Sunday, April 15, 2012

Houston Cougar news: spring game, new logo, new mascot and more

Last Friday evening the UH football program held its annual Red-White Game at Robertson Stadium. The scrimmage, which marks the end of spring practice, was entertaining and well-attended.

Of course, when your school's offense is playing its own defense it's hard to get a sense of how truly good or bad the team will be when the actual season rolls around (e.g. are your receivers really that good, or is your secondary really that bad?). There are other aspects of the team, however, that can be gauged during spring games, such as the speed and size of the athletes or the pocket presence and arm strength of the quarterback. I came away from Friday night's exhibition generally feeling good about the Coogs' prospects for the fall. But I reserve the right to change my opinion following fall practices.

The end of spring practice (and the agonizing wait until the fall) aside, the big news coming out of Cougarland this past week was the unveiling of two new logos: a beveled interlocking "Block UH" as the program's primary logo, and an "Oval Cougar" as the program's secondary logo. These insignia replace the "Fat UH" and "Wet Cat" logos, respectively, that the program had been using for the past several seasons. UH Athletics Director Mack Rhoades explained the reason for the update:
"People ask why now, why a refresh in terms of the logo?" Rhoades said. "We felt like as we continue to grow and we continue to move forward and to become part of a national stage - and certainly we think that will happen with the Big East and it's already begun to happen - that we need a bold and a brand new identity but without forgetting our past, because we've had such great, great tradition."
Reaction on the various UH message boards was mixed. A lot of posters liked the new logos, while others were less impressed. Some people asked why Houston had to continually change its logos every few years, while others wondered why the Cougars couldn't go back to the "Skinny UH" logo the team used on its helmets during the glory days of the Veer and Run-and-Shoot. Some posters complained that the new interlocking UH logo was difficult to see on the helmets during the Red-White Game, while others derided the "Oval Cougar" as a copy from the 80's cartoon ThunderCats. The Houston Press's John Royal, meanwhile, bemoaned that the "Oval Cougar" mark was a transparent rip-off of the venerable Penn State Nittany Lion logo.

I personally don't have a strong opinion, either way, about the new logos: I'm not jumping up and down with excitement about them, but I don't find them to be outrageous, inappropriate, or ugly, either. And although the cynic can argue that these changes are primarily being done to sell new merchandise, the fact remains that University of Houston is simply one of many athletics enterprises, college or pro, that frequently updates its "look."

The new logos aren't the only news of symbolic importance for the University of Houston: for the first time since 1989, the University of Houston has a live mascot. A few weeks ago, Shasta VI was introduced to his new habitat at the Houston Zoo. Shasta VI was orphaned after his mother was illegally killed by a hunter in Washington state last fall. He was transferred to the zoo, and per an agreement between the zoo and UH, this particular puma concolor will now become the living embodiment of all things Cougar.

Unlike previous Shastas, which lived in a small building on campus and were accompanied by their handlers to football games, this Shasta will reside permanently at the Houston Zoo. There will be cameras set up in his habitat and he will make appearances at athletics events via jumbotron. Although I have to admit that as a child I found it rather cool to see a live cougar strolling up and down the sidelines of the Astrodome during UH football games, sensitivities towards animal welfare have changed in the last couple of decades and I have no problem with the current arrangement.

Shasta VI will be the University's first male mascot. All five previous live cougar mascots were female, and the name "Shasta" itself is purportedly a contraction of the phrase "she has to," i.e. Shasta has to have a cage, Shasta be fed, Shasta have a keeper, etc.

Finally, here's a pretty good article summing up the Cougars' 2011 season. I don't agree with the writer's contention that 2011 was the "finest season in school history" - 1976 (SWC and Cotton Bowl champions, #4 in the AP poll) and 1979 (SWC and Cotton Bowl champions, #5 in the AP poll) were clearly better years for Houston football - but the 2011 season, in spite of the disappointing loss to Southern Miss in the CUSA Championship, was still a very good year. Thirteen wins, a bowl victory over a legendary, ranked Big Ten school, and a season-ending top 25 ranking for the first time in over two decades is nothing to be ashamed of. Can Tony Levine and his staff can keep the momentum going and lead the Coogs to bigger and better seasons in the future? This is what ESPN's Andrea Jackson asks in an excellent profile of Levine:
There is no doubt this is a critical juncture for Houston. The Cougars have to maintain what they have done, all while keeping an eye to their next destination -- a home in the Big East in 2013. They have turned to a man without the usual credentials on his résumé. But Levine brings continuity, consistency, energy, passion and a deep-rooted commitment to the city of Houston.

Now we will see how all those traits serve him -- and this program -- moving forward.

The season begins against Texas State at Robertson Stadium the weekend of September 1st.

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