True tales of the first Tommy Titan

Photo of original Tommy Titan, Tom Cieszkowski and his car with the University of Detroit logo on it.
Tom Cieszkowski and his car

History records that “Tigers” was the original name the University of Detroit used to call its sports teams, but the school decided to officially switch to “Titans” in 1924.

The change was reportedly made to avoid confusion with the city’s Major League Baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. The term “Titans” has roots in Greek mythology and refers a family of giants that once ruled the earth. More generically, Webster’s Dictionary defines a Titan as “one that is gigantic in size or power; one that stands out for greatness of achievement.”

Although “Titans” has been associated with University of Detroit Mercy for almost a century now, the moniker Tommy Titan is of more recent vintage. I say this with personal knowledge, as I was in the Memorial Building (since renamed Calihan Hall) when the mascot and name Tommy Titan was birthed. Here’s the back story.

In the fall of 1975, just prior to the start of Dick Vitale’s third season as head coach, the Athletic Department decided to add a Titan mascot as part of the cheer team. (Not 100% sure, but it was probably Dickie V’s idea, as he had a million of them.) An item was placed in the Oct. 31, 1975, edition of the Varsity News advertising for the position.

I was reading the VN article in the Student Union that Halloween afternoon with a good friend of mine, Thomas Cieszkowski ’80. He was a big Titans hoops fan, and with a little coaxing I was able to convince him to apply for the gig. We marched across campus to Dave Siefert’s office — he was the Sports Information Director at the time. I asked “How many people have applied for the mascot position?” and Siefert replied, “No one so far.” I said, “Well you can stop the search — here’s the right guy for the job. He’s as avid a fan as they come, and even has the perfect name — you can call him Tommy Titan!”

As fate would have it, Cieszkowski was eventually selected to be the mascot and started to sign autographs and be referred to as Tommy Titan. After Cieszkowski completed his studies a few years later, he passed the baton on to a new student mascot, but the name “Tommy” stuck and has been used continuously for the past 46 years.The original mascot garb from the late-1970s continuing into the 1980s differed rather significantly in style from the version worn by today’s Tommy Titan. There was no body suit and big costumed head, rather the mascot wore a form fitting “armor” breastplate, a gladiator skirt, a red cape and festooned helmet. Cieszkowski eventually grew a full beard in an effort to appear more authentic and fierce. He also brandished a shield and spear (and later added a conch shell to his accessories) while performing his mascot duties on court.

Cieszkowski was a very energetic Titan mascot, so much the case that a referee once threatened him with a technical foul for rambunctiously complaining about a call. He made several trips into hostile arenas, and recalls the time he chased down an ornery Loyola fan who had attempted to run off with his helmet. His best memories of being a mascot include being on the court for the Titans’ run in the 1977 NCAA tournament, including games at Baton Rouge, La., (a U-D win against Middle Tennessee St. University) and in Lexington, Ky. (an epic Sweet 16 battle with No. 1-ranked University of Michigan). Always true to his school, Cieszkowski bought a red car (an AMC Pacer) during his tenure as mascot and had a large University of Detroit logo custom painted on the hood.

Although he began his studies at the University of Detroit, Cieszkowski later transferred to Mercy College of Detroit where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1980, rendering him a true alumni hybrid. He currently splits his time between residences in Benton Harbor, Mich., and the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, and still makes regular trips to Calihan Hall every winter to cheer for his and our Titans.

By Bob Rogowski, ’77, ’79

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