Fact or Fiction: The Original Gonzaga Mascot was “The Fighting Irish”

By Stephanie Plowman

Above, Gonzaga University’s first official live mascot, “Teddy Gonzaga,” a Boston bull terrier who debuted in 1921. Photo courtesy of the Gonzaga University Archives.

When the Spokane community hears the name “Spike,” most will recognize him as the costumed bulldog mascot of Gonzaga University. As Gonzaga University’s athletic teams compete nationally in various sports, the “Bulldogs” or “Zags” are recognized as its mascot and nickname. Gonzaga has not always used these terms. In its early athletic years, Gonzaga teams were unofficially called “the Blue and the White,” also the “Jesuits.” The 1911 football team was filled with thirty Irish Catholic boys so the newspaper referred to them as the “Fighting Irish.” Despite current campus folklore, there appears to be no connection with the name and trying to be like Notre Dame. Newspaper stories most commonly called the athletic teams as the “Blue and the White,” due to the fact that those were Gonzaga’s official colors. Like most Jesuit schools, Gonzaga was dedicated to Mary, whose colors are blue and white.

Another local folklore story centers on how Gonzaga obtained the mascot name “Bulldogs.” It was a commonly held belief that Gonzaga became the bulldogs after a reporter referred to a Gonzaga football team as fighting tenaciously like bulldogs. Recently, a newly discovered newspaper clipping sheds new light on the story.

According to the Spokane Daily Chronicle article dated January 14, 1921, Gonzaga officially became the Bulldogs: “By action of the associated student body of Gonzaga University, all varsity athletic teams will be known as the Bulldogs…. The student body of Gonzaga University hope to eliminate the unofficial nicknames and have its varsity athletic teams known far and wide as the Bulldogs.” According to the article, the team name was adopted officially at a joint meeting of the athletic council and the student body.

No one is certain how many bulldog mascots have held this position during Gonzaga’s history. Some have distinguished themselves and others had a short life. The first bulldog was “Teddy Gonzaga,” a tiny Boston bull terrier, who made his first official appearance at a reception in April 1921.

Above, a Gonzaga mascot at a basketball game in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of the Gonzaga University Archives.

For a short time in the 1930s, alumni, supporters of the university, sports editors, and students favored changing the mascot from “Bulldogs” to “Emperors.” Endorsed by famous alumnus Bing Crosby, supporters of the movement wanted to differentiate Gonzaga’s teams from other mascots. To them, “Bulldogs” lacked identification of the team name with the school or locality. Furthermore, the supporters said that the Gonzaga teams were “fast, deceptive and spectacular,” traits not synonymous with “Bulldogs.” “Emperor,” its advocates said, is entirely original and had a tie-in with the Inland Empire.

A few years later, this suggestion to change the mascot was dropped as the bulldog mascot was widely accepted and the students seemed proud to accept the tenaciousness of bulldogs. In 1937, Bing Crosby came to Gonzaga to attend its homecoming football game. At the time he suggested a new fight song called “The Bulldogs of Gonzaga,” with lyrics by John Burke and music by James V. Monaco.

The modern day fight song was written by Gonzaga alumni, David Fague (’00) and Kevin Laxar (’10) – click the video to listen!

At the beginning of World War Two, Gonzaga discontinued its football program due to financial reasons and lack of participants. Despite the loss of football, the bulldog mascot continued to be a part of the Gonzaga campus.

In the late 1940s, Corrigan, named after the daredevil Wrong Way Corrigan, died with five other dogs that were fed poisoned meat. Another, Finnegan McGinty the First, nicknamed “Corky,” replaced Corrigan in 1949. After Corky died, a local kennel donated a new mascot, but the bulldog died four days later of an unknown disease. Another female puppy was donated in April 1951. A contest was held to name her. The name “Bullet” was chosen and the winner received a carton of Chesterfield cigarettes.

In November 1965, when Gonzaga did not have a live mascot, the cheerleaders contacted local English Bulldog owners to see if someone would loan a dog for home games. They had decided that school spirit would be generated if there were a bulldog mascot present at the games. A Spokane Valley woman loaned her 75 pound national champion Gunner to the Gonzaga students. Gonzaga Prep previously had used him as a mascot. While attending games, Gunner wore a royal blue and white coat jacket sporting a “G.”

The main duty of the live mascots was to attend home sporting events. Another legend has it that one mascot, Salty, distinguished himself during the 1966 – 1967 basketball season by running onto the court and biting a referee who made a bad call against Gonzaga. Salty was in poor health and died shortly after that season.

In 1970 another dog replaced him. “General Chesty Puller,” a 65 pound English Bulldog was named after U.S. Marine General Lewis B. (Chesty) Puller, the most decorated man in Marine history. Unfortunately, Chesty did not have the same courage as the General. As written in the Spokesman-Review February 7, 1970 with the headlines “Gonzaga Mascot is a Sissy,” the article described Chesty as “a complete coward. He’s afraid to walk on smooth surfaces, such as the linoleum or polished title. He hates to walk upstairs. He’s afraid of everything.”

Gonzaga mascot, General “Chesty” Puller, 1970s. Photos courtesy of the Gonzaga University Archives.

Chesty was purchased for $75 from money raised by students. At a basketball game on December 4, 1971, a referee made Chesty leave the game. People thought that maybe he was remembering the incidence with Salty. In the late 1970s, Chesty retired.

Human mascots then replaced the live dogs. From 1980 to 1982, Mike Griffin wore a cape and called himself “Captain Zag.” A few more students donned the costume. In the 1985 – 1986 season, Lee Mauney dressed up in a bulldog costume to become the mascot. This character was given the name of “Spike.” Mauney wore the costume for three years. Spike’s costume has changed over time, and now includes wearing a basketball uniform.

After the success of the 1999 men’s basketball team, Gonzaga was given another live bulldog named Q after player Quentin Hall.

As a cheerleader, Spike is able to continue the bulldog tradition, while creating more enthusiasm from the fans. Children easily recognize him and are eager to give him a high five. Spike is used as a public relations tool, as he also attends events on behalf of the university.

Today’s Spike is a much different mascot than the first live bulldog of 1921. Yet, these mascots served to symbolize the characteristics of Gonzaga University, and provide school and community spirit.

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One Reply to “Fact or Fiction: The Original Gonzaga Mascot was “The Fighting Irish””

  1. Actually, the first coach of Gonzaga “Fighting Irish” Football was Dr. Harry Luhn who was a graduate of Notre Dame and was the captain of the very first Notre Dame Football team. That is the real connection to the “Fighting Irish” of Gonzaga.

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