Before we start this, I need you to play the video above. Sound on. Seriously, do it.
Look we’re not going to start until you...just like...please just....be cool, ok?
Are you playing it?
PLEASE WELCOME TO MLS SOCCER DOT COM AND TO YOUR HEARTS THE LARGEST LIVE MASCOT IN MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER HISTORY A RARE BLACK LIPOZAN STALLION REPRESENTING THE DALLAS BURN WHO FOR SOME REASON HAVE A HORSE LOGO THAT LOOKS LIKE IT’S SHOOTING LIGHTNING AND NOT A GIANT FLAME OR SOMETHING, NOW GALLOPING ONTO THE FIELD OF THE COTTON BOWL, IT’S ... ISLAMICOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO …
Ok, you can turn the music off now. And we should probably explain.
From the Dallas Burn’s first season in MLS's inaugural 1996 season until their rebrand to FC Dallas in 2004, Islamico the stallion represented the Burn as the team’s official mascot. It wasn’t an arduous job. Before each match, Islamico had two tasks. For the second task, Islamico simply led each team out of the vomitorium (look it up) and looked fabulous. Easy enough. The first task is where he really got to shine.
“Miserlou” would kick in. The crowd would rise to give a standing ovation, or at least they should have. P.A.announcer Mark Followill would come over the sound system to announce the most exciting moment of the day. And Islamico would sprint onto the field and put on a show.
Followill told FCDallas.com in 2018 Islamico seemed to know whenever you were announcing him, but that’s no surprise. Islamico — as you'll soon discover — was a veteran entertainer. But that doesn’t quite answer why he was there.
If you don’t remember or are too young to know, the Dallas Burn logo is ... have you ever wondered what would happen if you put the Denver Broncos’ logo, a plasma globe and the entirety of the ’90s into a blender? It is a black “horse” on its hind legs ... which are made of lighting (?) and it appears to be breathing fire. It’s incredible. It also makes no sense.
Dallas had little say in the matter though. For most teams in the first year of MLS, you had to work with whatever brand you were given.
“[Nike] designed the jerseys, logos, the color combos, all that, and the implementation, the development, a lot of that started before the franchises had ownership groups,” former Burn General Manager, Andy Swift, said. “The Burn name, the Burn logo, the colors, all that was kind of packaged and given to us as ‘Hey, this is your team, go brand it.’”
The reasoning behind most of those original branding decisions remains fascinating and, looking back 25 years on, a true wonder to behold.
To plagiarize myself: “The charter members of MLS had their identities determined by a marketing push for imagery that invoked the burgeoning skateboarding culture in the United States that existed apparently. Why skateboarding? Well, first off, 1995. Second and most importantly, the league wanted to follow a similar path as Japan’s recently launched J-League, where team uniforms were inspired by anime.”
So. There ya go. Skateboarding culture plus soccer plus TEXAS equals fire-breathing lighting horse. It’s the world’s oldest equation.
Even with the Burn logo dropped into Swift and the rest of the Dallas staff’s lap, there was no initial discussion of “We need a horse mascot immediately.” Instead, the initial discussion was “We need sponsors.” At some point, the Dallas marketing team reached out to the local Medieval Times, a renaissance fair meets dinner party meets high-quality LARPing performance type thing your parents have definitely paid large amounts of money to attend at some point in their lives.
“Our small sponsorship folks were in discussions with Medieval Times for a local sponsorship deal," Swift said. "And out of those conversations the idea came up that, ‘Wouldn't it be cool to have one of those horses be at the Cotton Bowl just kind of branding Medieval Times?’ The horse fits our image. That eventually evolved to, ‘Hey, that’s going to be our mascot.”
The horse Medieval Times offered was named Islamico. They outfitted Islamico in Burn colors and his owner and Medieval Times knight, Marcial Contreras, would ride him out before every game for four years until the 15-year-old stallion picked up an injury and had to retire in 2001. When a new horse took over the job in 2002, that horse took on the Islamico name. Swift said things weren’t quite the same without the original mascot, but Islamico remains a decidedly unique piece of MLS lore.
“He just became part of part of our identity in a way,” Swift said. “But it's kind of cool. I mean, it's not common to see that kind of thing at a sporting event.”
Islamico’s owner said after Dallas, Islamico spent the rest of his time in Houston. He passed away a little over a year and a half ago at the old age of 28, a father of many, many kids.
“He had a good life at the end,” Contreras said.