According to several written sources and many an old tale, a group of St. John's University students led by Walter Bruce (Class of 1939) and Michael McNichols (Class of 1931) went out and found the original Redman mascot standing in front of a cigar store. "Chief Blackjack" made his first public appearance in his new position at the St. John's-Catholic University football game at Ebbets Field. When the underdog Redmen went on to a 22-0 victory, there was no turning back. Bruce later admitted that he and others returned and paid for the pilfered mascot.
The decision was made to change the "Redmen" nickname in 1994. At the time, colleges nationwide were becoming more sensitive to mounting Native American concerns in reference to collegiate and professional team nicknames that reference Native American culture. Although the nickname "Redmen" was instituted because the athletes at St. John's wore red, and did not have an original basis in Native American culture, it did evolve into a nickname that referenced Native American symbology. St. John's wanted to make a change that would stay true to its tradition, but also be distinctive and unique. Thus, the new nickname Red Storm was born.
Paying tribute to the previously dropped mascot, the "Redmen" and mixing in the 1994 created "Red Storm" nickname, the Thunderbird was defined as follows during the original fan voting: "A mythological spirit of thunder and lightning believed by some Native Americans to take the shape of a great bird. Boasting feathers as long as a canoe, the legendary thunderbird can generate lightning, thunder and great winds by flapping its wings and blinking its eyes."
The Thunderbird was chosen during a 12-day span between April 23 and May 4 2009, when more than 11,000 votes were cast on RedStormSports.com to decide among the six Red Storm mascot finalists. The Thunderbird mascot was unveiled September 18th, 2009 as an unnamed Thunderbird mascot during a home soccer match. The choices fans could choose between were as follows:
Thunderbolt: A traditional expression for lightning or a symbolic representation, a thunderbolt has been a powerful symbol throughout history, and has appeared numerous times in mythology. Drawing from this powerful association, the thunderbolt is often found in military symbolism and is often depicted as the weapon of any deity associated with the stormy sky.
Thunderbird: A mythological spirit of thunder and lightning believed by some Native Americans to take the shape of a great bird - which would be a tribute to St. John's Redmen history. Boasting feathers as long as a canoe, the legendary thunderbird can generate lightning, thunder and great winds by flapping its wings and blinking its eyes.
Red Storm Dog: The Red Storm dog is a faithful, loyal and protective companion. The dog can be fierce, to represent the fighting spirit of the St. John's athletic teams, yet friendly enough to appeal to St. John's younger fans.
Storm Hero: Dressed in St. John's colors and adorned with thunderbolts, this superhero exudes strength, courage, confidence and tenacity.
Red Storm Bear: Black bears are native to New York State and can be some of the fiercest animals in the world. Bears are also animals generally revered by Native Americans, paying homage to St. John's Redmen history.
Thunder Horse: A redesigned and improved version of "Thunder," the horse mascot of the 1990s. Thunder was the only lasting mascot to replace the St. John's Redman but was discontinued in the early 2000s. The "Red Storm" name can be associated with the sound of a thundering herd of horses running together.
The St. John's Thunderbird was created by Olympus Inc., renowned nationally as the mascot costume industry's premier designer. Olympus has manufactured a wide variety of corporate, entertainment and university mascot costumes. Highly visible mascot costumes, including Ronald McDonald, Tony the Tiger, The University of Wisconsin Badger and The University of Florida Gator have been designed and manufactured using the Olympus design team's creative expertise.
Naming of Johnny Thunderbird
Once the new Red Storm Thunderbird mascot was unveiled, the St. John's Marketing Department hosted a week-long St. John's student vote to name it. One has been officially named "Johnny the Thunderbird," paying tribute to three eras of what is more than a century-old athletics tradition.
The student-chosen name "Johnny" is, in fact, a reference to the first days of St. John's athletics. At the turn of the century during the early years of intercollegiate competition, St. John's teams were actually known as the "Johnnies." It wasn't until the 1920s that "Redmen" was first used and that came about when a reporter used the term after the football team took the field clad in totally red uniforms.