With football at center stage, let's take a closer look at that unsung hero of sports: the mascot.

With football at center stage, let's take a closer look at that unsung hero of sports: the mascot.

The Animalistic

Examples: Lions and tigers and bears - oh my! Also cougars, wildcats, bruins (which are bears), wolves, etc. Pretty much any animal capable of killing people.

Atypical Examples: University of California-Santa Cruz banana slug, the Upper Iowa University peacock

Advantages: Fierce, violent, mean

Disadvantages: Generally not potty-trained

*Effectiveness: 62 percent

Anecdotally: The Cal State Fullerton baseball team (which won national championships in 1995 and 2004) came to be known as the "Elephants" back in the early 1960s when they staged "the first intracollegiate elephant race in human history" before 10,000 (presumably stoned) spectators.

The Racists

Examples: A dozen colleges still use "Indians" as mascots, and the pro team in the nation's capital still goes by the moniker "Redskins."

Atypical Examples: The Florida State University Seminoles, who have explicit permission from the Seminole Nation to use "Chief Osceola" as their mascot

Advantages: Terrifying - particularly to early-19th-century settlers of the American West

Disadvantages: Racist and uninformed

*Effectiveness: 2 percent

Anecdotally: In response to widespread apathy about Native American mascots, a group of students at the University of Northern Colorado formed "The Fighting Whities" intramural basketball team in 2001.

The Locally Flavored

Examples: Buckeyes, Cornhuskers, Volunteers, Sooners, Hoosiers

Atypical Examples: The Stanford Cardinal (singular - they're not named for the birds but for the color)

Advantages: Wins the hearts of your fans

Disadvantages: Bragging that you can husk corn isn't intimidating

*Effectiveness: 17 percent

Anecdotally: "Sooners" refers to people who entered Oklahoma sooner than the Indian Appropriation Act of 1889 said they could, so - in a roundabout kind of way - it's also exploitative of Native Americans.

The Punny

Examples: Frost (Texas) High School Polar Bears; Poca (West Virginia) High School Dots; Lincoln High School Abes; Gonzaga University Zags

Atypical Examples: South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Hardrockers (they need a mascot?)

Advantages: May elicit an initial chuckle from new students

Disadvantages: Like all puns, gets old fast

*Effectiveness: 0 percent

Anecdotally: Oddly enough, Converse College was not paid by Converse shoes to name themselves the "All Stars." And perhaps for good reason - in 2005, the basketball team went 3-24.

* "Effectiveness" is calculated on how many national championships were won by the teams with a particular class of mascot between 1995 and 2004 in the following sports: men's baseball, women's softball, men's and women's basketball, men's football and men's hockey.

Adapted from Scatterbrained (HarperCollins), available at leading bookstores. For a daily dose of quirky fun, visit MentalFloss.com and check out mental_floss magazine at your local newsstand.