Stanford Cardinals

Stanford Cardinals Football History

HOME ~ College Football History




What is the history of Stanford's mascot and nickname?

The unique origins of Stanford�s mascot and have a history that dates back to the University�s founding in 1891. While the Cardinal has always been one of the school�s official colors, the nickname has gone through a series of changes, student votes, controversy and confusion.

Since 1981, Stanford has been known as the Cardinal. Stanford was known as the "Indians" from 1930-72. As for the
Stanford football historymascot, Stanford does not officially have one. The "Tree," which is a member of the Stanford Band, has been mistaken as the school�s mascot, but it is not.

Below is a brief history of the nickname, the mascot and the school colors:

The Nickname: The nickname for Stanford is the Cardinal � in reference to one of the school colors (and is therefore in the singular). Stanford�s history with its nickname began on March 19, 1891 when Stanford beat Cal in the first Big Game. While Stanford did not have an official nickname, the day after the Big Game local newspapers picked up the "cardinal" theme and used it in the headlines.

Stanford did not have an "official" nickname until Indians was adopted in 1930. For years prior, the Indian had been part of the Stanford athletic tradition. Perhaps it grew out of the fact that Cal�s symbol was the Bear, or it may have come from the large Indian population of the area, or from Indian paraphernalia in abundance in the late 1800�s. Whatever the origin, it was accepted by sportswriters and gradually gained wide recognition.


Stanford officially adopted the Indian nickname on Nov. 25, 1930 after a unanimous vote by the Executive Committee for the Associated Students. The Indian had long been considered the symbol of Stanford before the official vote, although its origins are only speculation.

The resolution that was passed read: "Whereas the Indian has long been unofficially recognized as the symbol of Stanford and its spirit, and whereas there has never been any official designation of a Stanford symbol, be it hereby resolved that the Executive Committee adopt the Indian as the symbol of Stanford."

The Indian symbol was eventually dropped in 1972 following meetings between Stanford native American students and President Richard Lyman. The 55 students, supported by the other 358 American Indians enrolled in California colleges, felt the mascot was an insult to their culture and heritage. As a result of these talks and the ensuing publicity, the Stanford Student Senate voted 18-4 to drop the Indian symbol, and Lyman agreed.

The first student referendum on the issue was held in May, 1972, and it resulted in a vote of 1,755 for and 1,298 against restoring the Indian. The second vote, on Dec. 3-4, 1975, was 885 for and 1,915 against.

There was a move to reinstate the Indian as the school mascot in 1975. The debate was put to vote along with new suggestions: Robber Barons, Sequoias, Trees, Cardinals, Railroaders, Spikes, and Huns. None of the suggestions were accepted.

In 1978, another group comprised of 225 varsity athletes from 18 teams, started a petition for the mascot to be the griffin � a mythological animal with the body and hind legs of a lion and head and wings of an eagle. The University moved two griffin statues from the Children�s Hospital to a grassy area between Encina Gym and Angel Field. The campaign for the Griffins failed.

From 1972 until November 17, 1981, Stanford�s official nickname was Cardinals, in reference to one of the school colors, not the bird.

Nine years after the Indian was dropped, Stanford had still not decided on a new mascot. President Donald Kennedy declared in 1981 that all Stanford athletic teams will be represented and symbolized exclusively by the color cardinal. "While various other mascots have been suggested and then allowed to wither, the color has continued to serve us well, as it has for 90 years. It is a rich and vivid metaphor for the very pulse of life."

The Mascot: There is no official mascot at Stanford University. The "Tree," which is a member of the Stanford Band, is representative of El Palo Alto, the Redwood tree which is the logo of the city of Palo Alto. Since Stanford University and Palo Alto are almost inextricably intertwined in interests and location, it is a natural outgrowth of this relationship. The tree still exists and stands by the railroad bridge beside San Francisquito Creek � it is the site where early explorers first camped when settling the area.

The Color: When Stanford first accepted students in 1891, the student body actually voted for gold as the school�s official color, but another student assembly chose Cardinal as the school color. A few days after the vote, local sportswriters picked up the "Cardinal" theme after Stanford defeated Cal in the first Big Game (March 19, 1891). The headlines read, "Cardinal Triumphs O�er Blue and Gold."

Cardinal remained the school color until the 1940�s, when rules committees and conferences started regulating jersey colors for home and visiting football teams. Stanford�s Board of Athletic Control adopted white as the second color.

Today, Stanford�s official school colors are cardinal and white.

Mission Statement

"From its founding in 1891, Stanford's leaders have believed physical activity is valuable for its own sake, and that it is complementary to the educational purpose of the University. The mission of Stanford's Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation is to offer the widest range of quality programs which will allow all participants to realize the opportunities for athletic participation and physical fitness at all levels of skill and interest. Within the limitations of its resources, the Department is expected to provide a broad range of instructional, recreational, and competitive programs for all who wish to participate. The intrinsic value to the participant is the primary criterion by which the worth of the program should be judged."

Home Page