In the 1920's Syracuse University football had a four-footed mascot, Vita the Goat. Vita made appearances at the games in Archbold Stadium, often dressed for the occasion wearing signage such as "Beat Colgate". The 1925 Onondagan notes that the goat was "held in leash by freshman guardians" during the games.
The Saltine Warrior, an Indian figure named Big Chief Bill Orange, was born in a hoax published in The Syracuse Orange Peel, October 1931. The remains of this 16th century Onondagan chief were supposedly found in the excavations near Steele Hall, the relocation site for the women's gymnasium in 1928.
In 1951 the Senior Class commissioned a statue of the Saltine Warrior to be placed near the "discovery site." Students of the famous Croatian sculptor and SU faculty member, Ivan Mestrovic, competed for the honor. The winner was Luise Kaish who arranged for a member of the Onondaga Nation to pose for her statue. The Saltine Warrior, cast in bronze, was moved several times, at last finding a resting place on the south-east corner of the quadrangle, next to the Shaffer Art Building.
In the mid-1950's, the father of a Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brother owned a cheerleading camp. He made a Saltine Warrior costume for his son to wear at SU football games. Thus began a nearly forty-year tradition of Lambda Chi brothers serving as SU's mascot. In 1990 however the University opened up the mascot traditions to the entire student body (Daily Orange, February 22, 1990).
In 1978 members of a Native American student organization headed a protest against using the Saltine Warrior as an athletic mascot. Onondagan Chief Oren Lyons, a 1958 alumnus and former SU lacrosse star, explained that it's "all in the presentation...The thing that offended me when I was there was that guy running around like a nut. That's derogatory" (Daily Orange, March 23, 1976). The Saltine Warrior was subsequently "sidelined" and a contest for a successor ensued (Daily Orange, February 12, 1978).
Briefly in 1978, a Roman-style gladiator reigned over the sites of sports battles, but he was soon both laughed and booed off the field. It was prophetic of his career that in his initial appearance the SU football team lost, 28-0 in a contest against the Florida State Seminoles.
In the following years proposals and attempts at mascots included Egnaro the Troll, a Superman-like figure, and a man in an orange tuxedo. An Orange "with appeal" was introduced in 1980 (Daily Orange, April 4, 1980). Eric Heath, an SU cheerleader, is credited with designing and crafting the first costume for the rotund and fuzzy Orange.
By 1984, the search for a proper successor to the Warrior had become both widely known and somewhat desperate. Sports Illustrated described a parade of potential replacements for the beloved and fearsome Saltine mascot: the Dome Ranger ("an insurance agent in an orange cowboy outfit and blue mask"), Dome Eddie ("a gnat-like figure in Orange sweats with Elton John glasses and an incandescent wig"), Beast from the East (an electric-green monster), and The Orange (a "juiced-up, bumbling citrus fruit from which two legs protrude.), whose popularity took on a life of its own.
The mascot was known as "The Orange" until 1990 when the name Otto first came into use. According to Mitch Messinger, "92, G'93, the first Orange costume was dubbed "Clyde" by the Lambda Chi Alpha brothers, and the second called "Woody". In 1990 a third costume was being produced and needed a name. The cheerleaders were at Cheerleading Camp in Tennessee that summer and narrowed the field down to two potential names - Opie or Otto. Figuring the name Opie would lead to the inevitable rhyme with 'dopey', they settled on Otto. Later that fall word got out that the cheerleaders were calling the latest mascot costume Otto and the name stuck.
The issue of an official mascot came to a head in February 1995 when Chancellor Shaw appointed an 18-member committee of students, faculty and staff to recommend a logo and mascot, primarily in support of the athletics program. In the fall the Committee, which had narrowed the mascot possibilities to a wolf, lion or the unofficial Orange, recommended adopting a wolf as the University mascot. A successful campaign was organized by the students who acted as the Orange, and in early December Chancellor Shaw named the Orange, popularly known as "Otto", as the official Syracuse University mascot. Shaw stated that he was convinced that the majority opinion on and off campus favored the Orange, and that with the Orange the University retains a unique position in college athletics (Daily Orange, Dec. 5, 1995).
The official two-dimensional form of the Orange was established by community vote during the spring of 1997.
The Orange has prevailed to this day, as SU fans know well. The warm and wooly interior of Otto's costume is inhabited sequentially in any one year by from two-to-six students who audition for the honor of entertaining SU fans. Beloved especially by the under-six crowd, the friendly and cheerful Orange has performed well enough in recent years to lead the Orangemen to many successful seasons, and through national television to become a recognizable symbol of SU's sports prowess.