The Ole Miss Rebels have a new mascot, y’all. They’re still the Rebels, mind you, but the fuzzy costume donned by the guy strutting along the sidelines will now be a shark.
More specifically, it’ll be a landshark named Tony. During its annual Meet the Rebels fan event on Saturday, the school officially unveiled its new on-field mascot, which replaces the oft-maligned black bear that’s cheered on the university’s sports teams since 2010.
On the surface, a shark seems an odd choice to represent a school in north Mississippi. Sharks have little historical connection to the state, and while roughly a dozen species are commonly found in the warm waters off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, not a single one has yet evolved the ability to live on land. Landshark Lager beer was inspired by Pascagoula native Jimmy Buffet’s “Fins” song, but that’s 1) bottled in St. Louis. and 2) not exactly something an athletic department would model a kid-friendly mascot costume after.
The landshark—and the name Tony—is actually an ode to Tony Fein, an Iraq War vet and former Rebel linebacker who passed away in 2009 after what was ruled an accidental drug overdose. Fein was a key contributor on an aggressive defense that drove Ole Miss’ turnaround from three-win team in 2007 to nine-win Cotton Bowl champs in 2008. That season, Fein began celebrating big plays by putting a hand to his forehead to mimic a shark fin. It caught on with the rest of the defense and came to represent the unit’s attacking, swarming style of play.
“You had to reach Tony’s competition level on the field in order to throw up the Landshark,” former Ole Miss D-lineman Kentrell Lockett told Magnolia State Live last year. “The reward for making a big play, the light at the end of the tunnel, if you will, was throwing up the Landshark. It turned into more, of, like I said, the ultimate celebration. It was like Miami throwing up the ‘U,’ or Oregon throwing up the ‘O.’”
The fins up gesture was soon adopted by fans and Ole Miss athletes in other sports: from volleyball players to golfers to, perhaps most famously, Marshall Henderson.
Its a fitting tribute and a savvy move by an Ole Miss athletic administration that’s had trouble convincing fans to move on from the Colonel Rebel mascot it took off the field in 2003. After seven years without a mascot, the school held a vote in 2010 and brought in Rebel Black Bear, which immediately became an internet joke both within and without the Ole Miss community. The black bear never really caught on—both because of lingering loyalty to Colonel Reb and the fact that there’s no significant black bear population in Mississippi—so the school announced in mid-2017 that it’d be making another change.
The landshark, though admittedly silly looking, should be a better fit. It’s been an accepted part of the Ole Miss sports culture for a decade and it’s connection to Fein gives it weight among the fan base. Tony the Landshark is a fresh look for a school still transforming its identity.