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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Brutus Brutalized by Rufus

Costumed mascots are running amuck! Funny? Ignorant? Spiteful? Personally, I get no satisfaction or thrill from seeing grownups dressed as animals and fantasy characters running ludicrously on the courts and the fields of college and professional teams. Call me a Puritan if you like, but I prefer the entertainment of the competitive game without all the window dressing and sideshows. Nevertheless, mascots are employed as goodwill ambassadors for the teams. Also, they attempt to add spirit and pep for the teams. But do they?

Last Saturday, September 18, Rufus, the Ohio University Bobcat, took off on a dead run from the 15-yard line and tackled Ohio State's Brutus Buckeye at the 35 as Brutus and several cheerleaders led the Buckeyes onto the field. Moments later, as several Ohio State players kneeled on the goal line in prayer, Rufus attacked Brutus again in the end zone.

It was interesting that not one single player or security guard tried to break up the fight. Was this because everyone thought it had been staged or because people approved of over-sized, stuffed animals scuffling in a stupid match of survival of the fittest? Naturally, the goofy confrontation became the talk of the college football week.

The guy in the Rufus costume, Brandon Hanning, later told the Ohio University student newspaper he had tried out for the job with the explicit intention of assaulting Ohio State's Brutus this year – then dropped out of college after earning the mascot job. Hanning is currently a student at nearby Hocking College. And he is not sorry at all: “It was the whole reason I tried out (to be Rufus) last year,” he told The Post. “I knew we were going back to OSU this year, and I wanted to tackle Brutus." Hanning must have relished the claim of tackling legendary mascot Brutus Buckeye for some sick egotistical future bragging rights.
Predictably, Ohio University lost the game. Everyone knew that this mismatch against the powerhouse Buckeyes was going to be a blowout win for OSU. Still, the early season match-up benefited OU most, because of the exposure the Bobcats gained from playing OSU and the money the team made from the lopsided contest. So, even though OSU slaughtered "rival" OU for the 33rd consecutive time by the final score of 43-7, Rufus the Bobcat starred in the the underdog's highlight reel as making their "best tackle of the game." (Or should that be "pregame"?)
Of course, Ohio University was thoroughly embarrassed by the antics of their mascot. Jason Corriher, assistant athletic director for Media Relations, announced in a statement that the person involved in the stunt has been banned from any further affiliation with Ohio Athletics. Corriher stated,"The department does not condone this behavior and apologizes for the negative effects that this had on an intercollegiate event between two proud institutions," Corriher said in the statement. "This is not indicative of the quality partnership between the universities and reflected extremely poor judgment and sportsmanship."

Still, not all onlookers saw bashing Brutus as a problem."He's clearly a tenacious [compound adjective]. Kudos to him for being able to finally tackle someone he clearly does not like," said Ben Cortes, better known as Stanford's Tree. "But that said, I think mascots need to up their game. We can't just let random people get to the sidelines representing us. If someone had my tree costume on and just goes around tackling [Cal mascot] Oski, I end up looking like an aggressive [jerk]." (Andy Staples, "Fuzzy Friends Speak After Brutus Assault That Rocked Mascot World,", September 23 2010)
Evidently, the violent behavior by mascots, either spontaneous or staged, is considered good, violent fun. Besides, most non-rivalry mascot fights are more scripted than the average WWE match. But, sometimes the mascots act from their own warped sense of sportsmanship and lose their heads.

Brian Crane, who carried a sledgehammer as Purdue Pete from 1993-95, explained Hanning's breaches of mascot etiquette. In another context, Crane said, the attack would have been OK. But never when the mascot is assisting in the team run-out. "There's no need to get the fans more excited than they already are at that point," said Crane, who worked at the old in the late '90s. "When the score is 43-7, that's when you need the fight between mascots."

Also, Crane said, the Mascot Rules of Engagement require that the home mascot always win a fight in games not involving blood rivals. Also, the vanquished is not to be embarrassed. "It's the home school's job to save face for the visiting mascot so they don't look like a weakling," Crane said. "Maybe it's something like the female cheerleaders come over and give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation." (Andy Staples, "Fuzzy Friends Speak After Brutus Assault That Rocked Mascot World,", September 23 2010)

Costumed mascots tackling, punching, wrestling and trash talking -- it reminds me of a trip to the almighty retailing menagerie of Walmart, where a shopper might witness just about anything at any time. You know, some of these mascots are pretty frightening-looking creations. What may well have been originally fashioned to be an appeal to a younger, more fuzzy character-attuned crowd seems to have become the fancy of brawlers and fanatics.

The best line I saw about the Brutus/Rufus confrontation was this rather ribald uncredited observation:  "If this guy doesn't get free beer and/or snatch in Ann Arbor for at least the next five years, I'm giving up on the human race."

Just for fun, here are some of the more unusual mascots of some American colleges and universities: 

1. The University of Arkansas - The Boll Weevil
2. The University of California at Santa Cruz - Sammy the Slug
3. Syracuse University (in New York) - Otto the Orange
4. Delta State - The Fighting Okra
5. Washington State - The Geoduck (a mollusk pronounced "gooey duck")
6. Wichita State - WuShock (a shock of wheat)
7. Scottsdale Community College - The Artichoke
8. Stanford University - The Tree

Here is the OSU-OU mascot clip and another "mascot gone wild" video.

The Brutus Attack: 

Oregon Duck Vs. Houston Cougar 

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