Big Red is the name given to Western Kentucky University's mascot, a red, furry blob created by WKU student Ralph Carey in 1979. Big Red is meant to symbolize the spirit of WKU students and alumni as well as the sports teams' nickname, the "Hilltoppers," a name chosen because the school's campus sits atop a hill standing 232 feet (71 m) above the Barren River flowing through WKU's home city of Bowling Green.
Big Red was an immediate hit, winning the "Key to the Spirit" award at the Universal Cheerleading Association competition in 1980, 1981 and 1983. He reached the Universal Cheerleading Association's Final Four and was awarded 2nd runner-up to collegiate Mascot of the Year in 1990. In 1996 he reached the Final Four of ESPN's "Battle of the Mascots." He was also featured prominently in the promotion for ESPN's 25,000th episode of SportsCenter.
Big Red has been selected eight times to compete in the Capital One Mascot Challenge in the competition's ten year history, reaching the semifinals of the 2006 Capital One Mascot Challenge.
Big Red is the inaugural member of the Capital One Mascot Challenge Hall of Fame.
Big Red found himself in the center of an international controversy in 2004 when the university filed suit against Mediaset, a television station founded by Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The suit claimed that Gabibbo, a mascot for some of the network's programs (i.e.: "Striscia la Notizia" and "Paperissima Sprint"), was an exact replica of Big Red. Gabibbo debuted in 1990, eleven years after Big Red, and Gabibbo's creator, Antonio Ricci, told Italian magazine Novella 2000 in 1991 that "Big Red became Gabibbo." In a later interview with The New York Times Ricci recanted the 1991 statement, saying he was only joking with the magazine.
On December 6, 2007, Michelle Day of the College Heights Herald reported, "An Italian judge ruled against Western and in favor of an Italian television company in a $250 million lawsuit for copyright and trademark infringement. Western, Crossland Enterprises Inc. and Adfra sued television company Mediaset in 2002, saying the company copied Big Red to create Gabibbo, the star of a satirical news show the company airs in Italy."