BigNoggins legacy evolves over past decade

Casey Beronilla


Marquette is a school of many traditions. From late night Mass at the Joan of Arc Chapel to hot cookie nights in the dining halls, students have experienced countless characteristics that make up the Marquette experience. One tradition that is currently celebrating a decade at Marquette is BigNoggins. These fatheads hovering in the student section at basketball games have become part of Marquette’s culture and have gained national attention from the media, including “SportsCenter” and “Pardon the Interruption.”

According to an article published by the Tribune in 2008, the BigNoggins tradition began at basketball games three seasons prior in 2005. Although Marquette has certainly made the BigNoggins tradition famous, the school is always quick to give credit to San Diego State University, where the tradition was first established. Marquette adopted the idea after the athletic department saw a spread in ESPN The Magazine that featured the enlarged photographs of celebrities’ heads being passed around the student section at a game, and thought it would be a fun tradition to unveil at Marquette’s first game in the BIG EAST Conference that year.

Craig Pintens, senior associate athletic director at the University of Oregon, was Marquette’s assistant athletic director for marketing at the time the BigNoggins took off. He remembers much about the tradition’s early stages and the craze surrounding it when it was introduced. The BigNoggins were so well-received that students asked if they could be purchased as souvenirs. Some enthusiastic fans even took the giant heads without asking.

“I remember walking past an apartment on 18th street one morning and saw Mike Tyson in the window,” Pintens said about the first time he realized some BigNoggins were stolen from the arena.

A system was later implemented for students to exchange their Marquette IDs for a BigNoggin at the games so that the athletic department could track down any student who might be trying to walk off with one. Pintens recalled that the loss of their IDs was deemed a worthy sacrifice by some students, who took a BigNoggin home with the plan of paying for a new student ID. However, the athletic department was sure to provide the school with a list of students who tried to pull this off so that these students would not be granted a new ID, and would have no choice but to return the BigNoggins and retrieve their original IDs.

Over time the tradition evolved and allowed students to vote for the upcoming season’s new BigNoggins. The athletic department originally chose all of them according to pop culture and unveiled their selections throughout the season.

“Headlines in the news really determined who we were going to put out there,” Pintens said.

Chuck Norris was one of the very first BigNoggins to be revealed at a basketball game, but the athletic department really tried to keep up with celebrities who were most talked about at the time. When Burger King commercials became especially popular, Marquette introduced a BigNoggin of the King himself. When Britney Spears shaved her head in 2007, there was a BigNoggin for that, too. Other BigNoggins that Pintens noted included Flavor Flav, David Hasselhoff and Mr. Potato Head. An especially notable BigNoggin in the early days of the tradition was Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, who had a mohawk at the time.

As pop culture evolved, so did the production methods of the BigNoggins. These large posters were initially printed at the Alumni Memorial Union and plastered on foam core. After these homemade BigNoggins were easily ruined at the games by spilled beverages and rough enthusiasm, it became evident that more durable materials were needed to maintain the heads.

Marquette then got manufacturers to sponsor the BigNoggins to ensure professional quality. Marquette also subscribed to a photo service for the BigNoggins to guarantee high resolution and to avoid copyright infringement on the photos.

Some students have gotten creative by trying to produce BigNoggins on their own. Because BigNoggins were first introduced at a game when Marquette played University of Connecticut, Marquette students saw an opportunity when the Golden Eagles faced the Huskies in a later season. In 2009, Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun, the highest-paid employee in the state at the time, was infamously quoted in a press conference saying he would give “not a dime back” of his salary during the state’s budget deficit. Naturally, Marquette students produced homemade BigNoggins of Calhoun bearing the words “Not a dime back!” and had fun holding up their creations during the Marquette vs. Connecticut game later that year.

Currently, voting for BigNoggins is not open to students, but the athletic department is doing its best to choose only the best for the upcoming season.

“Anyone that’s relevant,” Greg Cronkite, assistant director of marketing, said on which BigNoggins they want to see. “Current trends, different celebrities and personalities in the news, or anyone that the students would enjoy seeing.”

Cronkite said there is no specific way the BigNoggins are distributed, but that a random selection is brought out at each game.

The Marquette Athletics official website has a gallery of all the faces featured on BigNoggins over the years, including the date each BigNoggin made its debut and Marquette’s wins and losses when each BigNoggin was present in the student section.  The gallery also indicates which BigNoggins have been stolen or retired.

For this season, some suggestions for BigNoggins include actors Will Smith and Steve Carrell, television personality Jimmy Fallon and Marquette’s University President Michael Lovell.

“Put Betty White on there. She’s a classic,” Ryan Lisy, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, said.

Some students might prefer to hold up a piece of Marquette history on a BigNoggin at the games this year.

“I’d like to see Chris Farley and Dwayne Wade because they’re both notable alums,” Dalton Sproul, a junior in the College of Business Administration, said.

Another suggestion tied in with Marquette alumni is Mike Wazowski from Monster’s Inc. because Marquette graduate Jim Murphy worked on his animation.

The athletic department has not yet revealed the BigNoggins for this season, but this tradition is expected to continue at the home opener against Belmont University this Friday, Nov. 13, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.