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Team History - Cincinnati Bearcats - History
Bearcat football is rich in history and tradition.
The University of Cincinnati football program is one of
the nation’s oldest. When the Bearcats played Miami
(O.) on Oct. 24, 1998, UC became only the 30th program in
NCAA Division I-A history to play 1,000 intercollegiate
UC first fielded football teams in 1885, playing against
athletic clubs in the area. Three years later, in 1888,
Cincinnati was featured in the very first intercollegiate
football game played in the state of Ohio when a team representing
UC visited nearby Oxford to play a team of students from
Miami University. That contest, played on Sept. 24, was
the birth of the rivalry which today ranks as the eighth-oldest
and 11th-longest running rivalry in NCAA Division I college
football. Only four NCAA Division I-A schools can boast
of football programs older than Cincinnati's 111 years --
Rutgers, which took part in the nation's very first college
football game in 1869, Michigan, which began play in 1879,
Navy (1880) and Minnesota (1883).
College Football Hall of Fame coach Frank Cavanaugh began
his 24-season career at Cincinnati.
Sid Gillman, a member of the College and National Football
League hall of fame shrines, was the architect of one of
the top eras of Cincinnati football history. He directed
the Bearcats to three conference titles and a pair of bowl
game appearances during his six seasons (1949-54) before
leaving for the professional ranks.
That coaching tradition has continued. Three current and
three recent college head coaches have Cincinnati coaching
and/or playing backgrounds, while six NFL head coaches have
come through the UC ranks.
Cincinnati, with Gillman developing the passing offenses
which would make him successful in the pro ranks, became
known for its aerial attack in the early 1950’s. That
In 1968, the Bearcats were the nation’s top passing
team. Quarterback Greg Cook was the NCAA’s total offense
leader with receiver/kicker Jim O’Brien the national
scoring champ. A year later, Cook earned Rookie of the Year
honors as a Cincinnati Bengal. Two years later, O’Brien
kicked the game-winning field goal for the Baltimore Colts
in the Super Bowl. A third member of that passing tribunal,
Tom Rossley, is now the head coach at Southern Methodist.
With 80 players advancing into the professional ranks,
30 earning All-American honors and 11 garnering Verizon
Academic All-America recognition, Cincinnati football clearly
has a history of accomplishments, both on and off the gridiron.
The University of Cincinnati Bearcats were born on Oct.
31, 1914. The occasion was a football game with the University
of Kentucky Wildcats, a star UC player named Baehr, a creative
cheerleader and a talented cartoonist.
During the second half of that hard-fought football game,
UC cheerleader Norman "Pat" Lyon, building on
the efforts of fullback Leonard K. "Teddy" Baehr,
created the chant: "They may be Wildcats, but we have
a Baehr-cat on our side."
The crowd took up the cry: "Come on, Baehr-cat!"
Cincinnati prevailed, 14-7, and the victory was memorialized
in a cartoon published on the front page of the student
newspaper, the weekly University News, on Nov. 3. The cartoon,
by John "Paddy" Reece, depicted a bedraggled Kentucky
Wildcat being chased by a creature labeled "Cincinnati
The name stuck, but not immediately. Following Teddy Baehr's
graduation in 1916, the name dropped out of use, at least
in print, for a few years. On Nov. 15, 1919, Cincinnati
played at Tennessee. Cincinnati Enquirer writer Jack Ryder's
dispatch on the game was the first time that the major media
called UC's teams "Bearcats." From then on, the
university's teams were regularly called Bearcats.
What is a bearcat?
The word first appeared in print circa 1889 as a synonym
for the giant panda. "Bearcat" is a simple translation
of the Chinese word for panda-xiong mao-which means "bear-cat".
By 1895, naturalist H.N. Ridley reported that the binturong-a
large cat from Malaysia-was known as the "bear-cat".
There is a binturong at the Cincinnati Zoo which frequents
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