As a new semester arrives, this time, so does a new mascot. Ole Miss Athletics introduced the newest member of its team, Landshark Tony, on Aug. 11.
The university first began its search for a new mascot in 2010, after retiring Colonel Reb from the sidelines in 2003. At that time, three options were in the running to become the new face of the university – the Landshark, the Black Bear and Hotty Toddy – which were the same three options in consideration during last year’s election.
The 2010 vote proved a Black Bear victory after that mascot won 62 percent of the student vote. Rebel the Black Bear became the official mascot of Ole Miss and was met with praise from some and protest from others.
The Black Bear never quite caught on with Ole Miss fans. This prompted the Associated Student Body and the university to conduct another student poll in fall 2017 to decide which mascot should represent the football team. The ASB held a vote over a four-day period beginning on Sept. 25 that pitted the Black Bear mascot against the Landshark. Receiving 81 percent of student votes, the Landshark proved to be much more popular than its competitor.
After the decision was made, the university formed a committee consisting of members of student government, the spirit squad, leadership from both sports administration and marketing and a few production specialists, who oversaw the design aspects of the mascot.
The Ole Miss mascot now has both historical significance and, for some, personal significance, for the the Landshark’s namesake, Tony Fein, was a member of the U.S. armed forces who served in Iraq before coming to play football at the university.
Micah Ginn, associate athletics director for sports production and creative services at the university, said Fein’s use of the Landshark symbol originated during his time in the military.
“Fein’s patrol had nicknamed themselves the ‘Landsharks,’” Ginn said. “When they were out on patrol and possibly engaging with the enemy, they took on this mantle of the Landsharks. He actually brought that Landshark mentality back with him.”
During his time as an athlete at Ole Miss, Fein would frequently throw up a shark fin over his forehead in football practices during successful defensive plays, resulting in this “Fins Up!” gesture being adopted by his teammates and, later, by fans of the team. It became a symbol for the Ole Miss defense that is still prevalent today.
“The university announcing the new mascot is really cool,” freshman mathematics major Richard Springer said. “It shows that they value the students enough to consider and adopt something that started with one person, even naming it after him.”
Ginn said the design process was unique because the Landshark is a “mythical creature.”
“The beginning of the design was not physical appearance; the beginning of the design was activity,” Ginn said. “We thought, ‘How is the Landshark going to act and move? What do we think would make fans excited and enrich game day?’”
Once these factors were clear, the design team got in contact with Rare Designs in Hattiesburg to further the look and branding of the Landshark. They then reached out to a film company in California called Nascent Perspective Studios, which created the costume and face of Landshark Tony.
Upon the reveal of the new mascot, fans across various social media platforms and students on campus alike expressed mixed feelings.
“I love the concept of the Landshark and think it is a more appropriate representation of our university. However, I think the actual mascot could have been designed better,” sophomore international studies major Susanna Cassisa said.
Taran Carrasco, a junior double-majoring in biology and public policy, said she thinks the mascot is a positive change for Ole Miss sports.
“We’ve been calling ourselves the Landsharks for several years now, and I feel like it was time to make the Landshark our official mascot,” Carrasco said. “I know that it will take some people a little bit of time to adjust to the change and new look of our mascot, but I think by the end of this season, fans are going to grow to love Tony.”
In an online poll that The Daily Mississippian conducted on Twitter last week, 61 percent of respondents said they liked Tony, while 39 percent said they did not.
Fans both on campus and around the country can expect to see Landshark Tony at Ole Miss games throughout the 2018 football season, starting with the first home game on Sept. 8 versus Southern Illinois. The Fein family, which is eager to show its excitement and gratitude toward the new addition to the Ole Miss family, will be making a special appearance at this game.