The Texas Sports Hall of Fame has the pleasure of memorializing the great sporting history of the Lone Star State. From Tris Speaker to Jeremy Wariner, the best athletes this state has to offer have found their way into this institution’s halls. However, individuals are only part of what the Texas Sports Hall of Fame celebrates. For as many impactful individual athletes as Texas has had, there have been just as many organizations, teams and franchises that have made their mark. Within each of those, there are hundreds of traditions, stories, histories and more that we work every day to honor and share.
One such institution that we work to celebrate and honor is Texas Tech University. Originally founded in 1923 as Texas Technological College, Texas Tech is a relatively young member of the state’s collegiate fraternity; nevertheless, Tech has more than their fair share of stories and traditions worthy of distinction. Fans today are probably very familiar with Texas Tech’s athletics nickname: the Red Raiders. However, this was not the first nickname to represent the school as they sought athletic glory.
Texas Tech athletes have been known as the Red Raiders since the late 1930s but this was well after their inaugural season of competition. For instance, the Texas Tech football team had their first season of play in 1925. From 1925 to 1937, Tech football was known by the moniker of Matadors. This nickname was suggested by wife of the Tech football coach at the time, E. Y. Freeland (Freeland himself is given credit for Texas Tech’s ‘Double-T’ logo which he had sewn on his athletes sweaters). Freeland’s wife, inspired by the Spanish Renaissance architecture seen throughout Tech’s campus, thought the Matador nickname was a great way to honor the Spanish heritage present in the region.
However, Matadors wasn’t meant to be. Red Raiders replaced Matadors as the school’s officially nickname just over a decade later. How exactly that took place is of some debate, as some credit another coach’s wife while others credit a sportswriter that covered the Tech football team. Whether it was Pete Cawthon’s wife or the sportswriter who wanted to pay homage to the team’s bright red uniforms, one thing is for certain – the name stuck.
With the nickname firmly in place, it came to be embodied by two characters known to all Texas Tech fans: The Masked Rider and Raider Red. The Masked Rider is credited as the first mounted mascot in the country. Older than Florida State’s Osceola and Renegade or USC’s Traveler, Texas Tech is responsible for many of the iconic mounted mascots today. The Masked Rider became an official mascot in 1954 when he led the team onto the field at the Gator Bowl.
Ed Danforth, a writer for the Atlanta Journal at the time, wrote, “No team in any bowl game ever made a more sensational entrance.” The team, perhaps inspired by the Masked Rider, overwhelmed their opponent, Auburn, by a score of 35-13. The Masked Rider was cemented into the history of Texas Tech and the history of college athletics.
While the Masked Rider was a great mascot and beloved by Tech fans around the state, there was one problem with him representing the school – the Southwest Conference forbade live animal mascots at away games unless the home school consented. To avoid this issue, Texas Tech introduced Raider Red in 1971. The original design for Raider Red was done by Jim Gaspard, a member of the Texas Tech Saddle Tramps student spirit organization. Gaspard based the costume on a character created by cartoonist Dirk West, a Texas Tech alumnus and former Mayor of Lubbock. With Raider Red in the fold, anytime the Masked Rider couldn’t make an appearance to support the team, there would be someone there to embody the spirit of Texas Tech athletics.
From Matadors to Red Raiders, the story of Tech mascots is a long and colorful one. The constant throughout is the celebration of Texas Tech and their athletic tradition. Whether it is the Masked Rider or Raider Red, these characters are strong fibers in the fabric of Texas history and we are proud to represent them every day here at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.