My good, late and intellectual friend Willie Morris knew a lot about a lot of subjects, and nobody knew more about college sports team nicknames than Willie.

We often played the nickname game. I was pretty good at it. Willie was better.

Willie Morris

Can’t tell you how many times we went head to head. He’d always get me on somebody like Eastern Illinois (the Panthers) or West Virginia Tech (the Golden Bears) or Indiana State (the Sycamores).

I bring this up today, because Willie would have loved this weekend in college football when the traditional powerhouses take on more obscure teams, many with unique nicknames.

He would especially have loved it when the Central Michigan Chippewas — he got me on them one time — scored on a Hail Mary at game’s end to knock off heavily favored Oklahoma State.

Willie would have loved that Ole Miss was playing the Terriers of Wofford. I believe that he would have pulled hard for the Colonels of Nicholls State to pull off the upset over Georgia. The Colonels nearly did before falling to 26-24. (Willie once referred to Georgia as “those loathesome Georgia Bulldogs and their Swedish running back Lars Tate.” Tate, of course, was black and from Indiana.)

Willie would pull for the Jacksonville State Gamecocks tonight against LSU. He’d have pulled for the Charleston Southern Buccaneers against FSU, too. Willie always pulled for the underdogs, unless the underdog was playing Ole Miss or Texas.

He might even pull for the Savannah State Tigers against Southern Miss tonight, but maybe not. He had a soft spot for USM and also for Delta State, whom he called the Fighting Okra. Willie would definitely pull for DSU tonight against the Texas A&M-Commerce Lions.

Willie, as I, always felt like there were far too many Tigers and Lions in college football.

He appreciated “unique” when it came to nicknames. He loved the Cal-Irvine Anteaters and then UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. He especially liked the Scottsdale Community College Fighting Artichokes.

That’s the only one I ever got him on.

Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog.


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

One reply on “All hail the Chippewas (and Willie)!”

  1. All hail the “Fighting Christians” of Elon University until 1999 and “Keggy the Keg” of Dartmouth College of today.

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