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[In Retrospect]

What’s in a name? Bulldog mascot Rocky comes by his moniker honestly

By Kevan Frazier, Ph.D.

Burt Holmes

UNC Asheville mascot, an English bulldog, in Summit yearbook photos from the 1940s, when he was known as Puck and the school was Asheville-Biltmore College.

Since UNC Asheville first fielded athletics teams in the 1930s (then known as Biltmore College), the bulldog has been its mascot. Early students chose the bulldog for its fierce and tenacious reputation, and over the decades, the bulldog has become a beloved symbol of our university.

In 1948, “Puck” arrived on campus and began a tradition of live bulldog mascots that lasted into the 1980s. Puck, named after the character in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was followed by Puck II and in the 1960s by Chug-a-lug. In the 1980s the campus welcomed Winston, named after British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, both for his bulldogged resolve as well as his appearance. Winston appeared for only a year and the tradition of a live mascot fell out of use.

This year, thanks to a group of student organizers, UNC Asheville will welcome a new bulldog mascot. Alumni couple Alexis Johnson ’97 and Ed Johnson ’96, a Mathematics Department faculty member, are his keepers. Still a puppy, “Rocky” will make his first public appearance after the New Year.

Early students chose the bulldog for its fierce and tenacious reputation, and over the decades, the bulldog has become a beloved symbol of our university.

How did Rocky get his name? Staff member Nancy Williams came up with the moniker during a naming contest sponsored by the Athletics Department in 1995. Although rumor has it his name comes from the famous Sylvester Stallone film character, Rocky Balboa (based on the American prize fighter Rocky Marciano), Williams said she picked Rocky because it means “steadfast,” much like the mountains that surround campus. The name Rocky, which is of English origin, is a derivation of the name Roch (also Rocco and Roque) after St. Roch, the patron saint of dogs. In the late 1990s, Rocky was immortalized through a gift of the Class of 1998. Sculpted by Matt West ’00 and modeled after a canine friend of the University, Pete “Bubba” McGill, the statue of Rocky stands in front of the Justice Athletics Center as sentinel over campus. Careful observers will note a chipped tooth and a torn ear, signs of his ferocity. Despite his tough outward appearance, the statue is beloved by fans and a rallying point for freshmen and seniors at convocation and commencement as they continue a tradition begun by the Class of 1998—rubbing Rocky’s head for good luck before going to the ceremonies. Seniors are often spotted getting their picture made riding Rocky in the days leading up to graduation.

UNC Asheville is proud of its bulldog heritage. Today Rocky—in all his forms—is a universal icon for UNC Asheville fans.