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Bruno’s evolution from donkey to man

By
Friday, September 26, 2008

It’s half an hour before the weekend’s big football game, and it’s time to suit up. Proud Brunonian Michael Spina ’10 has done all the mental preparation he’ll need – he’s fastened a pad to his chest, wrapped another around his waist and slipped on his full-body suit of Brown fur. Flanked by his sidekick, Cubby, Spina – a.k.a. Bruno – strides onto the field as Brown’s fiercest fan.

Brown’s two mascots spend most of the game running around, giving high-paws to guys and hugs to girls, posing for pictures and revving up the crowd with all their might. On this Saturday, the football team pulls out the victory, 17-7, over Stony Brook University’s Seawolves and their mascot, Wolfie.

It took a hiring scramble to ensure Brown could field a full mascot duo at all. The University usually employs between six and eight students to fill Bruno’s large, furry shoes, said Athletic Marketing and Promotions Intern Patrick Walker, but Spina was the only mascot to return from last year.

Searching for the new mascots, Walker might have felt a bit like his forebear, Theodore Francis Green 1887, the Corporation member who once sought to revamp the school’s representation on the athletic field.

Before Bruno, burro

Over a century ago, Brown was without a symbol. In 1902, a burro – a close relative of the donkey – was introduced as a mascot at a Brown-Harvard football game. The attempt was deemed a failure because the burro visibly quaked in fear at the sound of the crowd.Two years after the quaking burro incident, Green decided to act. He nailed the head of a brown bear over the arch of the trophy room in the newly completed Rockefeller Hall – now Faunce House – for which he was a member of the building committee.

The symbol stuck, both to the arch and in the minds of Brunonians who fell in love with their new mascot.

According to the Encyclopedia Brunoniana, Green explained his choice of the Brown Bear by calling the bear “intelligent and capable of being educated … a good swimmer and a good digger, like an athlete who makes Phi Beta Kappa.”

But the Brown bear soon became much more than a figure around which to rally. In 1905, the symbol of the Brown bear was to be realized in the flesh by Dinks, who was set to make to his debut at that year’s Brown-Dartmouth football game.

To mark the occasion, The Herald published a fight song to cheer on Dinks. “Oh, the Bear is for Brunonia, / But, boys, I have to smile, /For Dartmouth’s mascot ought to be/ A green-backed crocodile.”

But when the whistle blew, Dinks cowered in his cage and refused to leave. Fortunately, Helen, Dinks’ mate, rose to the occasion and put on a crowd-pleasing performance by glaring at the Dartmouth team, earning her the title of the University’s first mascot.

From 1905 to 1949, Helen and her successors made appearances on the sidelines of many games, but the mascot wasn’t a consistent figure. Brown’s first “Bruno” lived in the biology department from 1920 to 1921 until he “sampled some chemicals and expired,” according to the official program for Bruno’s 100th birthday game on Oct. 23, 2004.

Bruno V died during a football game in 1939 because of indigestion. The campus went into mourning and Bruno V was given an unmarked grave under Aldrich field, now the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center, according to Encyclopedia Brunoniana.

To foster more school spirit, the Brown Key Society began in 1949 to purchase a new cub annually, making Bruno a consistent figure at games throughout the 1950s. But the cubs grew unmanagably large quickly, causing turnover so rapid that Roger Williams Park – the bears’ de facto retirement home – eventually turned away Bruno XXII in 1960.

The bears lived in a cage under the football stadium when they weren’t cheering on the athletic Bears on the field. For away games, they would stay in local jails.

Though the tradition of bringing the bear to games stayed strong for many years, live bears began to be replaced by human mascots by the 1960s. Several attempts were made to reinstate the live mascot tradition, but in 1967, President Keeney declared that there would be no more live bears at football games.

‘A pretty prestigious position’

More than 40 years later, Walker said he is well aware of the tradition his team of mascots represents.

Bruno “brings tradition. He’s been around for years and years,” Walker said. “Alums, students and opponents all recognize who he is.”

Modern day mascots, just as the old live bears, are responsible for engaging the crowd, though they now give high-fives and hugs, something the live bears could not offer.

When interacting with the crowd, “you just work with whatever they give you,” Spina said. “Usually they want to take pictures and kids actually pull your tail.”

“The kids love (Bruno), he fires people up,” he added. “So many chants have to do with Bruno.”

“Both (Bruno and Cubby) have the potential to really excite the crowd. A lot of responsibility falls on their shoulders,” said the student who will be Cubby this weekend.

Though Spina gave his name, the names of the students who serve as mascots are traditionally kept secret, Walker said, often preferring to be called “guardians.”

“I feel more free if people don’t know who Cubby is,” the younger mascot’s guardian continued. “It’s really fun to pick on people who you know and have them not know that it’s you that’s inside of the costume.”

Cubby’s guardian added that being a mascot has given her a unique insight into Brown fans.

“There is this strange relationship that people have with mascots. It’s safe to hug a mascot,” she said. “You can actually make people’s day.”

But being Bruno or Cubby does come with a few difficulties. Besides not being able to talk, the mascots must deal with the extreme heat of a fur suit for several hours in the sun. Also, vision is severely restricted, as the students look out of the mascots’ mouths.

“I didn’t fully realize how constricting the costume was,” Cubby’s guardian said. “Visibility is very, very slim. You’re squinting through this small slit that has netting over it.”

With Spina as the only returning mascot, Walker sent out a school-wide e-mail early this semester to inform the school about the open spots.

“Now it’s open for tryouts for anyone,” he said. “If they want to try out, give it a shot.”

The try-out process is self-selecting, Walker said. Those who are interested try on the suit and act in it. If they feel comfortable, the new mascots are assigned a game to work.

Either they like it, “or we never hear from them again,” Walker said.

Character, according to Walker, is paramount for those students who play Bruno and Cubby.

“These students hold a pretty prestigious position,” he said. “They act with people from the ages of three to 103. They should be fun but still show respect.”

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