The Stanford Axe was originally an ornament (what kind of ornament has a 15-inch steel blade on a four-foot handle?) displayed in the Stanford rooting section in the Stanford-Cal baseball game on April 15, 1899. After the game, Cal students wrestled the Axe from the Stanford students and evaded the Stanford students and (helped by the San Francisco police) and were able to bring the Axe across the bay back to campus. Cal kept the Axe until 1931, only displayed annually during the Axe Rally the night before the Big Game. But in 1931, 21 Stanford students invaded campus, including one student posing as a photographer that asked to take a picture of the Axe. The students tossed a tear-gas bomb to the Cal students and reclaimed the Axe. Three years later, Cal and Stanford alumni agreed together to let the Axe become a trophy awarded annually to the winner of the Cal-Stanford Big Game.
This was the one time per year when the Stanford Axe was taken from its vault and shown to the student body, with alumni retelling the story of its capture. After 31 years, the tradition died out in 1930 when Stanford recaptured the Axe. But the tradition of a Rally the night before the Big Game continues. It's only called the "Axe Rally" when Cal is in possession of the Axe.
The nickname for Stanford is the Cardinal. The name references one of the school colors and is singular. The use of the color dates back to March 19, 1891 when Stanford beat Cal in the first Big Game. While Stanford did not have an official nickname, the day after the Big Game local newspapers picked up the "cardinal" theme and used it in the headlines. Stanford didn't have an "official" nickname until 1930 when "Indians" was officially adopted after being part of Stanford athletic tradition for many years. There was a large Indian population in the Palo Alto area and Indian paraphernalia was in abundance in the late 1800s.
The Indian symbol was eventually dropped in 1972 following meetings between Stanford native American students and President Richard Lyman. The 55 students, supported by the other 358 American Indians enrolled in California colleges, felt the mascot was an insult to their culture and heritage. The Indian symbol was dropped.
New suggestions were voted on. These included: Robber Barons, Sequoias, Trees, Cardinals, Railroaders, Spikes, and Huns. None were accepted.
In 1978, another group comprised of 225 varsity athletes from 18 teams, started a petition for the mascot to be the griffin ? a mythological animal with the body and hind legs of a lion and head and wings of an eagle. The University moved two griffin statues from the Children's Hospital to a grassy area between Encina Gym and Angel Field. The campaign for the Griffins failed.
From 1972 until November 17, 1981, Stanford's official nickname was Cardinals, in reference to one of the school colors, not the bird. That same year, President Donald Kennedy declared that all Stanford athletic teams will be represented and symbolized exclusively by the color cardinal.
There is no official mascot at Stanford University. The "Tree," which is a member of the Stanford Band, is representative of El Palo Alto, the Redwood tree which is the logo of the city of Palo Alto. The tree still exists and stands by the railroad bridge beside San Francisquito Creek - it is the site where early explorers first camped when settling the area.
When a 12-man track team returned from a series of meets on the East Coast in 1895. The team was triumphant so their logo, the grizzly bear embroidered in gold on their banner, immediately became Cal's mascot.
The Cal rooting section is credited with establishing one of the most time-honored traditions in college football. Cal began performing card stunts for the 1910 "Big Game," a rugby match between California and Stanford. The original stunts performed that afternoon depicted the Stanford Axe and a big blue "C" formed on a white background. The tradition is a crowd favorite at Memorial Stadium as several times each season Cal students perform as many as 10 different stunts, using more than 5,000 cards. The painstaking process of plotting the positions of the cards, which once took days to complete, is now aided by computers.