Oski and Tree Have Rowdy, Long History
Friday, November 22, 2002
Elaborate theft schemes. Racism. Administrative ultimatums. Cruelty against trees and animals.
These sound like signs on Sproul Plaza, but they are only some of the facts and events associated with Oski and the Stanford Tree.
Both mascots have been a part of some of the crazy pranks and events which have become a trademark of the Cal-Stanford rivalry.
While Oski conveys a happy, noble image, the Stanford Tree emits an aura of giddiness and ignorance.
Interestingly enough, the attitudes of the mascots are similar to the attitudes of the respective student bodies.
The first mascots for Cal were actually live bears. Two bears, one in 1930 and another in 1935, were used as mascots at football games, but were taken away because of control problems.
On September 27, 1941, a man dressed in a baggy sweater, size 13-and-a-half gold shoes, and a bear head fashioned into an old football helmet appeared at the Bears' football game against St. Mary's.
He called himself Oski, after a word in a Cal cheer. The identity of the original Oski was largely a secret until 1999, when William C. Rockwell detailed his creation of the mascot in a book.
Rockwell, previously a mascot at Long Beach Junior College, abruptly abandoned his reign as Oski to help his country in World War II. Even so, he had established the Bears' new mascot.
A secret society devoted to preserving the mascot's safety and identity ensures that the lore of Oski will remain a treasured part of Cal.
Stanford began its athletics without having an official nickname or mascot. Because of the campus' ties to Native American tribal ground, the school unofficially used the Indian as a nickname.
In 1930, the same year the Bears first used a live bear as a mascot, Stanford made the nickname official. The school employed the services of Chief Lightfoot, a Native American, to rally the band and the crowd.
Stanford dropped the Indian nickname in 1972 because of pressure from the school's Native American students and other Native American college students around California.
Stanford's interim nickname was the Cardinals because of the color in the university's logo.
In the next nine years, Stanford was confronted with numerous suggestions for a new nickname, including Robber Barons, Griffins, Sequoias, and a reversion to Indians.
Finally, in 1981, President Donald Kennedy declared Cardinal the official nickname because of the color's lasting value at the school.
Stanford does not have an official mascot. The Stanford Tree, a member of the school's band, appears at major athletic events, but that mascot is in the mold of the El Palo Alto, the famous tree in the logos of the city of Palo Alto and the university.
The Tree was discovered as part of a series of band mascot contests at football halftime shows during the interim period in the 1970s when Stanford did not have an official nickname.
The relationship has existed, but not officially, because of the school's strong ties to the city.
In recent years, the pranks and other tumultuous events associated with the Big Game have turned increasingly to the mascots.
Perhaps the most tumultuous of these was on October 17, 1998, when a group of Cal students known as the "Phoenix Five" went to Stanford's Band Shak in search of the Tree costume.
They stole the suit, but it was not a simple prank. The group broke through a window, a door, and a wall in order to get the costume. Police treated the theft as a felony.
On October 26, Chancellor Robert Berdahl threatened to have Oski removed from all Cal football games if the tree suit was not returned to the Stanford band by midnight of the same day.
The costume was promptly returned, and no arrests were made. The Phoenix Five remain anonymous.
Another theft of the costume happened in 1990. A group of Cal students stole the suit, which had been left outside the Shak, and subsequently burned it.
One of the most famous Oski-Tree encounters had nothing to do with the Big Game, but it still holds a high place in mascot lore. On February 15, 1995, during a basketball game between the Bears and the Cardinal, the two mascots wrestled each other to the Maples Pavilion floor.
The fight got so vicious that Oski's head came off for a brief moment. However, the head was promptly restored, and his identity remained concealed. Oski used his distinctive gait as he was led away.
Cal fans have also used the Tree as a whipping boy in the Bears' recent struggles against the Card. After the Bears' 41-21 loss in the 1992 Big Game, Cal fans rushed the field in disgust and sought the Tree as a target. The mascot escaped without any serious injuries.
A year later, at the 1996 Big Game, angry Cal fans once again stormed the Memorial Stadium field and targeted the Stanford Tree.
The Tree was not so lucky this time, as portions of the suit were dismantled. This incident predicated the 1997 Big Game riot which saw 23 injuries and six arrests.
Since these massacres, the Stanford Tree has not been seen on the field for the fourth quarter of any Big Game.
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