clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Guns, Germs, and Lil' Red: A Brief History of Humanity's Most Recent Scourge

The University of Nebraska is a fine institution, a beacon of light on the American prairie. So how on earth did a place so noble come to have representation by a hollow-eyed inflatable toddler? Theorizing that eradication can only come through education, journey with me into the belly of the beast as we explore the abomination that is Lil' Red.

Back away from the children, you monster!
Back away from the children, you monster!

The Nebraska Cornhuskers have an eminently excellent nickname--it's wholly unique and it makes sense with the university and state. The name first appeared in print after Nebraska defeated Iowa in 1893, and if that's not an auspicious beginning, I don't know what is. That Nebraska selected a name that wasn't just another of a cadre of Lions, Tigers, Bears, and Wildcats certainly indicates some greatness of mind not found in other teams aspiring to be called "NU."

But there was one small problem with the nickname--it did not anthropomorphize in an obvious manner, or otherwise lend itself well to a collegiate sporting environment that demanded visual representations of nicknames wandering the sidelines, posing for photos, and sprucing up merchandise. Other schools faced this problem: Cornell, officially only the "Big Red," randomly and somewhat lamely chose a bear as its mascot, and the Stanford Cardinal went the less-obvious "deranged tree" route. But especially as human cornhuskers were replaced by mechanized means of harvest, translating "cornhusker" into a beloved team emblem grew ever-more challenging. The world simply was not ready for Cobby the Combine.

Combine Cartoon

Although really, maybe they should reconsider. That's pretty badass.

At first, early mascot crafters seemed inclined to cut out the "husker" and just stick to the "corn" part of the name. This result was either laughably non-intimidating, or the stuff of nightmares, depending on one's perspective, but either way, it was never going to sell a lot of t-shirts.

Corncob guy

It's the dropped-crotch jumpsuit that really makes the ensemble, I think.

Corncob Guy 2

An unholy amalgamation of the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, a child's rendering of a corncob, and the torso of the man from Blue's Clues.

Perhaps inevitably, the corncobs gave way to a farmer. Humanoid mascots, especially before the development of the advanced mascot technology we enjoy today, have always posed a problem, in that it is difficult to make a 9-foot-tall foam cartoon with fixed features look non-creepy. It's simply the world we live in. But the fine folks seeking to mascotize the Cornhusker never let that stop them from trying:

Husky the Husker

Husky the Husker, with more ear than the average corn stalk.

Harry Husker

Harry Husker, intimidating Sunny Bono with his 12-foot-tall head

Husky and Harry never quite captured the public's devotion (surprisingly enough), but in 1974, Herbie Husker arrived on the scene (on the media guide, to be exact), at that time a portly, overall-wearing, football-lovin' farmer of apparently German extraction:

Herbie Media Guide

Eat Moar Runzas

As you might have guessed by now, Herbie's transition to mascot legend did not go entirely smoothly:

Reagan and Herbie

This Herbie disappeared after he flipped Reagan the bird. Unwise, Bug-Eyed Herbie.

1984 Herbie

Man 1980s. You were SO ugly.

Herbie Fyfe

This Herbie was the prototype for what would eventually become Ryker Fyfe.

Herbie Chins

This Herbie sadly existed in an age without Buzzfeed articles about taking one's best selfie. Keep those chins down, newb.

But eventually, Herbie ditched the overalls, ate Runzas in moderation and got in shape, and became a brunette, because we all know that they really are the ones who have more fun. With the new millennium, Herbie had a new look, and a new lease on life.

New Herbie

Great job on the diet there, big guy.

But behind the megawatt, plastered-on, never-wavering smile, all was not well with Herbie. In 1993, a mascot mistake of epic proportions, unmatched in pure awfulness until 2011, bounced onto the scene.

Lil Red


In a misguided, unnecessary attempt to "appeal to children," the University decided that Herbie needed a co-mascot, and proceeded to select for the task an inflatable yard ornament from some administrator's over-zealous neighbor's holiday yard display. Lil' Red would be the ugliest inflatable on any cul-de-sac, and he quickly became the most awful mascot in college sports.

Face down lil red

Feel the inspiration. Go fight win.

And friends, he is legion. Football games, basketball games, volleyball games. Precious few venues are safe from him and his...whatever the hell this is.

Crumpled Lil Red


At some point, the administration said, "You know what? I'm all for the unique branding that our agriculturally-themed mascot gives our school in recognition of our state's great legacy as a producer of grain and our school's history as a land-grant institution with top-notch agricultural programs. But I think we should also have a giant, inflatable toddler as an official mascot too." Tragically, these people earn a lot of money making decisions like this.

Spawn awakens

The creature awakens.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And thus it was so. A once-proud university now had officially licensed apparel with a disturbing, bouncing idiot plastered alongside that school's name.

This being the internet, you've no doubt heard someone accuse another of being a waste of oxygen. It turns out that in addition to his many other unsavory qualities, Lil' Red really IS a waste of oxygen. Per a very reputable source, Lil' Red consumes the life force of thousands of people a MINUTE:

The operator of the costume wears a "PowerBelt," a belt with an air circulation system, which brings in over 100 cubic feet (2.8 m3) of fresh outside air per minute, enough fresh air to accommodate roughly 1,000 people.

I firmly believe that Lil' Red should be illegal on the grounds that he is completely awful,but if that were not enough, he is literally sucking the air out of whatever space he enters. He's basically a brightly colored dementor. Or the presidential candidate of a major political party.

In his first inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave Americans an inspiring message for the ages:

The only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. Fear itself, and also the efforts of the powerful to foist upon the masses needless emblems of insipidity and immaturity... Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.

At the time, Americans understood only the first part of these famous lines, applying it to the terrifying conditions of the Great Depression then gripping America. It is only with the passage of time and the benefit of hindsight that we are able to understand what other great menace FDR warned of--the coming of Lil' Red.

As in the 1930s, active policy and determined effort finally ameliorated the crisis at hand. Let us learn from the past, demand leaders who will put an end to these silly displays of inflatable babyhood, and not rest until the scourge is cleared from the land. This Nation, now as then, asks for action, and action now!