The question of “whether a school has ever had a live mascot” version of their unmanageable, impossibly hostile actual mascot is like most of the answers to life’s great questions. The answer is: It depends.
Michigan had two live wolverines at one point. They started with a stuffed one because “despite writing to 68 trappers” Michigan coach Fielding Yost could not find a live one. In 1927 he got his hands on two out of Alaska, but the animals proved to be so disturbing just to be around that “Biff” and “Bennie” were given to the Detroit Zoo. This is a video of a man with a pet wolverine meeting another man for the first time. Do not watch it if you like your palms unsweaty.
Bears are a little easier to manage. Baylor’s bear is no longer walked around campus on a leash anymore, and it is no longer singular. There are two now, housed in their own habitat. They are no longer fed bottles of Dr. Pepper by the staff anymore, though we can’t vouch for the student body abiding by this rule because it is Texas, and why wouldn’t one any creature in God’s majestic creation thrive with a refreshing dose of Dr. Pepper?
[/pours Dr. Pepper on broken truck engine and smiles knowingly]
Not all live bear mascot models went well, mind you. Cal’s website contains this vague and chilling bit of verbiage:
... live mascots were used at Memorial Stadium with varying degrees of success...
There are so many more.
Oregon State had two live beaver mascots in the 40s before deciding that a.) keeping them alive was hard, and b.) the beaver in the flesh isn’t the most intimidating or accessible animal in a live sporting environment. Everyone gets Oregon’s mascot’s name wrong because at one point there was a live white duck named “Puddles”, who was likely abandoned for the same reasons his rival’s symbol was. LSU, because nothing is done halfway, has had a real live tiger on their campus since 1935. (Has Mike ever gotten out? Yes, in 1981, where he was ultimately recaptured in...the football stadium.) Alabama even had an elephant in the 1940s, but ultimately discontinued the residency when Alamite was deemed too expensive to keep.
Leading us to the question: If all of these very bad ideas were at one point real, has Florida ever had a live alligator on their sidelines? This is Florida, and this would be a terrible idea,
So yeah: They did it. The big gator designated as Albert—one chosen after a crew of smaller gators proved to be too abused and steal-able to do the job— spent his games on the sideline in a glass case. Are we asking for credit for Florida showing the minimum amount of caution bordering on just throwing it out there on a leash? Yes. We are absolutely doing this, because Florida needs all the credit it can get, even historically.
Like most episodes involving live mascot animals who can’t ever really be tamed or managed all that well, Florida abandoned the live gator in favor of costumed. The really Florida part came when the university re-homed it by simply dumping the original Albert and his smaller friends into the pond with the other gators in Lake Alice. Lake Alice is on campus, and is still filled with alligators today who periodically flex by eating dogs off the leashes of horrified students out for a jog.
That gets us to the super-Florida Man part of this story.
We see photographs from 1964 with smaller alligators so we know they were being used in some ways, at least, in events to highlight Albert and Alberta as mascots. But basically we had an individual from California who became known as “Gator Man” who took a liking to one of the Alberts in Lake Alice. It was a large adult alligator and he suddenly began to wade into the water to feed it marshmallows, even lying on top of the gator.
Gator Man was really a California Man. But who would dare object to him becoming an honorary Florida Man by becoming such bros with a gator that he could lay on top of the alligator and feed it marshmallows? The alligator later died from an obstruction in his digestive system, because you can become friends with an alligator, but no one on earth can stop it from eating trash thrown into a lake.