Colorado Buffalo Stampede

JUNE 10, 2010 — Came across an article today about the University of Colorado leaving the Big 12 Conference. The article, titled “Buffaloes Start College Realignment Stampede” (article by Greg Hall at KC Confidential is no longer online) reminded us of a more literal stampede by a singular Colorado Buffalo many moons ago. (Can one buffalo stampede? Ralphie can!)

While a sophomore in college in 1987, I saw an ad in Mizzou’s student newspaper for Truman the Tiger mascot tryouts. Because I didn’t have a test or anything else important until the next day, I decided to give it the ol’ college tryout. Lo and behold, the childish antics practiced to perfection in high school (which teachers so wrongly predicted would get me nowhere in life) actually paid off and I was selected to the Spirit Squad as one of the Trumans. My parents, I’m quite sure, had to be so proud that their tuition money was going to such good use. Actually, though, I did get awarded class credit for it each semester. And, I needed every “A” I could get.

Someday, I’ll write a book (working title: “Tails of a College Mascot”) about the whole experience, so I’ll save some details and skip forward to my first road football game as Truman. It was Nov. 7, 1987 in Boulder, CO. Though it was a long, long bus ride from Columbia, MO, it was worth it. Boulder was a great town, and the Spirit Squad had a lot of spirited fun (more on that in “Tails”).

So on to the game.

I’m not tough guy, mind you, or I would have put on the pads and been a football player, not put on big feet, a tail and a large head as an animated tiger. But when you put on that Truman suit, it kind of changes you. You’re on stage. You’re tough. You won’t back down from Cornhuskers or Wildcats or jayhawks or Nittany Lions … nothing. So in the pre-game festivities at Colorado that cool fall day, Truman marched around Folsom Field like he owned the place, messing with Chip (his Colorado costumed counterpart) and haranguing a university police officer enough to where he peered out over his cool mirrored sunglasses and grumbled, “Better get away from me, Tigger.” But I (I mean Truman) was tough. The cop didn’t scare me.

Shortly after I harassed the cop, a gentleman in cowboy boots, chaps and a Stetson come over to tell me to get off the field. “Say what?” … did he know to whom he was speaking? Truman had already spent considerable time pestering Colorado’s cheerleaders, Chip the mascot, police officers, etc. … he wasn’t vacating the field for some urban cowboy.

“Move,” the cowboy told me again. Playing to anyone in the crowd who may have been watching, Truman didn’t budge. He’s tough. So the cowboy came over real close and proceeded to tell me: “Look, we’re fixin’ to unleash a 1000 lb. real, live buffalo here in a moment. Six of us are going to lead her around the field and several of us will help try to keep her headed in the right direction. And, if we can keep control, we’ll bring her right by this spot and into her trailer down yonder.

“Now, if we can’t control her, she’s liable to go after the biggest, brightest thing she sees, and with that goofy head on you’re about 6’5” and a very bright yellow. I suggest you move.”

Did I mention that, underneath that costume, I’m not very tough?

Truman got off the field right quick and bravely hid behind one of the cheerleaders. Sure enough, shortly thereafter a big ruckus broke out and here comes Ralphie III leading the Colorado Buffaloes football team onto the field, six guys hanging on to her for dear life (including my new-found cowboy friend). Right by us she ran down the visitors sideline and headed for her awaiting trailer.

I should add that Ralphie III is no name for a lady. Apparently Ralphie I started out as Ralph, but a smart Colorado undergrad discovered that he was a she, so Ralph became Ralphie. As of this writing, they are up to Ralphie V now. Our game actually marked the debut of Ralphie III, as II had just passed. If you are so inclined, you can read all about it on the Ralphie the Buffalo page.

But I digress …

Anyway, Ralphie runs by and, back to full tough guy mode, Truman pushed the cheerleader who was protecting him aside and ran in hot pursuit of the buffalo. Her handlers ran her into the trailer and, as soon as the gate slammed shut, Truman jumped on the side rails and “gave Ralphie the business,” flexing his tiger muscles and thumbing his nose at her.

Truman was having a grand time, playing to the Tiger fans in the crowd and getting a few good laughs. Then the cowboy dudes intervened. “Oh, a tough guy, huh. Well how about you go in there with her.” They sounded very, very serious. My heart sank. Remembering that the cowboy had said she’ll go after the biggest, brightest thing she can find, I thought I was dead. Buffalo food. And no one would probably help, thinking it was some sort of funny mascot routine.

“Look, Mommy. The buffalo is eating Truman.”

“Don’t worry, honey, it’s just pretend. Isn’t Truman funny?”

The cowboys took Truman to the trailer gate, opened it a little, swung him by his hands and feet like you do a little kid, and counted like they were going to let him go on three. 1 … 2 … 3 …

And they didn’t throw Truman in. Of course not. They wouldn’t throw a big yellow tiger in with a real live buffalo. But the thing is, I wasn’t so sure at the time. They were talking a lot of smack and seemed intent on the guy in the tiger suit taking on the buffalo in the trailer. And I was very convinced that my first road football game as Truman was going to be my last appearance ever.

But, as mentioned, they didn’t throw me in and Truman survived to fight another day, spending the rest of that day being my tough guy self. Except around the cowboys. We shined their boots and made nice. You just never know.