“Shoulder to shoulder...”
Perhaps no three words encapsulate what it means to be a Colorado Buffalo more than this often-used phrase from the school’s fight song.
Side by side, together, as a TEAM.
It’s that TEAM aspect that drew Adam Deutsch to the Ralphie Live Mascot Program.
“I actually didn’t hear about her [Ralphie] until I visited the school,” the Hastings-on-Hudson, New York native recalled.
Hastings is a charming town along the Hudson River about 25 miles from Midtown Manhattan and 1,700 miles from the Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado. Despite the distance from home, a father-son weekend skiing trip to Winter Park was enough to lure the young New Yorker to the Centennial State school.
“Crazy snow, I had never seen anything like that before,” he remembered. “While we were there we might as well checkout University of Colorado and it was just a beautiful place and that’s where I decided to go.”
You know her as Ralphie V, the fifth different live buffalo mascot that has led Colorado’s football team onto Folsom field each year since 1967. This 11-year old 1,200-pound Ralphie also goes by the name ‘Blackout.’ Shortly after Adam arrived on campus, he was one of hundreds of first-year students that piled into Folsom Field for a pep rally, a sort of ‘Welcome to CU’ kickoff for that year’s freshman class. It was at this pep rally that Adam first saw Blackout run.
“It was just crazy to see honestly. I was sitting in the stands and was like ‘why can’t I do that,’” he said, referencing the five handlers that led Ralphie in her typical 200-plus yard horseshoe-type run around Folsom Field.
So, Hastings High School’s 2015 Male Athlete of the Year decided to try out to become a handler.
Over 50 applicants attended the tryout consisting of a written essay, three one-hundred yard sprints and interviews with current and former Ralphie Program managers and handlers. Only six were accepted, including Adam.
“I grew up playing team sports so this was an extension of that,” Adam, who lettered in soccer and baseball at Hastings explained.
Led by manager John Graves, there are 15 student-athletes who make up the Ralphie Program. During the football season, Graves’ squad averages about somewhere between 20-30 hours per week training. From lifting weights, doing sprints, viewing film and practice runs on Prentup Field – home of CU’s women’s soccer team since 2003 - there’s a lot of work involved in being a handler.
"Ralphie is always in great shape, she's always ready to run," Graves told CUBuffs.com in August. "As humans, we've got to work hard to stay in shape."
Aside from the training, gaining Ralphie’s trust is also crucial to ensuring a good run on game day. “She’s a great animal,” Adam explained. “She definitely warms up to you, but it takes time.”
Now in his second year with the program, Adam, has gained the trust of Ralphie and even more importantly, that of his teammates. “We’re all family,” he said. “Three of my roommates are on the team and they’ll be some of my best friends for the rest of my life.”
"It's not one person that's out there running with Ralphie.” Graves informed CUBuffs.com. “It takes everyone." On game days, all 15 handlers play a crucial role in each pregame and halftime run. Five run with her, with the two handlers in front doing the steering. The next two handlers on either side help slow her down, and the fifth handler in what is called the “loop” position supplies the brakes. The other 10 handlers are strategically positioned around Folsom Field to ensure a safe run. Adam describes the thrill of each run as a unique opportunity. “Not many people can say they run with a 1,200-lb buffalo,” he said proudly.
Friday evening, as part of her 50th Anniversary celebration, Ralphie will be the grand marshal of the homecoming parade and pep rally on Pearl Street. Saturday, 45,000-plus fans - Adam’s parents among them - will pack into Folsom Field to see the Colorado Buffaloes take on the California Golden Bears. Minutes before the start of the game, the school’s most recognizable tradition will commence with venerable PA announcer Alan Cass bellowing out those three famous words one last time.
“Here comes Ralphie…”
Simultaneously, shoulder-to-shoulder, five handlers will then lead the greatest mascot in college athletics onto Folsom Field, the Colorado football team in tow. Adam won’t know until an hour before the game if he’ll be one of the five handlers chosen to lead Ralphie onto the field. Whether he runs or not, one thing is for certain.
He’s a member of Ralphie’s “HERD” as its often called, part of a TEAM.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Since its inception, the Ralphie Program has been entirely funded by donors. To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this time-honored tradition, the Ralphie program is trying to raise $50,000 to assist with costs. Click here to donate and keep Ralphie running for years to come.