Western Kentucky University’s Big Red is one of college sports’ favorite mascots, mainly because nobody knows what it’s supposed to be. Big Red is a valuable mascot on Big Red’s own merits, capably dancing and celebrating and interacting with fans and opposing cheerleaders, but it’s the strangeness that really does it. What a delightful lump.
The Big Red answers are minimal, just as you’d prefer.
WKU’s official description leans into the mystery of Big Red’s background:
Big Red, Western Kentucky University's athletic mascot, was born in the fall of 1979 and celebrates its birthday on December 1st. Big Red can be best described as the Spirit of Western!
The huge, furry, lovable creature was originally designed and built by WKU student Ralph Carey, ('80 WKU graduate), of Cincinnati, and made its' debut during the Hilltoppers' 1979-80 basketball season. Big Red has become a big hit with fans of all ages throughout the state and the nation. Big Red's signature moves are the belly slide and belly shake.
It couldn’t be an animal, and [creator Ralph] Carey said he wanted to stray as far away from a hillbilly stereotype as possible.
The answer would be found somewhere in between.
Soon, Carey had dreamed up a sketch of the future of Hilltopper athletics – a large, fuzzy, red blob he scribbled on a piece of paper while meeting with future school president Gary Ransdell, who was then working in the office of alumni relations.
“It started, actually, there was a drawing at one point in time, and I have it, of a bear in a sweater with a big ‘W’ on the front of it,” he laughed. “I got through with that drawing and said, ‘This is not where this thing needs to go.’
“I had some experience with some other characters in terms of their abilities to be animated by the wearer. That was also a key element because I was going to end up wearing this thing. I said, ‘How about this?’ and scribbled a Big Red.
“(The committee) kind of looked sideways at it and said, ‘Why don’t you work on that one?’ ”
Carey returned to the drawing board, refined the character while a deadline approached for its debut.
Big Red is, however, capable of shape-shifting and changing species.
So what is Big Red?
Big Red is Big Red, duh.
Big Red also has no gender, according to a university branding guide:
However, the fact that Big Red has a birthday ...
... implies Big Red can reproduce. Scientists are standing by to learn more.
So what’s a Hilltopper?
The WKU Hilltoppers are so named because much of the campus is on a hill. Via WKU:
The operations of Western Kentucky State Normal School were moved from its forerunner, Southern Normal School, to a commanding hill on the southwestern portion of Bowling Green on February 4, 1911. The move was completed as the entire student body marched to the new site, carrying various articles of school equipment.
To move the school, everyone had to top a hill. Big Red is Big Red. Hilltoppers top hills. It’s all as straightforward as odd stuff can be.