Blue Eagle, The King
For the longest time during the National Collegiate Athletic Association competitions in the 1930s and earlier, the Ateneo had no mascot. The basketball team lorded it over the opposition, proudly carrying the school’s colors and name.
Meanwhile, Catholic Schools in the United States, particularly those named after saints, were distressed by the cheekiness with which they were mentioned in sports pages. Headlines read “St. Michael’s Wallops St. Augustine’s,” or “St. Thomas’ Scalps St. Peter’s.” It was then agreed that each school adopt a mascot, a symbol for the team which sportswriters could toss about with impunity and which would consequently allow the saints to live in peace.
The idea quickly caught on in the Philippines. By the late 30s, the Ateneo had adopted the Blue Eagle as a symbol, and had a live eagle accompany the basketball team.
The choice of mascot, of course, held iconic significance. It was a reference to the “high-flying” basketball team which would “sweep the fields away;” the dominating force in NCAA. Furthermore, there was some mythological—even political—significance to the eagle as a symbol of power.
In On Wings of Blue, a booklet of Ateneo traditions, songs, and cheers published in the 1950’s, Lamberto Avellana writes:
“The Eagle—fiery, majestic, whose kingdom is the virgin sky, is swift in pursuit, terrible in battle. He is a king—a fighting king… And thus he was chosen—to soar with scholar’s thought and word high into the regions of truth and excellence, to flap his glorious wings and cast his ominous shadow below, even as the student crusader would instill fear in those who would battle against the Cross. And so he was chosen—to fly with the fleet limbs of the cinder pacer, to swoop down with the Blue gladiator into the arena of sporting combat and with him to fight—and keep on fighting till brilliant victory, or honorable defeat. And so he was chosen—to perch on the Shield of Loyola, to be the symbol of all things honorable, even as the Great Eagle is perched on the American escutcheon, to be the guardian of liberty. And so he was chosen—and he lives, not only in body to soar over his campus aerie, but in spirit, in the Ateneo Spirit… For he flies high, and he is a fighter, and he is King!”
The eagle also appears in the standards of many organizations, schools, and nations as a guardian of freedom and truth. It is also worthwhile to note that the national bird of the Philippines is an eagle as well.
Dante in his Divine Comedy uses the Eagle as a clear symbol of the Roman Empire, which used the bird as part of its standard. The Romans considered the eagle sacred to Jupiter himself. To this day, the eagle is often seen as the bird of God, the only bird that could fly above the clouds and stare directly at the sun. In fact, the eagle represents St. John, the Evangelist, in honor of the soaring spirit and penetrating vision of his gospel.