The NFL Mascot That's Named After Sourdough

Baking homemade sourdough bread saw a spike in popularity during the beginning of the pandemic when there was a yeast shortage and many people were socially distancing and scrambling to discover new time-consuming hobbies (via TuftsNow). You couldn't scroll through your social media feeds without encountering pictures of sourdough starters (a mix of flour and water containing yeast and bacteria) and assorted sourdough baking projects. Memes quickly emerged surrounding the topic.

While sourdough's recent 'rise' has been more of a pastime, in the formative days of the California Gold Rush and prospecting era in the late 1840s and early 1850s, sourdough had more of a practical application. Miners would tote jars of sourdough starter with them so that they could make bread without yeast (per Food 52). It became a necessity as food prices skyrocketed amidst the influx of gold seekers and the price of a loaf of bread and other staples became prohibitively expensive.

The distinctive tang created by San Francisco sourdough starters offered particular appeal to miners and gradually became a trademark of the city's sourdough bread (per BBC). And one San Francisco sports franchise hasn't forgotten the miners' historical connection to sourdough.

The 49ers mascot is an homage to sourdough

The San Francisco 49ers NFL football team pays tribute to the bread that became synonymous with the city by the bay and references its link to the Gold Rush. Since 1994, the official team mascot has been named Sourdough Sam, a suspender-clad, bearded miner adorned in a gold scarf, cowboy hat, and work gloves, who sometimes carries a pickaxe.

San Francisco's NFL team name is itself a reference to 1849 and the start of the gold rush, so it is only fitting that they also acknowledge a main source of sustenance for the miners. Sourdough Sam's fictional backstory even mentions how he "would take the bread with him on a hard day's work of digging in the mines" (via

Life is much easier for Sourdough Sam these days, who now expends most of his time and energy pumping up the crowd during 49ers home games. But he still brings his trusty pickaxe out with him when he leads the team onto the field during warmups, hoping he can motivate the players to find the end zone and strike a little touchdown gold.