Ever since the trampoline-jumping, basketball-dunking Phoenix Suns Gorilla burst onto the scene in 1980, teams have wanted their mascots to be bigger, faster, stronger…but sometimes it comes with a price. This article was first published in Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader.
Rocky the Mountain Lion
In 2013, the Denver Nuggets’ mascot, Rocky the Mountain Lion, was supposed to be lowered from the rafters as part of the team’s season-opening ceremony. But when the lights inside the Pepsi Center dimmed and a spotlight was shone way up top, 18,000 fans saw a limp, lifeless mascot being slowly lowered until he collapsed on the court. To make matters worse, the mascot’s body harness was hidden by his enormous head, so from the TV camera angle it looked like Rocky was hanging by his neck, giving the event the appearance of a ritual sacrifice. Team officials later explained that the performer had the wind knocked out of him just before the stunt.
Stanley C. Panther
Arguably the sports world’s toughest mascot gig is working in the NHL, where the combination of slippery ice and having to wear a headpiece the size of a beach ball has led to some very bad falls. In 2010, Stanley C. Panther, mascot of the Florida Panthers, was putting on a show for fans, and while attempting (unsuccessfully) to hurdle over a folding chair, he slipped on the ice and was knocked out of commission with “undisclosed injuries.” Mr. Panther attended the rest of the season’s home games in a wheelchair, but this show of loyalty didn’t impress the franchise’s executives: They laid him off during the 2012 NHL lockout to save money.
Hopefully, the Fort Wayne Fury of the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association had health insurance when the team mascot, Sabre, suffered a serious injury during a 1996 playoff game stunt. The tiger mascot was lowering himself from the rafters during pregame introductions when his leg got tangled in the rope. The costumed cat somehow came out of his harness and fell 50 feet onto the concrete floor behind the basket. A spotter broke Sabre’s fall, but the mascot was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. The man who played Sabre ended up suffering a broken back, but made a full recovery.
In 1988, the University of Maryland’s mascot, Testudo (a diamondback terrapin), was play-fighting with the University of Virginia’s mascot, Cavalier (a guy dressed as a cavalier), when the turtle was knocked to the ground, breaking his arm in three places. Given that the guy inside the Testudo suit, student Scott Rudolph, was a paid employee of the university (he earned $25 per game), he figured his school would help out with his medical bills. But the university claimed it wasn’t liable. Finally in 1993, a worker’s compensation judge ruled that Maryland was liable for the injury and ordered it to pay Rudolph $5,000 and any related medical bills for the rest of his life.
When the NHL awarded a hockey franchise in Anaheim, California, to the Walt Disney Company in 1992, the movie studio went all-out in promoting their new franchise, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. To drum up fan support, the team sometimes resorted to cheesy stunts. One they shouldn’t have tried: In 1995, Wild Wing was supposed to hurtle over a fire pit. He got about three inches of hangtime before falling into the pit and catching on fire.