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Identity Crisis


I love my alma mater. I will forever bleed SYRACUSE ORANGE. But for a major, well-known, long standing university, Syracuse has always had an identity crisis. Since it’s founding in 1870, the university has numerous logos, mascots and signature colors.

No, the University has not always been orange and blue, if you can believe that. Once upon a time, the school colors were PEA GREEN and PINK!!! A year later they became “rose pink and azure blue.” SU’s color finally was changed to orange in 1890, thanks to a candid conversation about color with then Chancellor Sims. He agreed it was hard to seem fierce on the athletic fields wearing pink and blue.The color was selected after a vote by students, faculty, alumni and trustees, who noted orange was a strong, bright color not claimed by any other school (And of note: Syracuse University was the first school to adopt only one official color).

Syracuse’s mascot has also gone through numerous transitions in its 146 year history. First there was Vita the Goat. She appeared at football games sporting signage about crushing opponents. Then came the Saltine Warrior, which was an Indian figure named Big Chief Bill Orange, who was born from a hoax in 1931—supposedly remains of this 16th century Onondagan chief were found on campus during a building excavation. Big Chief Bill Orange stuck around for a VERY long time—47 years to be exact. He was finally sidelined in 1978 when members of a Native American student organization held a protest against using the Saltine Warrior as an athletic mascot, since it was derogatory and racist (Syracuse was one of the first colleges in the country to remove Native American mascots).

A contest for a successor ensued. Briefly, there was a Roman gladiator, but he was booed and laughed off the field. Over far too many years, numerous mascot ideas were thrown out there for consideration: Egnaro the Troll, a Superman-like figure, and a man in an orange tuxedo. The Dome Ranger (“an insurance agent in an orange cowboy outfit and blue mask” … he’s still there!), Dome Eddie (“a gnat-like figure in Orange sweats with Elton John glasses and an incandescent wig”), Beast from the East (an electric-green monster), The Orange (a “juiced-up, bumbling citrus fruit from which two legs protrude”), a wolf, and a lion.

The Orange became the unofficial mascot for the proceeding years, until 1995, when then Chancellor Shaw made “Otto the Orange” the one and only official mascot, so the University could “retain its unique position in college athletics” as the only college or university with angry anthropomorphic fruit leading the charge.


Then there is the logo—the symbol that informs the identity of the University around the globe, in the media, on the athletic field, in conversation. As you can see from the images above and below, Syracuse has had a half dozen primary logos, 15 alternate logos, three wordmark logos, a handful of athletic logos, three versions of the mascot logo, and some special event logos. In my house alone (my husband went to SU, too), we are in possession of items that feature at least 12 of these iterations. And, that’s just since starting school there in 1991!


Finally in 2005, led by then Athletic Director Daryl Gross, the Block “S” logo became the University’s official athletics logo, replacing the interlocking “SU” designed by Nike in 2004. This simple, strong, bold, orange “S” took the University back to its roots—being reminiscent of the insignia an athlete at Syracuse University could receive for high achievement starting in 1893. The Block “S” was also adopted as the primary logo in
2006 linking the academic and athletic prowesses of the University under one logo.
Gross said, “The Block “S” allows us to respect the past and represent the future. The “S” represents not only the University and its athletics program, but the entire Syracuse community.” The logo is considered “one of the most recognizable logos in college sports today.”

Luckily, in spite of all these identity crises, one thing has remained constant since 1890: the color orange. This has kept the University top-of-mind from a branding perspective while its logo has “evolved” over 146 years. Obviously, other colleges and universities use orange (Clemson, Tennessee, Florida, Texas to name a few), but none have done it quite like Syracuse, which not only colors itself orange, but nicknames itself after a color, too.


PS – In case you are wondering, the official Syracuse Orange color is currently PMS 1665. That has evolved, too! Oh, and there appears to be a fourth version of a wordmark being used currently.

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