What's a Saluki?
It's been 50 years since an idea generated by several members of SIU's athletic staff - Glen (Abe) Martin, Leland (Doc) Lingle, Lynn Holder and Cecil Franklin - was presented at a meeting of university athletes and a few faculty representatives.
For several years there had been a growing interest on the part of the University's student body and others to adopt a more imaginative mascot for their athletic teams than "Maroons."
That nondescript name had carried over from the first year the university formally sponsored teams in 1913-14.
The athletes and faculty members gave a thumbs-up response at the meeting and on March 19, 1951, SIU's student body of 2,000 overwhelmingly voted in favor of adopting "Salukis" as the new nickname for the university's teams.
For the record, there were 536 "Saluki" votes, while 144 chose "Rebels." Other nicknames receiving some support were Knights, Flyers, Marauders and, of course, Maroons.
The uniqueness of "Salukis" as a nickname for SIUC teams may never be understood completely.
For native southern Illinoisans who grew up with the understanding that the area is frequently referred to as "Egypt," there may be hope.
However, even many lifelong residents aren't all that aware of the logical acceptance of "Salukis" or the origin of "Egypt" when speaking of the southern one-third of the state.
In an attempt to explain "Egypt," author Baker Brownell in his The Other Illinois states:
"...Although the legend probably was invented after the fact, it is persistent. There was a drought in the northern counties (of Illinois) in the early 1800's...the wheat fields dried up, the streams died in their beds. But in southern Illinois rain fell and there were good crops, and from the north came people seeking corn and wheat as to Egypt of old. Thus, the name "Egypt."
A similar situation had occurred in Egypt (Genesis 41:57, 42:1-3).
"And all countries came to Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.
"Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, 'Why do ye look one upon another?'
"And he said, 'Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt. Get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live and not die.'
"And Joseph's 10 brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt."
And, in Egypt at that time, Salukis were accepted as the finest animals a family could possibly possess. Known for their speed and hunting skills, Salukis are the oldest pure-breed dogs in the world with records dating back to 3600 B.C.
Many fans who are perhaps less concerned about the historical data pertaining to SIUC and its Salukis, like to recall the column penned by the Newark Star-Ledger's Jerry Isenberg in 1967, when the university's Walt Frazier-led basketball team was attacking New York City and the NIT.
"Princeton has its Tiger. B.C. has its Eagle,
Rutgers is the Queensmen, a title truly regal.
But from frigid New York City to Kentucky's old Paduchee,
There's just one burning question - what the hell is a Saluki?"
Shortly after Coach Jack Hartman's team returned from its 10-day invasion of the "Big Apple" - with the coveted NIT trophy in its collective paws - Pete Brown, SIUC's news service director, answered Isenberg with:
"Old Duke has its Devils Blue; St. Louis plays its Bills.
Texas Western digs the Miners like there's gold in them thar hills.
But from Loo'ville on the bluegrass to St. Peter's on the bogs,
The scene was bad last winter; they all went to the dogs.
(Editor's Note: The Salukis defeated Duke in the NIT quarterfinals; St. Louis in its second game of the season; Texas Western, the defending NCAA champion, at El Paso; Louisville in a re-match after having lost one of their two games to the Cardinals early in the season, and St. Peter's in the first round of the NIT.)