In 1931, Burl Berry, a center on the football team and later its most valuable player, submitted the winning entry to name the school’s mascot. The Iowa State Teachers College athletics teams would be known as the Purple Panthers. The College Eye sports editor noted the characteristics of the panther that made it an appropriate nickname. "The sinuous grace and bestial ferocity of the panther make him one of the most savage and respected of the animals. He never leaps upon his prey without first sizing up the situation and once he does strike he seldom misses." The Teachers College football team took the field for the first time as the Purple Panthers in a game against Columbia College of Dubuque on September 26, 1931.
The nickname was picked up immediately in the school sports pages, and small purple and gold panther heads served as programs for the Homecoming dance on October 22, 1932. The decorations for the site of the dance, the West Gymnasium, gave the impression of a panther's den. The three-dimensional mascot personifying the nickname did not appear for some years.
John Shannon, who wore the costume in 1960, seems to have been an especially active mascot. He had played quarterback on the freshman team until he broke his thumb and was sidelined for the season. After attending several games as a spectator, he decided that the Teachers College needed an active, outdoor mascot like Herky the Hawk or Cy the Cyclone. He made a Panther head and raised spirits at the last several regular games of the season. The Pep Council was so impressed that they sponsored a brand new costume for the mascot to wear when the football team participated in a post-season game, the Mineral Bowl. The suit, which cost between $40 and $50, was complete with tail, claws, a gold "I", and a new head.
Matters drifted a bit in the 1960s. One writer to the College Eye suggested that the school acquire a real, live panther as a mascot. Later, Dwight Bachman, an African-American student leader at UNI, made the humorous suggestion that the school should change the Panther nickname because the excellent performance of some of the African-American football players might prompt an investigation of Black Panther activities in Cedar Falls.
In 1980, Barry Delp, a UNI graduate student and former wrestler, made costumes for Mr. and Mrs. Panther as well as an off-shoot mascot, the Pink Panther, because he could not find anyone else to make good quality costumes at what he considered to be a reasonable price.
In the mid 1980s, the Panther began to be known as TC, initials for The Cat.
In the late 2000's the mascot program decided to add a new addition to the program. At an event it seems like everyone wants some of TC's time in order to take a photo, interact with their child; come visit their family, etc. With only having just one mascot it was extremely difficult to fulfill every request. So we looked to what the premier mascot programs do, they have two mascots. We took that idea and applied it to UNI. We noticed that TC can be scary to some of our younger fans because he stands almost 6.5 feet which can intimidate some. We also wanted to have a female character for young girls to look up to.
Finally, we told media that she was coming and that we wanted their help in giving her a nick name like TC's (The Cat) has. Panther fans from all over the world were able to vote between 4 different names. After more than 150,000 votes, TC's sister and her nickname were debuted between the first and second quarters of the 2010 Homecoming games. The name panther fans chose was TK (The Kitten). She has been a great addition to the mascot program and she has become a familiar face at UNI and in the Missouri Valley Conference.