Watching Sunday Today with Willie Geist (One of the best broadcasters on TV in my opinion), I was somewhat surprised to hear Willie, in discussing the NCAA football win by the Illinois Fighting Illini Saturday, concluding by calling out, “Oskie Wow wow”–not far off the Hamilton Tiger Cats’ Oskie Wee Wee. I got to wondering about this Oskie business. It turns out the Illinois usage of the term dates back to the turn of the last century although its exact origin is unclear, However, the use of these seemingly nonsense words is part of a long tradition in the early days of college sports.
At the University of Illinois Oskee Wow Wow was enshrined in a song written in 1911 by two Illinois students, Howard Green and Harold Hill. The lyrics go:
Old Princeton yells her tiger
Wisconsin her varsity
And they give the same old Rah!
At each university
But the yell that always thrills me
And fills my heart with joy
Is the good old Oskee-wow-wow
That they yell at Illinois
Our eyes are all on you
Wave your Orange and Blue, Rah! Rah!
When your team trots out before you
Ev’ry man stand up and yell
Back the team to gain a victory
Legend has it that the University California Berkley adopted the term around 1910 after their football team was defeated by Illinois and the crowd was heard chanting the Oskee Wow wow yell. Berkley went one step further, creating the mascot Oski, the Bear in 1941, which continues in that role today.
The lyrics for the UC Berkley version go:
Gotta love Whiskey.
It’s not clear how the term migrated to Hamilton, but the Oskee Wee Wee cheer was first used at a Hamilton Tigers football game in 1921. Back then, there were two teams in Hamilton — the Tigers, for which the chant was intended, and the Wildcats. They merged in 1950 to become the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In a way, though, Hamilton has done more to maintain the Oskee We We tradition than the American college originators as it remains a verbal chant shared by the fans. In the case of Illinois and Berkley, their versions are normally performed as marching band instrumentals with no singing of the words.
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