their minds.
"It’d be like eating your dog," Betty said. "It's just one of those things you don't do. And by his age at 22, that’s old and his meat wouldn't (be good) – you could do hamburgers probably but you couldn’t do steaks."
Maybe not. But after beating Texas only twice in the last decade, there are probably plenty of Aggie fans that would love to trade their Thanksgiving Day turkey for Bevo burgers on Thursday night.
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Jim Weber is the founder of LostLettermen.com, a historical college football and men's basketball site that links the sport's past to the present.