Ralphie is the 1,300-pound buffalo mascot of the University of Colorado Buffaloes, and his job is simple: To lead the Buffaloes onto the field both at the start of each home game and again at halftime.
He is “guided”—if you could call hanging on for dear life “guiding”—by a brave bunch of handlers dressed in black-and-gold cowboy gear.
In 1934, a Colorado student newspaper called the Sliver & Gold held a contest to help come up with a new official nickname for the school’s athletic teams. Prior to that, the school had no official name, but a whole lot of unofficial ones: Yellow Jackets, Hornets, Silver Helmets, Big Horns and Grizzlies, among others.
When “Buffaloes” was chosen as the winner of the newspaper contest, finally giving the school its official name, students celebrated by renting a real-life buffalo for the school’s Thanksgiving Day game against the University of Denver.
The rented buffalo calf (and the cowboy that would watch him) cost them $25, but the investment seemed to pay off. Colorado beat Denver, 7-0.
A Tradition is Born
Though buffalos made occasional appearances at Colorado games in the years after 1934, there was no officially designated buffalo mascot until 1957, when booster Mahlon White donated a buffalo to the school. The animal was named “Mr. Chips.”
The first “Ralphie” was donated to the school nine years later, in 1966.
And in 1967, somebody around the program (it’s not quite clear who, exactly) came up with the idea of having Ralphie lead the team onto the field. Then-coach Eddie Crowder gave his OK, and the Ralphie tradition was officially born on Oct. 28 of that year, on Homecoming against Oklahoma State.
Colorado lost that day, 10-7.
Colorado currently has two Ralphies—Ralphie IV and Ralphie V.
It's safe to say they are among the most well-known mascots in college football, and their pre-game charge onto the field is widely regarded as one of college football’s great traditions.
ESPN recently named Ralphie among the Top 20 mascots in the game, and in 2007, ESPN.com columnist Eric Neel was sent to Boulder to write about the tradition. As Neel wrote: “In Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A., in fact, Ralphie's not just a buffalo; she's the buffalo.”