Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Stanford mascot can handle the needling




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        SAN DIEGO — By the way: The Stanford Cardinal? Singular? Isn't that a bit ... affected?

        Should the University of Cincinnati call itself the Bearcat? Introducing the winningest coach in UC history ... Bob Huggin.

        “It's the color. Not the pope or a bird,” Evan Meagher explained.

        Ah. Like the Harvard Crimson.

        “You got it,” Meagher said.

        He would know. I guess. I mean, at the moment, he's a tree.

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Graduate student Evan Meagher is the Stanford mascot.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        Meagher is the Stanford mascot, that guy juking around the gym in a pine tree outfit. (Technically, he's the Stanford band's mascot. But we digress.) If you always wanted to know how the other half lived — the half at one of the most prestigious schools on the planet, alma mater of 76 Rhodes scholars, three current Supreme Court justices and one Tiger Woods, all intellectualizing in a setting and climate worthy of paradise — well, there you go.

        The Stanford kids see themselves as floating at the top of the gene pool. And maybe they should. It's easier to crack missile codes than to get in there. Stanford has 12 Nobel laureates and six Pulitzer Prize winners on staff.

        You could see why everyone there might seem a little pleased with themselves. They're not sophomoric. They're clever. If they want to have the dumbest mascot in

        America, they're entitled.

        But I'm the one standing there after the Cardinal beat St.Joseph's Saturday, to earn the right to play UC. I'm the guy begging a tree for an interview, which is not something they tell you about in journalism school.

        So honestly, dumb is relative.

        “What's a tree got to do with a Cardinal?” I ask.

        “The band decided having an amorphous color for a mascot was pretty lame. So they tried to come up with their own name. They wanted to be the Stanford French Fries. This was back in '77,” Meagher said. “The band was weird back then.”

        Weird. Back then. Yes.

        Actually, when Stanford dismissed its original nickname, the Indians, as insensitive, the school held a referendum on a new one. The university favored the Griffins. The band wanted the tree. The students had two favorites: the Robber Barons, for Stanford founder and railroad mogul Leland Stanford, and the Steaming Manhole Covers, for the, uh, steaming manhole covers that dot the grounds.

        They went with the Cardinal. Singular. The band stuck with the tree, because at Stanford, they teach students to think for themselves.

        The Tree has emerged as a coveted member of the student body. To be chosen as The Tree requires acts of stupidity so profound that, with apologies to the legions of Eddie Haskells at Duke, only Stanford kids could come up with them.

        A few years ago, a would-be Tree planned to don a bulletproof vest and have a friend shoot him at point-blank range with a .38-caliber pistol. Said school bursar John Erickson, a 30-year employee and a man well-versed in Tree lore, “I think that was shot down by the police department.”

        So to speak.

        Another guy set his costume on fire. All Meagher did in his tryout was emerge from a coffin full of syrup. “Sixty-two gallons of maple syrup,” he said proudly, from Stanford's food service department. Onlookers swabbed him with pancakes.

        Evan was wearing a loincloth initially, but you know how it is when people start swabbing with pancakes a syrup-covered guy in a loincloth. Nobody said being the Tree was easy.

        The Tree has been tackled at halftime of football games. The Tree has been mugged by University of California fans. The tree is such a lightning rod (aren't all trees?), it has its own bodyguards. The guys in the dark glasses hanging around the tree are known as, yes, the Tree Protection Service.

        “You just try to prove that you can incite riots with your dance moves and you can handle people throwing beer at you,” Meagher explained.

        He is a second-year Ph.D. student in Management Science and Engineering. Most schools offer graduate work with complex names such as “Business”. Evan Meagher of the Stanford Cardinal is writing his thesis on “the ecologies of organizational learning” which, honestly, is not something I've given much thought to. “Basically,” Meagher said, “it's all about the competition for primacy in organizational learning.”

        Well, that's nice.

        Evan already has an offer to co-manage a hedge mutual fund.

        “You'd be in charge of other people's money?” I ask.

        “Yeah.”

        “Would you tell them you were a tree?”

        “I guess so,” he said. “It's clear I'm a pretty rational guy.”

        I think I'll go back to writing about games now.

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