Hey, At Least It's Not a Chicken

Courtesy Chris Hutson

Georgia has its paunchy, slobbering Bulldog; Southern Cal has a Trojan horseman in full battle regalia; Stanford has a guy with branches sticking out of his head.

The Tree, the sideline emblem of--what, exactly?--turns 25 this fall.

Pining (sorry) for a mascot after four years without one—Prince Lightfoot disappeared when "Indians" became the "Cardinal" in 1971—students in the fall of 1975 clamored for something distinctive. A student referendum was held to consider several options. "Robber Barons" was among the early favorites, but the Stanford Band had other ideas. Bizarre, ridiculous ideas. Eric Strandberg, '76 and Bob Tiffany, '76 get credit--if that's the right word--for the Tree notion, conceived during their middle-of-the-night drive to Los Angeles in the Band's equipment van prior to the usc game. "It was supposed to be a spoof on mascots, not the real thing," says Strandberg of their tree theme, which the Band a week later adopted for its Big Game program. A "tree queen" was carried in on a wooden platform, surrounded by flower-tossing "wood nymphs" and the Tree itself, Chris Hutson, '76, ms '77. She and her friend, Jan Kraus Wolfe, '76, MS '77, had stayed up all night preparing Hutson's outfit, which consisted of a large chunk of wood wedged into a scuba backpack, upon which was impaled a two-foot Styrofoam cone, with construction paper "leaves" covering the entire thing. "It was pretty heavy, and it was hot, and I couldn't see," Hutson recalls. "And I got tackled by the Berkeley Bear." What?

"Yeah, the Berkeley Bear ran over and knocked me down, and the Band broke formation to come and save me," Hutson says.

It was not the kind of debut one would associate with an enduring symbol, and nobody expected Hutson's invention to survive beyond that week, let alone 24 more seasons. But Hutson returned the following year, while studying toward a master's in biology, and reprised her role as the Tree. The roots were established.

All these years later, the Tree still usually looks like a parade entrant who signed up at the last minute. But what it lacks in polish or ferocity, the Tree makes up for with roguish charm. What can we say? It grows on you.