Undersized, unknown, and underdogs in every meaning of the word, the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) made history this weekend as the first 16th seed ever to beat a one seed in the men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.
The 20-point victory over top-seeded University of Virginia was an inspiring thing to watch, leaving some fans with brackets smashed and hopes dashed; some celebrating a Cinderella story that, just maybe, outdid the original; and still more scratching their heads over the upstart team’s unusual (in the sports world) name — the Retrievers.
As golden as they were Friday night, the team’s not named for that type of retriever, but after the Chesapeake Bay retriever, the state dog of Maryland.
The costumed mascot was known as “Fever the Retriever” in the late 1990s. Later, the school had a live mascot, called Campus Sam.
At the beginning of the 2008 fall semester, a Chesapeake Bay retriever puppy was chosen as a new mascot. He attended many athletic events and an online poll was held to give him a name, Gritty, or True Grit, as a statue of a retriever that stands in front of the Retriever Activities Center.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of UMBC in 2006, the University held the “March of the Retrievers,” a procession of 40 Chesapeake Bay Retrievers from the True Grit statue to the University Commons and then on to the UMBC Soccer Stadium.
More than a few new fans of the team just assumed the mascot must be a golden retriever, but maybe that was because they’ve watched too many Air Bud movies.
Only a few dog breeds show up commonly in the names of college sports teams — huskies, of course; bulldogs, for sure. Southern Illinois University has the Salukis. Boston University has the Terriers.
And UMBC, the college with a long name, chose a breed that honors the state dog, but shortened the name — maybe out of consideration for the cheerleaders.
“Go, University of Maryland Baltimore County Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, go!” is a bit of a mouthful.
The Retrievers had their chance to get to the Sweet 16 last night, facing Kansas State University (whose mascot is, yawn, yet another Wildcat). Despite another gutsy effort, they fell.
On the bright side, though — one I’m sure that will be featured heavily in the “One Shining Moment” montage that always concludes the tournament — they had their history-making night, and what a night it was.