Mascot Monday: Goldy Gopher

We’re heading up north and the Big Ten for this week’s Mascot Monday.  Goldy Gopher is the main mascot at the University of Minnesota campus.  Once a proud member of the marching band, Goldy now appears at all sporting events.  This week we’ll find out how that happened, as well as why you shouldn’t go too far in mimicking.  We’ll also take a look at what Goldy’s doing to help clean up that mistake.  So hanker on down with your favorite gnawin’ log and join us as we take a look at Minnesota’s own golden child, Goldy.

Minnesota became the Gopher State in 1857 due a political cartoon taking on western expansion and railroads.  The first mention of gophers at the university appeared in the yearbook for 1887.  The athletic teams were known as the Gophers but it was in 1934 when announcer and sports writer Halsey Hall deemed them the Golden Gophers.  The uniforms back then were all gold and that decade proved to be a winning one, with 7 Big Ten titles and 5 National Championships. It wasn’t until 1952 when assistant band master Jerome Glass bought a suit and directed technology junior Jim Anderson to wear the giant gopher suit.

The suit was in possession of the marching band for most of the mascot’s life.  The name ‘Goldy’ didn’t show up until the 1960s.  Goldy would make appearances only at the events the marching band played.  This changed in 1992 when the athletic department took control of the suit and pushed Goldy to show up at more athletic and non-athletic events.  Some of the marching band members may still be bitter about the move, but it helped push Goldy more into the spotlight.  Unfortunately, how one performs under the spotlight is more scrutinized.  Mistakes can happen.

Take for example, last October, when during his rambunctious pre-game ceremony, Goldy mocked Penn State defensive end Jerome Hayes’ end zone knelt prayer as he took the field.  The power of YoutTube struck and the action ticked off many Nittany Lions fans as well as some religious groups.  The beef was so hot the university stepped in and officially apologized for Goldie’s behavior.  It was a bad week for Goldie indeed.

Most mascots are instructed to rouse up the crowd and even sometimes get into ‘fights’ with the opposing teams mascot.  Sometimes the fights are fake and sometimes they are real.  The point is that mascots are the rebels of the football field and are employed to actually skate the line of taste to fire up the crowd.  Most of this behavior is looked at as good, clean fun but in some cases a mascot goes too far.  The school did its job to handle the PR of the step up and I’m sure when it happens again, either with Goldy or another mascot, the same recourse will take place.  It’s the price they pay for a wily mascot.

One would never guess that Goldy would be such a meany.  The university re-did his image to make him more cartoony and not fearsome in the 1980s.  Goldy sports the big happy fuzzy head of a gopher along with the full-out uniform of the football team, making room for the tail, of course.  The feisty mascot is now on a campaign to be Capital One’s Mascot of the Year for 2010.  Strangely enough, this came out about 3 weeks after his prayer taunt.  Will the video and campaign be enough to turn around Goldy’s image?  Tune in later on this year to find out.