What’s a long-necked, two-legged blue creature with broad shoulders, a gold mohawk and two sharp fangs?
Guesses, on first take, included a punk-rock version of the Geico gecko, an athletic salamander or maybe a lizard who can dance.
But no. At the mascot-unveiling ceremony for Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union on Monday, the creature was something unexpected — and maybe even unrecognizable.
“IT’S A SNAAAAKE!” the announcer yelled as the team’s new mascot burst out of a giant glowing egg at the Philadelphia Zoo. His name is Phang, the first mascot for the men’s soccer team since it was founded in 2008.
Phang emerged from the egg pumping his fists, high-fiving excited children and wiggling his limbs to the beat of techno music, immediately branding himself as the world’s most unconventional snake. He was a hit with the kids, some of whom jumped up and down cheering for him.
Adults, however, were skeptical, sullying the so-called snake’s breakout moment with a debate over its anatomy on social media.
But the Philadelphia Union, currently in fifth place in the MLS’s Eastern Conference, appeared prepared for such questions. The organization soon provided a completely reasonable explanation for how a snake spawned limbs to transform into a soccer-playing reptile.
“Long story short,” the team explained concisely on Twitter, “a regular snake tied a ball to an old metal cleat, got struck by lightning, turned into an egg & was reborn with arms & legs.”
As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, team management decided to solicit ideas for the mascot from children this year after families repeatedly asked why the team, whose home games attract about 16,400 people on average, didn’t have a spirit leader. They received more than 3,000 drawings, with snake being a top contender. It made sense: There is a rattlesnake on the team’s logo, an intended reference to Benjamin Franklin’s famous “Join, or Die” political cartoon featuring the spliced rattlesnake.
According to Phang’s official life story, his ancestor was actually the snake featured in the cartoon, which is what inspired Phang to conduct an experiment with metal soccer cleats in a lightning storm.
David Raymond, the character branding consultant and also the original performer in the Phillie Phanatic mascot costume, told the Inquirer that while the Union anticipated some fans would be skeptical, the team was not trying to please adults.
“When I was working with [the Union],” Raymond told the Inquirer’s Anna Orso, “they said, ‘We know that there’s going to be a period of time where this isn’t going to be popular with our fans, but we’re doing this because we need to engage youth. We are going to stand behind it.’”
Phang is among a number of new mascots to cause a stir this year after their coming-out parties on social media. In August, Ole Miss unveiled a new mascot, Landshark Tony, whose smile full of sharp teeth and enormous, slightly squinting black eyes struck students as somewhat terrifying. In January, the Atlanta Braves unveiled Blooper, who looks strikingly like Bigfoot from another planet and who was not initially universally welcomed by fans.
In Philadelphia, Phang will join the 76ers’ blue dog named Franklin, the Eagles mascot named Swoop and the fuzzy green flightless bird from the Galápagos Islands famously known as the Phillie Phanatic, the mascot for the Phillies.
No one quite knew what type of creature Phillie Phanatic was either when he announced himself to the world during a 1978 episode of the children’s television show “Captain Noah and his Magical Ark.” Now, he’s among the most beloved mascots in sports history.