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A short history of Touchdown the Bear

October 06, 2014

The Cornell Bear. It comes as a surprise to many that Cornell does not have an official mascot - so what is this bear that one sees all over campus, on t-shirts, coffee mugs, ties, you name it?  Well it’s an homage to the four real black bears, all named Touchdown, who once prowled the Hill and started a tradition that lasts to this day.

The first bear showed up in 1915. In September of that year a bear cub arrived in Ithaca at the invitation of the football team.  The cub was described, as were her 3 successors, as a “playful and lovable little creature standing about 3 feet high with soft well furred ears and eyes shoe button black”.  You can imagine how these cubs captivated the student body. Cute little cubs, however, have a tendency to grow up and this was certainly the case with our 4 bears—but more of that later.

After some other names were tried, the football team decided on “Touchdown” and the cub made her debut at the game between Cornell and Oberlin. Immediately Touchdown became a fan favorite due to her pre-game antics of climbing the goal posts and the fact that the Big Red after four games with Touchdown on the sidelines started the 1915 season 4 and 0. This set up the showdown in Boston with mighty Harvard who was riding a 33 game winning streak. The Big Red was not given much a chance, but there was hope that Touchdown could be the game changer.

The football team was housed in the Lenox Hotel and hotel management offered to give Touchdown accommodations in the hotel lobby, complete with strained honey.  Beware, however, non-Cornell Hotelies - all of this hospitality was simply a clever way to provide Harvard the opportunity to kidnap Touchdown in the early morning hours before the game. It was only after a posse made up of Cornell undergrads and alums rescued Touchdown that she was back on the sidelines for the start of the game which Cornell won 10-0.

This was the first time the Big Red had ever defeated Harvard, and Cornell went onto win the rest of its games that season, two of which were on the road against Michigan and Penn. Touchdown the Bear went night clubbing in Detroit, and became a celebrity in Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

Atlantic City you ask? As you may know the Cornell - Penn football game is annually the last game of the season. This rivalry goes back over a hundred years and for most of that time the game was played at Franklin Field in Philly on Thanksgiving Weekend. In the custom of the day, the Big Red team would travel first to Atlantic City where it would engage in various pre-game “preparations” for several days before going onto Philadelphia.  Touchdown was still in a less-than-friendly mood the next day when she was  introduced to the Penn mascot - “a wolf dog of the huskie type”. My favorite picture is of this meeting; the very natty Penn cheerleaders in their tennis sweaters and white flannels, and the rubes from Ithaca with their slouch hats, black suits and high top boots. The country comes to the big City.

We may have looked outclassed there on the fifty yard line at Franklin Field, but Touchdown showed who had the upper hand. Upon meeting the Penn huskie, Touchdown clubbed the dog across the muzzle and knocked the poor beast out cold. This presaged what the Big Red team was to do that afternoon to the Less than Fighting Quakers with a convincing 24 to 9 victory, finishing the season 9-0. This was Cornell’s first undefeated team and national championship team.

Touchdown and the “Unbeaten and Unbeatable” Big Red team returned to Ithaca after the game. Touchdown then went home to Old Town, Maine. 

Touchdown I set the standard for the three bears that were to follow in 1916, 1919 and 1939. Touchdown II was the bear abandoned in Philadelphia after a loss to Penn, but she went to the Rose Bowl with the Penn mascot.

Touchdown III demonstrated in support of faculty salaries and made a trip to New York City for the Dartmouth game where she had a high old time at the Cornell Club.

But my favorite bear is Touchdown IV who made the 1939 season memorable and historic. There were twenty years between the third Touchdown and the fourth due in large part to antipathy toward bears on the part of the athletic director during that period.

But in the fall of 1939 a perfect storm was brewing - a new athletic director - one James Lynah, restlessness on campus due to war clouds in Europe, and six undergraduates who hatched a plan to continue the tradition of Touchdown I, II and III.  Lynah was stubbornly opposed to having a Bear anywhere near Schoelkopf. The more he dug his heels in the more the students pressed their case. The Sun, acting as the mouthpiece for the students, requested, pleaded and then demanded that the Touchdown IV be allowed to represent the Big Red. But Jim Lynah was unmoved; he refused to grant Touchdown permission to be anywhere near Schoelkopf Field. This standoff culminated in a student demonstration in front of the Straight during which Touchdown spent most of her time up in a tree.

Perhaps propelled by the energy of the student body, the Big Red football team rolled over its first three opponents. This led up to a faceoff against national power Ohio State in Columbus. The Cornell Club of Cleveland had heard about the trials and trevails of Touchdown and invited her to attend the game as its guest. Touchdown and several students took the Club up in its offer of hospitality, and Touchdown made the 300 mile train trip to Cleveland and then onto Columbus.

Although we have no record of Touchdown being on the sidelines at arguably the Big Red’s greatest football victory, a 23-14 humbling of Ohio State, that was front page news across the country, she became the post-game story…

Now picture hundreds if not thousands of Cornell revelers, including Touchdown the Bear celebrating their way back to Cleveland most by train. Touchdown ended up in a Cleveland nightclub where she created a bit of a scene with the Animal Protective League. The officer arrested poor Touchdown, and on that Sunday morning papers literally from coast to coast led with headlines like “Cornell’s Cub Cuts Up At Night Club” and “Cornell Cub in Custody After Night Club Spree.”

After intense negotiations, Touchdown was finally released and sent to the woods of western Pennsylvania under the watchful eye of the Pennsylvania Conservation Commission.

Although Touchdown was not around for Cornell’s next game, or for the rest of the season for that matter, the Big Red went on to win all of its games, finishing the season 8-0 - Touchdown IV, like Touchdown I before her, was certainly an inspiration for the team’s success.

Letters from Touchdown: #1

October 27, 2014

Editor’s note:  In 1939 the last real bear on campus, Touchdown IV, was released into the woods of western Pennsylvania after creating havoc in Cleveland, this following Cornell’s historic football win over Ohio State. Since that time, the Bear has been embraced by Cornellians as the university’s unofficial mascot. One wonders what happened to Touchdown IV (or the other three bears for that matter).  Recently letters from Touchdown have been found, and what a tale she tells.

Dear Fellow Cornellians, My name is Theodora Dickson Berry and I am a black bear cub.  More importantly, I am the Cornell Bear, or at least I think I am. You see before I arrived on Cornell’s campus no one ever thought about bears and there certainly weren’t students prancing about in smelly faux fur costumes imitating me and my clan. And now Cornellians have adopted a bear as their unofficial mascot—all because of me.  (And if you don’t believe it, read the history.)

As I put paw to paper in the woods of the Kittanning Forest in western Pennsylvania, it’s high time I share my story with you and the world.  (By the way, if you think Ithaca is centrally isolated, you should come here—the closest Wegman’s is 100 miles away!)  I want to tell you how I got here and why I want to go back to the Hill…to come home to Ithaca.

Let’s start with my current predicament. Essentially, I was JA’ed here by this humorless dude, Animal Protective League Agent August Guenther, after a pretty crazy night in Cleveland celebrating the Big Red football team’s epic win against The Ohio State University.  You say what—we beat Ohio State!?  Yes, the Big Red put it to the Buckeyes and every other team for that matter.  It was Cornell’s first undefeated and national championship team, and with all humility, I think I had something to do with it. That’s one good reason why I should be back in Ithaca!  How about it Coach Archer—I think I could help the team.

Back to Agent Guenther, don’t get me wrong, maybe he had his reasons to be upset, but exiling me to the woods of Pennsylvania is a bit over the top. To give you the full picture, maybe I should go back to the very beginning.

As I said, I am a black bear cub from Maine. When I started thinking about colleges, my folks wanted me closer to home and suggested Harvard or Brown. Turns out Harvard offered only a doctorate in Ursalogy (what does one do with that?) and Brown had only two classes of interest to me—The Meaning of Ursa Major and the Lesser Meaning of Ursa Minor. (Pretty light fare, even for Brown.)

I had my heart set on studying something elevated, yet practical, and to my delight I found that Cornell—the “any person, any study” university--offered Ursanomics in not one, not two, but three different colleges.  Go figure.

So off I scampered to upstate New York and settled in on the Hill.  The second day on campus I saw a chalk sign announcing tryouts for mascot to “arouse some spirit”, and said to myself, why not?  I auditioned and since I was the only one able to climb the goal pasts (an activity that became my trademark and a fan favorite) I got the job.  My suitemates, thrilled with my good fortune, gave me my cool nickname, Touchdown, playing off my initials.

That was the beginning of a whirlwind and totally awesome semester.  A road trip to Colgate saw me being chased by Colgate students—it sure must get lonely in Hamilton, New York—knocking me out cold when I ran into the goal post. (Not one of my finest hours.)  And a trip to the Big Apple where I was the guest of honor at a smoker at the Cornell Club—I definitely should have listened to my mother about things that go on behind closed doors…  Then there was the kidnapping in Boston before the Harvard game, the night club incident in Ann Arbor before the Michigan game, and the pre-Penn game escapade in Atlantic City. There was more than enough excitement for a young cub from Maine.

But the topper was the road trip to Columbus, Ohio as the guest of the Cornell Club of Cleveland. Even though it didn’t end so well, hanging out at the Bronze Room in the Hotel Cleveland was something a bear can really hibernate on.

As I sit here next to a whammy tree in the dark Kittanning woods the memories of being with the Big Red are what keep me going. I can sense winter coming and while the folks at Cornell Outdoor Ed look forward to the snow flying, I for one am longing for the creature comforts of Collegetown. I heard through the grapevine that Ruloff’s closed and I fear if I don’t get back soon Dunbar’s will be next to go. Then we will have to occupy the Chapter House to move the grad students to the Creeker. Oh the trials and travails of being a Cornellian.

So won’t you help a furry friend out? I need to get back to Ithaca. I gave my all for the Big Red. No regrets there as it was the greatest time of my life, but now I need your help…Cornell is a better place with a bear on campus and I’m your cub!  

I need to sign off for now because it’s the start of bear hunting season (Agent Guenther—Mr. Protector of Animals—how about taking this on?) and I hear some footsteps. Ever since those grade inflators at Harvard surprised me in the Lennox Hotel in Boston I don’t let my guard down for a moment.

With regards to Davy,


Letters from Touchdown: #2

November 09, 2014

Letters from the Kittanning Forest—The Lament of the Cornell Bear

Editor’s note:  In 1939 the last real bear on campus, Touchdown IV, was released into the woods of western Pennsylvania after creating havoc in Cleveland, this following Cornell’s historic football win over Ohio State. Since that time, the Bear has been embraced by Cornellians as the university’s unofficial mascot.

One wonders what happened to Touchdown IV (or the other three bears for that matter).  Here is the second letter we received from Touchdown, and what a woeful tale she tells.

Letter #2

Dear Fellow Cornellians,

My last letter home was interrupted by some hunters expressing their Second  Amendment Rights.  I get it, but I sure wish they would get their fun out on the target range.

In any case here I am, safe and sound, but missing the Hill even more.  I learned in Psych 101 that one way to deal with homesickness is to zero in on the good times. There were plenty of those while I was on the Hill, but since I mentioned in my last missive, the unpleasantness I experienced in Boston at the hands of some Harvard students, I thought I’d finish that story (which fortunately has a happy ending indeed).

The Big Red football team and I, as its mascot, were four games into the season and riding high with four decisive victories. Not to brag too much, but some credit for this success was being given to me, Touchdown the Bear. My pregame routine of climbing the goal posts was getting Cornell fans in high spirits which no doubt translated into inspired play on the field.

The game against Harvard was next up and the Crimson was also sporting a 4-0 record. And they hadn’t lost a game in four seasons!    This was going to be a real test for the Big Red, made even more challenging by being in Beantown.

The team and I took the train to Boston where we were all put up at the Lenox Hotel. The manager of our team, Booty Hunkin (honest, that was his name), who was a nice fellow and generous with the honey comb he got from the Ag School, had made arrangements with the Lenox manager:  I was to be an honored guest in the hotel lobby where they set up a bear den. Not sure what the attraction was for the other hotel patrons, but Bostonians, as we know, are a peculiar lot.

The team, with me in attendance of course, had our pregame dinner, followed by a smoker (what is it with these smokers?) at the Hotel Victoria, after which we retired to the Lenox where I settled in the lobby.

About 4:00 that morning I was awakened by a small group of lads with accents devoid of R’s and dressed in evening attire –real swells.  Before I knew what was going on, I was spirited away to a dark room on Harvard’s campus that resembled my quarters back home at Cornell—the baseball cage. There I was, locked in and left alone with nothing more to do other than wallow and whimper.

After several hours and just when I was getting about as peeved as one can get, a band of Cornellians, led by a recent alum, Sport Ward (where do they get these names?), burst into my cell whistling the theme from Love Story. They hoisted me on their shoulders and carried me out. Sport flagged down a taxi and put me in the front seat, several of my liberators got into the back seat, and off we went back to the Lenox Hotel.

I have to say that during my imprisonment I was never really afraid, but oh boy, that car trip in Boston traffic took years off my life. To distract me from the mayhem around us, Sport told me how he and the others had sprung me. The Big Red trainer, who had gone out to the Harvard Stadium early Saturday morning to get the football team’s locker room ready, heard my un-ladylike sobs and traced them to the locked baseball cage. He called back to the Lenox to alert the team of the bear-napping, and a posse of students and alumni took off for the stadium. There they found the janitor who refused to unlock the cage without orders from the Harvard football manager.  But, underestimating the guile of Cornellians, he offered to admit them into his office so they could telephone the manager. Once inside the Cornellians overpowered the janitor, took his keys, locked him inside his office and then released me.

I was back on the sidelines in time for the kickoff and we went on to beat Harvard 10-0, a defeat that the Crimson are still smarting from today (particularly when reminded of Big Red superiority as the fish fly at Lynah). How sweet it is.

Just thinking about that road trip makes me feel better, but I am still longing to get back home. Allowing for the obvious gender difference, I feel like I’m Odysseus wending his way back to Ithaca. I get the importance of the journey and savoring all the experiences along the way, but enough is enough. I have had my fill of hunters and the less than friendly critters here in the woods and every day it’s getting colder and colder and darker and darker. Oh, to be back in the warm embrace of the Nines or wrapped around a hot fudge sundae at the Dairy Bar.  (I understand it reopened while I’ve been away, but what the heck is that thing out in front?)

Time to take a quick pre-hibernation nap.  I will be writing again shortly.

With regards to Davy,


Letters from Touchdown: #3

November 17, 2014

Dear Fellow Cornellians,

Ah, there is nothing like a nap to clear the head and get focus.  I always found the fishbowl in Uris conducive to this, followed by a honey dolce latte at Olin made by that cute barista with the Chicago Cubs cap.   Oh man, do I want to get back home!

In my last letter, I mentioned the critters that seem to be all over these woods. Some might say I’m a critter too, but I am a Cornellian as well, which puts me in a different category.  I had one encounter recently that put a real scare in me—a lion of the Nittany sort tried to get a little too friendly and I had to use my Ivy League wiles to ward off his advances.  Hard to believe since the two of us had something in common; he was the mascot of a land grant university as am I. And, his school wrote a song about me which I am fond of singing to myself when I am not belting out "We Didn't Go to Harvard" (I love that song).  His school song has the catchy verse, “Dartmouth with its Indian, and Yale her Bulldog, too; there's old Princeton with its Tiger and Cornell with its Bear". When 100,000 fans sing that song in Penn State’s stadium, people take notice.

As they say, it’s a jungle out here. Fortunately I have had some experience in taking care of myself. Take, for example, that mongrel wolf the Penn Quakers brought to the fifty yard line to intimidate me down before the Penn game. That staredown lasted about 10 seconds before I decided it was best to club the hound across the snout with my paw. Knocked him out cold which foreshadowed what my football colleagues did to Penn later that afternoon. Cornell Victorious!—Philadelphia was never so happy as to see us get on the train back to Ithaca.

We were the conquering heroes, but that leads me to wonder and think and wonder some more (which is about all I do here in the woods, besides you know what) why I don’t get more respect from my alma mater.  I know my fellow students love me—they even demonstrated in front the Straight to show the athletic director that I truly belong on campus. He obviously needs some convincing, or maybe re-education, because he was quoted in the Sun as saying bears “smell badly and their personal habits are disgusting. They are dangerous, ill-tempered and unbelievably troublesome.”  Well, excuse me.

If I am so disagreeable, how come the Big Red team asked me to accompany them to Atlantic City to assist with “preparations” before the Penn game?  I had been to Boston, New York City and Detroit, but for a cub from Maine, the chance to go to Atlantic City—America’s playground—was beyond my wildest dreams. We were put up at the very fashionable Haddon Hall Hotel on the Boardwalk and, learning our lesson from our stay at the Lenox, I was given the entire baggage room as my boudoir.

We had a high old time until the Philadelphia paparazzi decided they wanted pictures. They woke me up from a nap (I’m a real bear when my sleep is interrupted) and after one photo in which I gave them a good shot of my derriere (and I have held onto as a keepsake), I decided to take stroll along the Boardwalk.

Lo and behold, the first place I came upon was a taffy shop which is about as close to heaven as a bear can get. I entered the store and must have startled the taffy pullers (Ha, like they don’t see scarier things than me in Atlantic City?!) because they ran out of the shop followed by me. Next thing I know I am having a bracing dip in the Atlantic. (I wonder if the folks over a Teagle would accept that as my swim test.)  All’s well that ends well; I got out of the ocean, ready for the challenges that awaited us at Franklin Field.  

Wow, that was quite a digression (even for me). As I was saying, it’s a matter of R-E-S-P-E-C-T. (That’s another one of my favorite songs.)  The AD’s opinions about bears are one thing, but the president’s are something else. The other day I got wind that President Skorton said that Cornell’s mascot is the Big Red Bear — not Touchdown.  Maybe DSkort was misquoted, but if not, he might consider changing his tune so he gets a warm reception at the Bear House in his new job as the national zookeeper—I have friends.

Come on Cornell, this living in the forest (and in my head) is getting old. I know I can count on you to get me back to the Hill.

With regards to Davy,


Editor’s note:  In 1939 the last real bear on campus, Touchdown IV, was released into the woods of western Pennsylvania after creating havoc in Cleveland, this following Cornell’s historic football win over Ohio State. Since that time, the Bear has been embraced by Cornellians as the university’s unofficial mascot.  One wonders what happened to Touchdown IV (or the other three bears for that matter).  Recently letters from Touchdown have been found, and what a woeful tale she tells.

Letters from Touchdown: #4

November 24, 2014

Dear Fellow Cornellians,

Well, it snowed last night and I’m getting desperate. My Uggs are back in Ithaca!  I am so done with the woods—I need to get back on campus. The more I think about my current fix, the less charitable I am toward Agent Guenther of the Animal Protective League.  If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be stuck in the cheerless woods. Instead, I would be lacing up the blades to take some spins around Lynah and working the parties on Catherine Street.

Perhaps you should be the judge and decide whether Agent Guenther should be on the enemies list. Here’s the story how I made his acquaintance.

It all started with a written invitation from the Cornell Club of Cleveland asking me to be the Club’s guest at the game between the Big Red and The Ohio State University. The invitation stated that I would be treated to a round trip ticket on the Cornell-Ohio State Football Special between Cleveland and Columbus, be wined and dined, and welcome to attend all other festivities.

Now that was an invitation not to pass up. So off I went with some of my friends on a 300 mile train trip from Ithaca to Columbus via Cleveland. When we got to Cleveland on Friday we were put up at University Club and had a quiet introspective evening which was key as the next couple of days were going to be fast and furious.

We were at the train terminal at 9:30 the next morning ready for the excursion to Columbus. Excitement was running high; although the Big Red was not given much of a chance against the Buckeyes, who were contenders for the national championship, there was something in the air that smelled of upset.

Upon arriving in Columbus we all went directly to the stadium. The game started badly and we soon found ourselves behind by two touchdowns. But then, in what the sports writers described as an “avalanche” the Big Red scored 23 unanswered points and we walked off the field not only the victors, but the toast  of the entire country.

The train trip back to Columbus was one big party. From car to car, Cornellians celebrated like you have never seen before. It made Slope Day look like an afternoon in the Olin stacks.

Once we hit Cleveland the fun really started. Cornellians took over every night club in town and I found myself in the Bronze Room of the Hotel Cleveland. (I have been in so many hotels that I am seriously thinking about changing my major from Ursanomics to Hotel Administration—Dean Johnson, whaddya think?)

The Bronze Room was smokin’ and I was soon the center of attraction. At one point I was asked why I hadn’t climbed the goal post before the game, as is my habit, and, to tell you the truth, the reason was, I was so excited about the game I forgot. But then I figured, why not climb one of the potted palms that decorated the Bronze Room and give everyone a thrill. So up I went to the great delight of all, with one exception. Yes, Agent Guenther had arrived on the scene and was not impressed.  He announced that the Animal Protective League had been notified that there was a bear on the loose and he was sent over to investigate. (Must have been one of those sore losers from Ohio State who dropped the dime.)

Right then and there he put me in custody in front of all my new friends—talk about an embearrassing moment—and hauled me off to League HQ.

For the rest of the night, while Cornellians were painting the town Red, and the next morning when the same Cornellians were nursing some gnarly hangovers, I was in the slammer.  I assumed that once everyone calmed down and felt better, I would be taken to the train station for the trip back to Ithaca. But no; Agent Guenther had another plan and on Monday I was headed to Franklin, Pennsylvania to be with my “kind”. Why he didn’t think Cornellians were my kind will forever be a mystery, but there was no reasoning with the man.

Now as you hear that story do you think the punishment fits the crime?  Much stranger things happen in Collegetown most Saturday nights and no one gets shipped off to god forsaken places like Franklin, Pennsylvania.

Please put yourself in my shoes. You too would want to get back to Ithaca and fast.  With a little help I think I can be on the Hill in time for Slope Day.

With regards to Davy,


Letters from Touchdown: #5

December 01, 2014

Dear Fellow Cornellians,

I have been hearing through the grapevine that support is growing on campus to bring me home. You have no idea how good this makes me feel. At the risk of counting my chickens before they hatch (I know, that is an odd expression for a bear to use, but you get the gist), I have started planning the things I want to do when I get back on the Hill. Kind of my own 161 Things To Do Before I Graduate (although I have only 15 things—I am a bear after all).).

  1. Be a swimsuit model in the Cornell Fashion Collective’s annual fashion show.
  2. Get ice cream at the Dairy Bar.
  3. Convince Vice Provost Laura Brown that Hotel New Hampshire should be the next Freshmen reading project—I can see it now: “The 2015 Reading Project—miscommunication, violence,  speculation, some hate, some love, death, secrecy, disarray and a bear!”
  4. Make the library into my den and have sex in the stacks. (I can’t stop thinking about that cute barista in the Olin Café.)
  5. Climb the rock wall in Bartels—talk about a piece of cake for someone with my climbing skills, but fun nevertheless.
  6. Get J.A.’d for urinating on campus (where else do you think bears do it.)
  7. Meet the dazzling Denice Cassaro who I’ve heard is a great fan of mine.
  8. Attend the Hotelie prom. (I wonder if that cute barista is a Hotelie—he certainly makes a ridiculous latte…)
  9. Kiss on the suspension bridge at midnight. (I won’t even mention that cute barista...makes me crazy!)
  10. Go to the Cornell-Harvard hockey game and avoid getting hit by fish as I do my spins around the ice.
  11. Watch a Bhangra dancer show (and maybe learn some moves and teach them some of my own).
  12. Take "Intro to Wines" - I  am always looking for a good pairing with honey comb.
  13. Streak across the Arts Quad—like all the time!
  14. Go skinny dipping in the gorge—like all the time!

I also want to meet our new president.  By the way, I think it is a good omen for me that the new prez is also of the female gender. (I wonder if an Okie has ever seen a black bear?  Regardless, I am sure she and I are going to get along great.)

I need to sign off—I can hardly keep my eyes open. Must be time for the big sleep. Hope to be with you for the rager on Slope Day, but if I oversleep, I will definitely see you at Homecoming in September.

Go Big Red and give my regards to Davy,