BOULDER, Colo. — Just west of Folsom Field, Colorado’s mascot rests inside a corral. The 1,200-pound buffalo affectionately known as Ralphie is on display for those wishing to meet and greet one of college football’s few live mascots.
The 10-year-old behemoth, whose actual name is Ralphie IV, is the most recent in a line of buffaloes that have run out the northeast corner of end zone for the past 40 years.
“It’s the greatest mascot in college and so much fun,” handler Steve Green said. “It’s also fun because so many people know about Ralphie and if you tell someone you handled her it can start a conversation that goes on for a while.”
Since the first Ralphie was introduced at CU’s homecoming in 1967, the mascot, in all its incarnations, has garnered its fair share of attention. The original Ralphie was present at every CU home game for 13-straight seasons. During those years, she (that’s right, Ralphie is a girl) traveled to the Bluebonnet Bowl in her first season on the sideline, was buffalo-napped by students from the Air Force Academy in 1970 and was named homecoming queen in 1971.
In addition to every home game, Ralphie makes road appearances, usually at bowl and conference championship games, though she is a handful to care for on long rides.
Care of the mascot is left to a select number of students who go through a rigorous application process in order to be chosen. Applicants have to, among other things, answer trivia questions about the history of the mascot and pass a physical test to see if they can keep up with Ralphie if she decides to make a run for it.
A Ralphie sprint wouldn’t be a problem on this day because she is surrounded by 12 attendants who do every thing from taking her out to pasture on long road trips to monitoring her interaction with on-lookers. Ralphie III was a “ball of fire” said Green, but the current version seems well-behaved as fans pet her just over 90 minutes prior to kickoff.
“She has her moments, but it’s usually pretty good with people,” Green said.
She stays in one spot for most of the time, giving a quick shake after one person gives her a rub. As Green said, a female buffalo’s friendly disposition is a reason the university always appoints a non-male Ralphie.
This Ralphie is coming toward the end of her time as the face of the CU program. Since debuting during the 1998 season at just nine months old as a gift from entrepreneur Ted Turner, she has doubled in size and has been clocked at running anywhere from 20-25 miles per hour. A new Ralphie, who will be known as Ralphie V, will be introduced in two weeks, but won’t necessarily be put into game action right away.
“We may not put her out there right away if she is too rowdy or not trained well enough, so you never know,” Green said.