By Witt Womack
Every superhero has an origin story, and Captain ‘Cane is no exception.
The story on the Tulsa Official Athletic Site tells of a freshman IT technician, Colin Cane, who, through the “cyber-athletic” forces of a “binary vortex,” transformed into the evidently balding superhero with a lightning sword.
Despite the presence of electrocution, the mascot’s fictional inception would probably have been a less prolonged, painful process than ‘Cane’s actual introduction to the University of Tulsa.
The current incarnation of Captain ’Cane is one of a long line of hurricane-based mascots at the University of Tulsa. Herc (far left) was TU’s first storm-themed mascot. When Captain ’Cane (second from left) was first designed in 1988, he was to serve as Herc’s fisherman companion. Eventually, the name Captain ’Cane was simply applied to a reworked Herc (upper middle to far right). The current Captain ’Cane dons a superhero suit (center).
The creation of TU’s mascot was naturally preceded by and built upon the creation of a team name, though fifty years separated the two events.
In 1922, Tulsa’s football team under Coach Howard Archer was in peak form. During practice, it is said that Archer heard his team described as “roaring through opponents.” With this comment in mind, Archer likened the gold and black-clad team to Golden Tornadoes.
The name was in use by Georgia Tech, however, and Archer and his team changed it to the Golden Hurricane and finished the season as the “undefeated and all victorious Intercollegiate champions of not only the state but the southwest” as a 1922 Collegian review of the season put it.
Miss Tornado, a baton-whirling mascot of the TU band elected anually beginning in the 1950’s, represents on of TU’s lesser known storm-themed mascots.
After the adoption of the “Golden Hurricane” as the official school team name in 1923, TU’s clubs began to conform to the Hurricane identity. Starting in the late 1950s, the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane Band would annually elect a “Miss Tornado” as a baton-twirling mascot for the band.
An ad in The Collegian from 1961 called for girls four to eight years old who were “attractive” and had “a pleasing personality” as well as “a good sense of rhythm and the ability to perform in front of crowds.”
But it was not until 1977 before a costumed mascot took to the field of the University of Tulsa. Citing “a need to improve general school spirit,” a few members of the University administration contacted Disney Studios about designing a hurricane costume and were referred to the costume maker Fantasy Forest.
In a Collegian article entitled, “So this is what a golden hurricane looks like” the 6’3”, 75-pound costume, and its first occupant, Jim Hunstein were introduced to TU. The Collegian had only one concern: “He needs a name.”
By the beginning of the following year, he had received one, though “Herc”, as he was referred to then, had already entered into rough waters. A photo of Herc with his mane sheared into a flat top graced the paper with the caption: “Herc the Hurricane had to be sent back to California to be made lighter so that one person could handle it.”
This would be the first of many trials for Tulsa’s mascot.
By the early-80s, calls were being made to replace the “Golden Hurricane” label altogether, especially Huffy, as Herc became to be known. In 1984, alumni groups and students began campaigning for a change. The TU Polar Bears and the TU Tunas were among the popular suggestions, but the campaign went nowhere.
Then, in 1987, the efforts for change became directed exclusively at Huffy. “A movement is afoot to dump Huffy as our school mascot” an article in mid-September read. The SA senate had mailed flyers to students during the summer notifying of an impending election for a new mascot. Huffy was not to be included. Later in September, The Collegian included a ballot titled “Help Heave Huffy.”
The results heralded TD the Tasmanian Devil the winner with 123 votes. The runner-up, with 45 votes, was Sammy the Squid and third place went to a Golden Retriever.
Despite The Collegian’s confidence in the election’s decisiveness, Taz’ victory was contested. Only 365 votes had been cast, and SA Senate investigated the results, which were ultimately declared invalid by the University Executive Board.
Even up to April 1988, the special University Mascot Committee discussed the Huffy question, when they proposed a compromise: the creation of a second character to complement a new and improved Huffy. This new partner’s name was to be Captain ‘Cane, a weathered, old sailor sporting a harpoon.
Yet nothing came of the proposal save for the introduction Captain ‘Cane’s name into TU’s collective consciousness. In Autumn of 1989, The Collegian ran a feature titled: “Despite previous controversy, no plans to heave Huffy in near future.”
The feverish campaign against Huffy had died down, but Huffy was only in the eye of the storm.
After 1987 the exhaustive coverage of the Huffy controversy died down. The Collegian gradually began to refer to Huffy as Captain ‘Cane without any documentation of the change. Later, in 2003, Huffy is said to have been quietly retired “in the mid-90s”, though the change was not revolutionary.
The anthropomorphic hurricane remained mascot, but modifications in his design made him tougher and more muscular. He also received a jersey, basketball shorts and a cape. Still, the occasional committee, like that of 2003, was formed to discuss a complete overhaul, and still, the hurricane seemed invulnerable. The administration was even confident enough in 2006 to plaster a stylized Captain ‘Cane brandishing his Brobdingnagian biceps on the newly commissioned shuttle buses.
But suddenly in 2009, Huffy truly became Captain ‘Cane. A complete departure from the anthropomorphic hurricane design was approved by the administration. The new concept: a superhero with bulging chin and confident smile, fully human and clad in a blue and gold super suit with a hurricane warning flag flowing as a cape.
Captain ‘Cane became in essence the mascot he is today, though in 2012, the costume was reworked to include a more defined cleft-chin and a modified suit. For now, Captain ‘Cane is secure in his current form.