The final score of the November 3 football game between the U.S. Air Force Academy and West Point has been completely overshadowed by a prank gone wrong, one that has left an old lady bird injured. Two West Point cadets captured Aurora, the twenty-two-year-old gyrfalcon who has been the Air Force’s official mascot for years, and Oblio, a younger peregrine falcon, on Friday night, hiding them under sweaters and inside dog crates. Although it is easy to immediately ascertain that this was a horrible idea, the two cadets didn’t realize this until Aurora started thrashing around the crate, her wings getting bloody. The Air Force Academy’s falconry team adviser, Sam Dollar, has said that Aurora should be able to fly again and will not need to be euthanized. From the New York Times:
The United States Military Academy has a long history of pranks and football, particularly in the days leading up to the game between Army and Navy.
Mascots have famously been targets of those pranks. In 1991, after midshipmen raided a West Point veterinary clinic, took four Army mules, and were chased by helicopters, the two academies signed a pact exempting mascots from their pranks.
Then in 2002, one of the Naval Academy’s goats was stolen, apparently by West Point cadets.
Joe Kosakowski, a regional director of the North American Falconers Association, said that Aurora would be considered old, as falcons can have life spans up to about twenty-five years. Mr. Kosakowski said that falcons’ wings, while flexible, have hollow bones, and that wings could be injured “incidentally if somebody doesn’t know how to handle a bird.”
Mr. Kosakowski said falcons routinely sustain wing injuries, and many can be treated and live.
In September 1916, under the headline goat is innocent cause of ‘riot’ in army camp, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported, “Four Illinois Regiments Under Guard in Quarters After Free-for-All Over Stolen Mascot.” The incident happened in San Antonio, and the violence did not cease until officers formed a skirmish line of noncombatants, i.e., those soldiers who were not brawling over a goat. In 1958 a similar case occurred when University of Maryland students stole the Naval Academy’s goat mascot before a football game. Or at least they thought they did. The Washington Post reported, “A Navy Academy official said the official Navy mascot, Billy XIV, is still in Navy hands. ‘The Maryland students ambitiously but unknowingly made off with the stand-in,’ the official said. The stolen goat was procured several years ago to serve as a stand-in for Billy XIV. ‘The stolen goat is timid, not ferocious in the tradition of Navy mascots.’ ” Here, from the Chicago Daily Tribune, is the context for the 1916 melee.
“Somewhere in Texas” an innocent goat tonight munches his tin cans in blissful ignorance of an army imbroglio of which he is the guileless cause. The goat belongs or did belong to the Third regiment of the Second Illinois brigade.
But somebody got the animal and as a result the men of the Third, Fourth, and Eighth regiments and of the Seventh regiment of the first brigade are in their respective camps, prevented from getting at each others’ throats by armed guards.
The trouble started last night when some one intimated the men of the Seventh were the purloiners of the mascot. Soon the regimental streets resounded with the din of a free for all battle royal.