Why We Are the Gamecocks

From the JSU Football Guide 2002

"Go Eagle Owls!" would be the resounding cry from Paul Snow Stadium today if ardent fans hadn't decided 50 years ago that the school mascot should be a bird of a different feather.

Jacksonville State University's first football team was fielded in the late 1800s and nicknamed in honor of a rare predatory bird found near the Arctic Circle.

The exact details are lost to history, but a group of fans decided it was hard for the school's image to soar like an eagle if the team's name was something of a turkey. People like E.C. Wilson, Bruce Chase and Charles Sprayberry felt a more collegiate-sounding moniker would be more appropriate.

The supporters looked to Southern culture rather than the North Pole to symbolize the school's tough spirit. Tongue firmly planted in beak, Gamecock supporters crowed the loudest, and the University found itself with a new identity: a mascot familiar to everyone, including the farm boys who comprised most of the student body back then.

For nearly a half-century - up until 1946 - the fledgling Eagle Owls hooted with pride from the scanty facilities adjacent to the field at John Forney National Guard Armory.

The State Normal School (SNS) team was sparse by today's standards, but the gridiron action was competitive from the start. Present day rivalries such as Samford (Howard College) and Troy State were rooted in those early games.

The team had only 23 players when SNS was renamed Jacksonville Teachers College in 1946, with Head Coach Don Salls beginning his first season, but there was a "big school" atmosphere developing in the foothills.

Along with the new name came new colors. The blue and gold were tossed out in favor of the familiar red and white worn by the area high school players.

The story goes that there were two camps - those who wanted to keep the Eagle Owl nickname and those who wanted new colors. Legend has it that a compromise was worked out; new colors for a new mascot.

It was all worked out by 1947 when the Fighting Gamecocks took to the field for the first time. And, as is true to the nature of the warlike bird itself, the football team and other athletes fought their way to respectability in intercollegiate ranks - eventually bringing home a national championship in every major sport.