For years the unofficial mascot of the University of California Santa Cruz athletic teams was the lowly banana slug, a bright yellow, slimy, shell-less mollusk indigenious to the area that has a symbiotic relationship with the California Redwood trees that grow on campus.
Ariolimax dolichophallus (and several other species), common name: banana slug
UCSC originally fielded no competitive teams against other universities, but in 1980 decided to join Division III of the NCAA in five sports. The chancellor at that time pushed for teams to officially be called the Sea Lions, which he apparently considered a more suitable and dignified name than the Banana Slugs for sports teams from a large university. The students thought otherwise, and for several years a two-mascot battle continued with students claiming their teams were the Banana Slugs.
In 1986 the students demanded that the Banana Slugs name become "official" and pushed for a referendum vote on the matter. The chancellor refused to have any school money spent on a student referendum but the students raised the money for the referendum by themselves and held an "election" anyway. The Sea Lions were outvoted by The Banana Slugs by a 15 to 1 margin, which convinced the chancellor to make it official. There was a bit of nationwide press on the story, and students were even invited on David Letterman's late-night TV show.
Another boost in national publicity came with the release of Quentin Tarantino's widely-praised and oscar-nominated movie Pulp Fiction in 1994. John Travolta famously wore a UCSC t-shirt in the movie:
John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction
In 2004 the magazine Reader's Digest named the Banana Slug "best college mascot."
In 2008, ESPN Sports Travel named the Banana Slug mascot one of the 10 best team nicknames in college basketball.
To cap the awards, in 2020 the UCSC Banana Slugs were voted as best team nickname and mascot by the staff and management of 101Bananas.com. No higher honor could be bestowed on any college sports team.