I love the Duck. He's more than just a goofy/creepy, anthropomorphized version of a team's animal representation; he's developed a personality that no other mascot has. He's bashful, shameless, and always having a good time. But is there any mascot in sports that is cooler than Colorado's? And no, I'm not talking about Chip.
Chip looks like Mickey Mouse in a monkey suit, inexplicably wearing horns. I'm talking about Ralphie, the very live, very large, and very dangerous animal that leads the Colorado football team onto the field. Some fast facts about Ralphie:
- Ralphie is an American bison. Bison were hunted to near-extinction during the population and growth of the American plains in the 19th century.
- Since Ralphie I's debut in 1967, Ralphie is, and always has been, female. Females are smaller, and therefore easier to handle, than their male counterparts. There's more than a few sexist jokes in there, I'm just not gonna be the one to make them.
- There are currently two Ralphies: Ralphie IV is fourteen years old, and weighs 1,300 pounds. She made her debut in 1998, and was the full-time Ralphie through the 2007 season. She still makes some appearances, but has relinquished her on-field duties to Ralphie V, a five year old who made her running debut at the 2008 Spring Game. Her pregame run went smoothly, but on her run after halftime, she got loose from four of five of her handlers, and scared the hell out of people. Both Ralphie IV and Ralphie V were donated by Ted Turner.
- Ralphie I was named Colorado's Homecoming Queen in 1971. Attempts at Oregon State University to bestow a similar honor on a sheep were unsuccessful.
Ralphie has her own program of handlers, run by seasoned buffalo professionals Ben Frei and Kevin Priola. Ralphie runners go through intense training, getting to know the animal and how to handle any situation which may arise. And when gametime comes, they are able to tell if Ralphie is in the mood to run or not. That's right, Ralphie gets to decide whether or not she runs. It doesn't happen often, but if her temperament is even a little off shortly before kickoff, Ralphie will stay penned up. When she isn't at Folsom Field, Ralphie lives at a secret location to guard against potential kidnappers or saboteurs. Why you'd want to go and mess with a half-ton animal is beyond me, but apparently there are stupid people out there.
Unless it's a trained flock of Ducks that flies onto the field prior to kickoff and delivers the coin for the coin toss before retiring to their specially-designed duck pond in the northwest corner of the field, I don't think we'll be seeing a live mascot at the U of O. But that's okay. I love the Duck more than I love any other stranger wearing a costume. Just a word of warning, Duck; when Ralphie takes the field, get the hell out of the way.