When legendary athletic director George "Doc" Jacobs arrived at Saint Michael’s in the summer of 1947, he was given the charge of rebuilding the College’s athletic program – completely. According to legend, Doc was ahead of his time in many ways, including athletic marketing. In 1947, Saint Michael’s College’s athletic teams were referred to as either “The Michaelmen,” or “The Hilltoppers.” Both names go back to the early days (1906 – 1914) of athletics at the College – and either began on campus or with the media of that era.
Jacobs felt that the College needed a new identity for athletics, and with the blessing of the administration put together a ballot with suggested nicknames for the student population to cast their vote. At a pep rally on November 22, 1947, Jacobs announced that “Purple Knights” was the winner of the election. A story on the process appeared in The Michaelman (student newspaper) on November 30, 1947, and discussed the reasoning behind choosing the nickname for the College:
Theologians ascribe four offices to St. Michael:
1. To fight Satan.
2. To rescue souls from Satan.
3. To call away from the earth and bring men’s souls to judgment.
4. To be the champion of God’s people in this world.
From this fourth office, St. Michael is regarded as the protector of the universal Church, and was invoked as the patron of the military orders of knights during the Middle Ages. The more immediate historical basis for the Purple Knights, as identified with the Archangel, is the Order of the Knights of St. Michael, established in 1469 by Louis XI of France. This group formed the chief military order of France until the institution of the Knights of the Holy Ghost, after which the two together formed the orders of the King. Before his fall from grace, King Henry XIII was invested with the Order of St. Michael by King Francis I, of France.
Once a year, the Knights of St. Michael made a pilgrimage to the historic Abbey of Mont St. Michel…. The setting of the shrine is most appropriate for the Heavenly Knight, whose place has always been where the danger is greatest. Standing off the raging coast of Brittany, in what the French call "the Peril of the Sea," is this enormous structure of stone and masonry; and over it, sword in hand, towers the militant figure of the Archangel more than 300 feet above the sea.
At the pep rally, Jacobs said “In the past we’ve been known as the Michaelmen, Mikemen, The Purple, The Hilltoppers, and other labels, but none of the names has completely symbolized the spirit which I found when I came to Saint Michael’s.” Fr. Danny Lyons SSE, President of the College, added, “I like the idea of the ‘Knights,’ and the purple is naturally suggested by our College colors of purple and gold.” The article concluded with an open call to the students of Saint Michael’s to submit artwork for consideration as the College’s official mascot. And thus, the knight on horseback that the College used for more than 50 years was created by then-student Arthur Fraser ‘50 and adopted by the College.
The various incarnations of a costumed mascot to represent Saint Michael’s has followed the development of the College’s nickname. The earliest recognized representation of athletics appears to be the one created by John Paul Trotier ’51, who used to parade around at events in a huge raccoon coat. Eventually, with the success of the basketball program, some ingenious students acquired an actual suit of armor in order to have the “knight” appear at games. The suit was very cumbersome, and the young man inside needed the assistance of a few friends to find his way around the venue.
In the early 1980s, the College commissioned and purchased its first mascot costume. It was a soft, furry, purple creature, with a soft gold knight’s helmet on its head. It was purchased by the office of Student Activities, and any student who was interested could appear as the mascot. It appeared at many games and special events, and was even outfitted with feet that allowed the performer to wear ice skates for hockey games.
The costume lasted about a decade, and after its demise the office of Student Activities pulled a design committee together to create a new mascot costume in the early 1990s. This version of the Knight was created from form-shaped foam and spandex. The helmet, chestpiece, boots and gloves were gold, and the cape, helmet plume, and spandex were purple. Again, it was an initiative of Student Activities, so any interested student was allowed to perform as the mascot. This time, the costume lasted only seven years or so – the helmet and other key costume parts were "lost" in 2000 and never recovered.
In 2000, the College went through an athletic identity design process with The Silverman Group, resulting in the image below that is now used as our main athletic logo.
In the fall of 2005, the College unveiled the latest version of the Purple Knights mascot costume. The mascot can be seen at many Saint Michael's home athletic contests, as well as other events throughout the region.