History of Ralphie
The History of Ralphie
The University of Colorado has one of the more unique mascots in all of intercollegiate athletics, a real buffalo named Ralphie.
The live buffalo mascot, currently "Ralphie IV," leads the football team out on the field both at the start of the game and second half. It is truly one of the special sights that exist anywhere in college or professional sports, especially for opposing teams, who often stop in their tracks watching the massive buffalo round the end zone and head directly at their sideline.
Pre-Ralphie History (1934-1965)
The buffalo first appeared in 1934, three weeks after a contest to select an official school nickname by the Silver & Gold newspaper had come to an end and “Buffaloes” was the winning entry. For the final game of the ‘34 season, a group of students paid $25 to rent a buffalo calf along with a real cowboy as his keeper. The calf was the son of Killer, a famed bison at Trails End Ranch in Fort Collins. It took the cowboy and four students to keep the calf under control on the sidelines, a 7-0 win at the University of Denver on Thanksgiving Day.
Prior to 1934, CU athletic teams usually were referred to as the “Silver and Gold,” but other nicknames teams were sometimes called included Silver Helmets, Yellow Jackets, Hornets, Arapahoes, Big Horns, Grizzlies and Frontiersmen. The student newspaper decided to sponsor a national contest in the summer of 1934, with a $5 prize to go to the author of the winning selection. Entries, over 1,000 in all, arrived from almost every state in the union. Athletic Director Harry Carlson, graduate manager Walter Franklin and Kenneth Bundy of the Silver and Gold were the judges.
Local articles first reported that Claude Bates of New Madrid, Mo., and James Proffitt of Cincinnati, Ohio, were co-winners for the prize as both submitted “Buffaloes” as their entry. But 10 days later, the newspaper declared Boulder resident Andrew Dickson the winner, after a follow-up revealed his submission of “Buffaloes” had actually arrived several days before those of the original winners. Through the years, synonyms which quickly came into use included “Bisons,” “Buffs,” “Thundering Herd,” “Stampeding Herd,” “Golden Avalanche,” and “Golden Buffaloes.”
Live buffaloes made appearances at CU games on and off through the years, usually in a pen on the field or sometimes driven around in a cage; in the 1940s, the school kept a baby buffalo in a special pen at the University Riding Academy. The first named buffalo was “Mr. Chips,” who appeared for the first time at the 1957 CU Days kickoff rally, as supporter Mahlon White donated him to the school, and it was cared for by a men’s honorary.
A few years passed between a live mascot on the sideline and the tradition Colorado fans have come to know so well.
Ralphie I (1966-1978)
In 1966, John Lowery, the father of a CU freshman from Lubbock, Texas, donated to the school a six-month old buffalo calf from Sedgewick, Colo. For a while, she was billed as “Rraalph,” the name given by the student body after sounds she allegedly made while running and snorting (original handlers will tell you something else). An astute fan soon discovered that the buffalo was in fact a female, thus the name alteration to Ralphie.
The initial tradition was for CU’s five sophomore class officers to run the buffalo around the stadium in a full loop. They would pick her up from caretaker William “Bud” Hays at the Green Mountain Riding Stables, and would run her for two hours in the morning to tire her a bit to keep her under control by the time the game started. At the conclusion of the run, the fans would break into the “Buffalo Stomp,” which would literally shake the stadium in deafening fashion as the team took the field. But CU officials soon had the tradition stopped because of the actual physical damage it was causing.
Around that same time, head coach Eddie Crowder was approached with the idea the charging buffalo running out on the field before the game with the team behind right her. Crowder thought it was a great idea, and the debut of this great tradition took place on Oct. 28, 1967, CU’s homecoming game against Oklahoma State. Though OSU won the game, 10-7, the tradition was here to stay, though those who had some training in such an endeavor as working with a wild animal eventually replaced the sophomores. The five sophomores appointed themselves as the board of directors of a fundraising effort to bring Ralphie to the ’67 Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, raising the necessary money through selling stock.
Ralphie attended every CU home football game for 13 years (including all bowls), and retired at the end of the 1978 season. CU’s first Ralphie achieved nationally celebrity status, and was even kidnapped in 1970 by some Air Force Academy students as well as being named the school’s 1971 Homecoming Queen at the height of the anti-establishment era.
Ralphie II History (1978-1987)
Ralphie’s replacement on the sidelines was Ralphie II, making her first-ever appearance at CU’s final home game of the 1978 season. The buffalo’s original name was Moon, short for Moonshine, but the name Ralphie had become so popular and traditional that it was restored. The Bank of Boulder, a significant contributor through the years to the Ralphie program, purchased and donated Ralphie II to CU. At the age of 12, and after serving the Buffs for 10 years, Ralphie II passed away on Sept. 19, 1987, following a 31-17 CU win over Stanford.
Ralphie III History (1987-1997)
Ralphie III was pressed into action earlier than anticipated. She was being trained for the 1988 season as Ralphie II was to retire following the 1987 campaign. But Ralphie III, after only five weeks of training made her debut, Nov. 7, 1987, at the CU-Missouri game. And like the original Ralphie, the Buffs welcomed her with a 27-10 victory.
Ralphie III passed away in early 1998. She led the Buffaloes on the field in 73 games, including 62 times in Boulder, eight bowl games, and three times in Fort Collins. An orphan, she was donated to the athletic department by John and Shaaron Parker, and was kept at the Parker Ranch (which was also the home to Ralphie II).
Ralphie IV History (1998- )
Colorado’s latest mascot is Ralphie IV, donated to the university by media and sports entrepreneur Ted Turner.
Ralphie IV was born in April 1997 on the Flying D Ranch in Gallatin Gateway, Montana, which is a part of Turner Ranches, the largest ranch operation in the United States. Named “Rowdy” by ranch hands, she was separated from her mother when she was about a month old and was literally found in the jaws of a coyote with bite marks around her neck. She survived the attack and was bottle-fed by the hands for four months. She was released back to the herd but wouldn’t bond with them, so the ranch hands took her back in and fed her grasses and grain. It was then that she was donated to CU as a yearling early in the spring of 1998. John Parker, who trained and housed both Ralphie II and III, brought her back to Colorado from Montana and supervised all of her early training.
Parker retired as Ralphie’s caretaker in May 2000. Long-time CU supporters Dale and Lynn Johnson housed Ralphie for the following year, with Parker’s assistant, Ted Davis, assuming the program duties for the 2000 season.
In the summer of 2001, two former Ralphie Handlers and CU graduates, Ben Frei and Kevin Priola, took over the program. Together they coordinate the selection and managing of up to 12 student handlers as well as all aspects of training.
Ralphie IV, almost full grown and mature, weighs in at about 1,300 pounds, over three times her weight when she made her debut against Colorado State at Mile High Stadium in Denver on Sept. 5, 1998. She is much stronger and can reach speeds of 25 miles per hour. Her home is now in nearby Henderson.