Cocky, the beloved USC mascot, has been a core of campus culture for decades. He has evolved over the last half-century into his current feathered face that spreads the Gamecock spirit across state lines.
The wide-eyed, yellow-beaked mascot has gone through many makeovers through the years. He has not always had an easy upbringing and suffered disapproval at times. However, Cocky’s exhilarating spirit has worked his way into households across the Southeast and has even earned national recognition.
Cocky's origins date back to 1971, when John Nelson, former professor within the university's Department of Biological Sciences and alumnus, created the first homemade costume as an undergraduate student, dubbed “The Rooster.”
Nelson, who played drums in the marching band at the time, decided there needed to be a mascot that traveled with the cheerleaders and band.
Finding a mascot costume was challenging, so Nelson began working on a homemade one with help from his mom.
Nelson said the very first Cocky was “basically a jumpsuit” constructed from various fabrics with a big, yellow bill. The suit was completed by fabric feathers constructing the wings, rubber gloves sewed onto tennis shoes to replicate chicken feet and a black, velvet cape. Nelson said he cherishes the moments he had interacting with other mascots.
This first version of South Carolina's mascot can occasionally be found in its former glory on display at the McKissick Museum.
A few years later, in the late 1970s, Sir Big Spur was officially introduced.
Big Spur was a taller, stiffer version of a mascot that led the university’s athletics with an intimidating aura until 1980, when Big Spur’s "son," Cocky, stepped in and took over.
“He was more in line with the other mascots you’d see that could, you know, interact with the crowd a little more, move around a little better – kind of joke around,” university archivist Elizabeth West said.
The change from Big Spur to Cocky was not welcomed at the time, though, because of the softer and kinder appearance that contrasted Big Spur's powerful demeanor.
Despite the mascot's rocky start, Cocky’s popularity eventually increased with every game, and his friendly personality began to stand out.
West said Cocky garnered a lot of warm feelings for the university from his interactions with kids and others, being the welcoming feature of the culture here today.
Throughout the years, Cocky has changed, as he became more involved in university and community functions, more versatile and has gained immense support from fans all over.
“Even people that don’t really know much about Gamecock Athletics know who Cocky is," said Jim Blakely, alumnus from the class of 1990 and former athletic trainer with the football team.
Blakely traveled with the football team during his time at USC and remembers the person in the Cocky suit having to be taped up before each game.
"It was just kind of cool. People knew who Cocky was and didn't know who the Gamecocks were," Blakely said.
This garnet and black rooster continues to connect students and community members beyond the state of South Carolina, and Nelson said he appreciates the continuation of his legacy for the community.
“If I did start something, there’s just been a continuation of mascots, and Cocky, as we know him now, is just the latest iteration," Nelson said.