The Wikipedia entry on Stanford’s tree mascot is an excellent piece of work. Some excerpts:
The Stanford Tree is the unofficial mascot of Stanford University. Stanford’s team name is “The Cardinal,” referring to the vivid red color (not the common song bird as at several other schools), and the University has never been able to come up with an official mascot which adequately conveys the fierceness and sporting prowess it had hoped to symbolize with that particular shade of sanguine. This fact creates a void not typically found at schools with less-abstract symbols for their sports teams, and into this unfulfilled void the Stanford Band has insistently thrust what is one of the United States’ most bizarre and controversial college mascots.
And there’s more:
During the first decade of its existence, the role of the Tree was generally performed by the Band managers’ girlfriends. In the mid-1980s, however, the Band adopted a more formal selection process for its Trees. Today’s Tree candidate must go through “grueling and humiliating physical and mental challenges” to show that he or she has sufficient chutzpah to be the Tree. During “Tree Week,” candidates have been known to perform outrageous, unwise, and often dangerous stunts in order to impress the Tree selection committee; so much so that the University has felt the need to prohibit certain types of audition activities over the years, such as those involving explosives, firearms, and, reputedly, haggis.
The entire thing reads like an article from The Onion. The picture of the “Stanford Tree entering Standford Stadium” stands out in my mind as one of the best pictures on Wikipedia.