Colorado’s live buffalo mascot, Ralphie IV, (nicknamed “Rowdy” by ranch hands) passed away Sunday at the age of 19 from liver failure. From her debut against Colorado State on Sept. 5, 1998, she ran at 75 games during her 10-year career, 64 of which were held in the state of Colorado. She also led the Buffs onto the field in four conference championships and six bowl games.
And on Sept. 23, 2006, she became the ONLY buffalo to run “Between the Hedges” at Georgia’s Sanford Stadium.
A quick internet search for “Live College Mascots” yields several blogs ranking the top animals representing Division I football programs. Atop most of those rankings is Georgia’s 60-pound English bulldog named “Uga” and Colorado’s 900-plus-pound female Buffalo named “Ralphie”. So as you could imagine, fans were ecstatic to hear two of the top live mascots in the country – Ralphie IV and Uga VI – would share the field together Saturday in Athens. “I think it’s just fun for the fans, fun for the teams and obviously this is creating some hype for the game to see the top two live mascots on the same field at the same time,” said UGA’s marketing director John Bateman before the game.
Then-Georgia head coach Mark Richt wasn’t made aware until mid-week that Ralphie would be leading the Buffs onto the field Saturday. "Is he going to get to run all over the field and stuff? That doesn't seem right," Richt said, concerned about potential damage the “massive beast” could cause. First of all, HE is a SHE, and despite Coach Richt’s best efforts, Ralphie IV made the 1,500-mile trip from Boulder to Athens in her black and gold trailer. An ESPN producer and cameraman tagged along to document the trip. This was to be Ralphie’s first out-of-state regular-season game since 1989. Arriving safely in tow Friday, Ralphie’s handlers managed to squeeze in a few test runs before Saturday’s big moment.
And then it came.
With 92,000 Georgia fans screaming her name – the largest crowd she’s ever run in front of – Ralphie IV took off, her five handlers guiding her, and the Colorado football team trailing. Like Herschel Walker breaking loose from would-be-tacklers, Ralphie IV’s run “Between the Hedges” was majestic. In typical fashion, she reached the 3-yard line near the far end zone before turning around and heading back to her trailer.
There was more hype surrounding Ralphie IV’s visit then there was about the game itself. Colorado, under new head coach Dan Hawkins, entered having lost its first three games. The Bulldogs were undefeated, ranked No. 9 in the country, and had shut out their two previous opponents. It wasn’t supposed to be much of a contest.
The Buffs, however, surged to a 13-0 lead behind two Mason Crosby field goals and a Bernard Jackson touchdown run. Maybe it was Ralphie’s presence.
Richt pulled an ineffective Matthew Stafford in favor of freshman Joe Cox late in the third quarter, which proved to be the difference. Cox threw two touchdowns passes, the last coming with 46 seconds left to propel Georgia to a 14-13 victory.
Some recall it as the day two of college football’s most famous mascots shared the field, or the day the Buffs nearly upset ninth-ranked Georgia.
I choose to remember Ralphie IV’s historic run between the famous Chinese privet hedges that enclose Sanford Stadium.