I was sitting at one end of the arena watching a Bronco hockey game two or three years ago when a tall skinny student came over and sat next to me. He had been over in the student section but apparently he wanted to get a different view. We started talking, first in general about the hockey game and then it got more personal. Surprisingly he told me that he was one of the students that year who was Buster Bronco. Buster is our school mascot. He is a big brown horse with a huge head, giant tennis shoes, and attired in a bronco jersey. The fact that the student moved to another seat made sense because when he is in Buster’s uniform he is constantly moving around.
Since 1988 Buster has been our official mascot. Before Buster we had a tan horse with a holster and gun strapped around his waist. His character must have been formed from the Quick Draw McGraw sheriff of the old west image. One time in the mid eighties we were at a hockey game. Before the game it is customary for players to skate around to warm up. The old tan mascot skated around with them equipped with a hockey stick. My eyes centered on the mascot as he took his stick and turned it around and was playfully pretending to shoot a rifle. To everyone’s surprise he stumbled and lost his balance. As he tried to recover from the violent movement, much like slamming on the car brakes, his head flew off and was sliding down the ice. The beheaded mascot was left to scramble from his knee, catch up and grab his sliding head and strap it back on as quickly as possible. The humor we saw at the time had to be a disaster for the student playing the mascot and the cheer team as the mascot’s secret identity was unexpectedly embarrassingly revealed.
I didn’t ask my new friend that night about any embarrassing moments he might have had while in the suit. I also didn’t ask him the question that George Plimpton wondered about in his book “Paper Lion.” That question was, Where does the Chicago Bear mascot change into his uniform? Does he have a locker he goes to with the uniform hanging in including the head? In Buster’s case it would be hard to imagine a locker wide enough to fit that massive head. What I did ask was something I always wondered. How well can you see in that uniform? The answer was somewhat surprising. I found out that Buster has two big openings from his nostrils and an opening around his mouth to see through. Usually seeing is not that much of a problem although it was revealed that at sunny football games it can be very difficult. If Buster is stumbling around at a sunny football game it may not be an act.
As I was sitting there asking this student questions about his other character, in the back of my mind I’m still sizing him up. I could hardly believe that this was someone who acted out the magic of Buster. Apparently that year and probably every year there are three or four individuals who play Buster at different games and events. Not only is Buster at sporting events, he is also at many other events where his presence is needed throughout the year. One student could not possibly meet all of the obligations that Buster has. In my mind there must be a secret vow to never disclose who is in the uniform. I suppose even if you knew one of the performers you couldn’t be sure he was working that event. When you see Buster you never see anything but Buster. There is not a character shift depending on who is playing the part. Buster never talks in an audible voice. If you talk to him he will shake his huge head, pat you on the back, give you five or shake your hand with his huge paw.
One time I was participating in a university golf event. Our foursome team stopped at one of the tee’s and there was Buster to greet us. Of course where Buster is there is usually a photographer close by. Buster’s interaction with people brings smiles to faces and people always want to have their picture made with him! As we were standing around before teeing off enjoying the refreshments provided I looked around as I heard the golf cart taking off. Sure enough it was Buster with his big head just barely fitting under the roof driving away with our clubs! I shouldn’t have been surprised because that is typical of Buster. Always looking to make people laugh and enjoy themselves.
Although Buster is great with students and us older ones alike, his real specialty is relating to kids! Many times when well meaning parents bring their kids to games the kids get bored. Let’s face it, having a kid sit still for over a few minutes can be a chore. That is where Buster helps the situation! He has such a unique appearance they can’t keep their eyes off of him. Buster is very rarely sitting still at a game so chances are the kids will get an up close view of him! They may also get a high five or a hug! They may receive a hand shake as their hand disappears in his huge paw! Their startled looks turn to amazement and laughter as Buster interacts with them. I’m sure that a big part of their game experience isn’t about the game at all. With Buster in the house all is right with the world!
Seeing the enormous physical presence of Buster is very intimidating at first. A friend of mine told a story about his young son and Buster that happened years ago. Although his son loved Buster from a distance the physical appearance of Buster from up close would literally scare him out of his mind. Getting within a hundred feet of Buster was so frightening that he would start crying uncontrollably. Being the good parent that he was my friend had the solution. He got permission to take his son down to Buster’s locker where his uniform was ready for use. His idea was to show his son that there was a person inside of Buster that made Buster who he was. By conveying that truth he thought he could solve the problem! They went down to the locker and my friend put the Buster head on. Right away his son started crying uncontrollably. He must have been experiencing his worst nightmare as it seemed the big horse had taken over his fathers body. Finally dad had to take the head off and the crying stopped. After several tries it was decided that the well meaning lesson was a complete failure as whenever he put the Buster head on tears would flow.
Although Buster’s mere size can be very scary and intimidating, most of the young kids that I have seen have conquered their initial fear of him. They have found that although Buster is big he is also gentle. They have learned that he loves them and they in turn learn to love him back!
I don’t remember if we won or lost the hockey game that night. After the game I shook hands with a student who has brought joy to many! Of course this was a normal handshake not to be confused with when my hand gets lost in the big paw of Buster. It left me with kind of a strange and amazing feeling. Here I sat through a whole period of a hockey game discussing what it was like to be Buster Bronco!
I understand why schools want to have a winning team. Winning teams attract fans, sparks school spirit, lifts the recognition of the school, and makes all associated with it proud! The cheer team wants to be a winning team too! Doing their best to pick up the spirit of the fans and make them excited about their school and the game! Buster is a big part of the cheer team! Speaking of a cheer team there is no better example as to how Buster can cheer kids up as his past visits with team members to hospitals. He brings joy to kids who really need their spirits lifted!
Thinking about Buster and what he does brings a smile to my face. When I go to a game the first thing I invariably do is look for Buster. Usually he is pretty easy to spot. He is almost always in plain sight trying to bring a smile to our faces! In the end the games are merely entertainment. While we want the Broncos to win, winning or losing does not help or hurt our personal situations. The games are a diversion for us to not think about our problems for a couple of hours. As time passes we might forget about who won or lost or who scored and who didn’t. More vivid in our memory might be some antic that Buster did that made us laugh!
Many current and former students have played the role of Buster Bronco through the years. Each one deserves a special cheer in our hearts. To make the sacrifice that they made and make for our pleasure is very much appreciated! I can’t conceive of going to a Bronco game without Busters presence. It would be like eggs without bacon or chips without the dip. For many kids he is the game and the actual game is the background noise. I realize that Buster is not real. I understand that he is just a character formed in someones imagination and brought to life by hard working students season after season. Yet, I have seen the amazement, joy, smiles, laughter and love on the faces of kids and adults alike that he produces. To me those happy, amazing, fun filled moments are about as real as it gets!