When I dwell on it, it’s a bit surprising that I’m as big into sports as I am. Neither of my parents are big sports fans nor did they play organized sports growing up. In high school my father was too busy kicking insane amounts of ass at science fairs, and my mother was terribly busy cultivating a hairstyle that she could ride out for her entire life. By consequence, I could never really bond with either of them over any kind of athletics.
Growing up in the Greater Toronto Area in the early 90’s, it became impossible for me to avoid hearing about successes that both the Blue Jays and (to a lesser extent) the Maple Leafs were having. To make things all the more sweet, there was news that Toronto would be getting their own NBA franchise. If only to keep up with my friends in the schoolyard, I had to invest an interest in the local sports scene.
I’ve been trying to think of a way to work my interest in sports into this blog, so I’ll begin by introducing you to my favorite team’s mascots. I’m not going to rank them, but instead will discuss them chronologically starting with team I first began to follow.
Toronto Blue Jays
Not so hard to guess what their mascot would look like, is it?
B.J. Birdy got his start as mascot in 1979, the team’s third year in existence. I’m sure he was a much needed distraction for some younger fans during the franchise’s early on-field struggles, and he continued to be a distraction during the team’s winning years.
On the surface, I see nothing wrong with this mascot. It was a time before mascots were heavily marketed and they weren’t trying to be hip. From all I’ve heard of him, he’d just carry on being a lovable goofball with the sole purpose of getting the crowd into the ballgame.
Unfortunately, the Jays parted ways with their original mascot in 1999.
I’m glad to say the spirit of B.J. Birdy is alive and well. Around two years ago, I saw a young lady at the Rogers Centre proudly wearing an “I Love BJs” shirt. An obvious typographical error, right? In her defense, it looked like she made the shirt herself. The real question is whether “the” was missing in a support for the baseball team, or the pluralizing wasn’t intended.
As flimsy and cleavage-bearing a tanktop it was, I’m convinced her heart was in the right place. That being said, I hope she took my “Me too!” comment as support for a fallen idol and not a thumbs up to a popular sex act.
This past Saturday, I went to another Jays game and saw dozens of people wearing a similar shirt. Clearly, the love is spreading.
Shortly after B.J.’s exit came a pair of mascots to replace him, Ace and Diamond.
This short-lived experiment proved why androgynous mascots are always a safe bet. And two mascots? Why make us choose? It’s only natural to favour one over the other.
Eventually, Ace won out. Men make up the majority of sports fans, so they want to be able to slap high fives with one of their own. They don’t want to be confused and uncomfortably titillated by an anthropomorphic bird, even if it is female. Let Ace handle that in a comedic Bugs Bunny-esque drag routing during the fifth inning. Sure, some of us may still be confused and uncomfortably titillated, but we can bust a gut laughing all the same.
Later, we’d be introduced to yet another second mascot for the Jays.
Junior is essentially a smaller version of Ace that sometimes makes appearances during the team’s Jr. Jays Saturday promotions. He can typically be seen bumbling around screwing up gags that him and Ace perform in an allegedly adorable act. All I see is a juvenile delinquent getting in the way of another mascot’s fun.
I’m not too familiar with the back story to be honest. Is Ace part of the Big Brother program? Or is Junior Ace’s son? Is Diamond the mother? But are Ace and Diamond supposed to be brother and sister? Just friends then? In any case, why didn’t Ace put his foot down when the organization sent her to the unemployment line? Maybe she left to pursue other birds.
When it comes to a mascot’s personal life, I guess it’s best not to ask questions.
Toronto Maple Leafs
What’s that? You didn’t know the Leafs had a mascot? And no, Leafs haters, it isn’t any of the following:
In case you aren’t familiar, meet Carlton the Bear.
He made his debut in 1995, and his name and jersey number represent the address of their historic home at Maple Leaf Gardens on 60 Carlton St.
At a quick glance, he seems fine enough. Just a sweet cuddly polar bear. He’s always up for a photo opportunity, with little girls and not-so-little girls alike.
From the waist up, he looks fine. It’s what’s below the waist that concerns me. I’m not sure if he’s supposed to have bare legs or he’s wearing pants. If he’s wearing pants, why not make it more obvious? Assuming they are pants, they look like track pants. Put forth a better effort, Carlton, this ain’t the minor leagues (they already have a better mascot).
I think they’re supposed to be his naked legs. That’s what disturbs me. That’s why they sell these to eliminate the haunting ambiguity. With his arms open with a sort of shrug, it looks like he’s trying to suggest something or gain approval of some unnotable achievement. Like he’s tucking his manhood in around back like Einhorn in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in a sight gag far too inappropriate for his target demographic.
The Leafs don’t need a mascot anyway. Neither do their rival Habs, though I think it’s pretty classy of the organization that they adopted a classic character that had been left homeless.
I was young when the Raptors first came into existence, but many people didn’t (and still don’t) like the name since it was an obvious attempt to jump on the popularity of Jurassic Park. Though I was big into dinosaurs as a kid, I had my own doubts about the name. Then they unveiled the mascot…
Now this is a mascot I’ve always embraced. It made me forget why I would even want the team to bear another name (especially when you consider most of the other suggestions). I can’t even imagine how atrocious looking the mascot of the Toronto Tarantulas would be.
How cool is the Raptor?
The Raptor is so cool that nobody has the heart to tell him he’s extinct.
The Raptor is so cool that if cucumbers could talk, they’d ask him for advice on maintaining an appropriate internal temperature.
The Raptor is so cool that post-game, he routinely collects more phone numbers from female admirers than the Raptors depth players (Uroš Slokar? Hassan Adams? Can you confirm this?).
The Raptor is so cool that he’ll keep your secrets, but won’t take them to the grave with him. He doesn’t want to risk a breach of trust in the afterlife.
The Raptor is so cool that Steve McQueen left him his motorcycle from The Great Escape in his will. The first thing he did was dunk over it. The second thing he did was auction it off with the proceeds going towards medical bills for a sick child. The third thing he did was bet said proceeds on black. He lost. With his dying breath, the child forgave him.
I think you get the idea, but most importantly:
The Raptor is so cool that we can forget all about his likely secret identity.
However, all good things must come to an end. Temporarily, anyway. The Raptor suffered an Achilles injury near the beginning of the 2013-14 season and was announced to be out for the season. Surely this guy could not be replaced, right? Guess again (unless you guessed correctly). Stripes was introduced to fill in while the Raptor was on the mend.
I don’t understand why they couldn’t go one season without mascot representation. Not only that, they made Stripes inferior to the original Raptor deliberately. They wouldn’t think of putting anyone else but a stand-in next to a more authentic looking Raptor to draw any comparisons.
I don’t see those black marks on him as stripes. Call them that if you will, but I think they’re claw marks. His ancestor took one look at him, didn’t like what she saw, and went to town on his carpeted flesh. The only reason they’re shown happily holding hands in the above photo is that Stripes promised to introduce her to Drake if the beatings stopped.
I’ll start with an earlier mascot. Here’s Scully. All that really needed saying about Scully’s legacy is that a quick Google Image search brought up nothing relevant. Perhaps now it will.
When you’re designed with that dumb a grin on your face, you’re facing an uphill battle for respectability as a mascot. Those egg-shaped crossed eyes won’t do you any favours either. I know he’s supposed to be like a captain or admiral, but that hat may as well be a dunce cap because he looks more like the village idiot. He’s how Captain Crunch would’ve turned out if his mother drank while pregnant.
The image I’ve found (from this neat book) shows him performing the classic Charlie Brown football gag with one of the players. It probably wasn’t a pre-arranged gag either. I’m certain the players hated this guy. Not only did he receive the Charlie Brown treatment by getting the football pulled from under him, but none of the female mascots would ever send him Valentine cards, he’d regularly be outsmarted by his dog, and he hires a surrounding cast who’ve adopted unusual quirks such as carrying a security blanket or walking in a cloud of filth in order to provide a distraction from his mediocrity. He’s a born loser without a cute curl of hair to redeem him.
These days, they have Jason helping to lead the cheers from the sidelines.
He reminds me of a cross between Buzz Lightyear and Duffman. He’s also too boring to discuss any further.
Bonus Team: Chicago Bears
They obviously aren’t part of the local sports scene, but I’ve got to make note of them. I’ve been a fan of the NFL for roughly 17 years, but I never fully invested myself into supporting any one franchise. Earlier on, I was into the Buffalo Bills during Doug Flutie’s stint with the team. I was also holding out for Toronto to get an NFL franchise, but that was before I really connected with the CFL. However, this off-season I’m finally picking a horse in the race for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Why the Bears? Many reasons for picking a team outside of your area seem pretty arbitrary or random, and mine aren’t any different:
- I wanted to choose a franchise with a long, proud history.
- Not essential, but I wanted to avoid a west coast team (makes watching them live much easier).
- They have a reputation for great defensive teams (forget last season). For instance, the 1985 team (coincidently in the year I was born) had one of the most effective defenses of all-time.
- This classic Saturday Night Live sketch doesn’t hurt things.
- Their current head coach, Marc Trestman, had a rather memorable tenure with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL.
- Current quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte (and Super Bowl XX winning quarterback Jim McMahon) , have made memorable appearances in the comedy The League.
- Among their fans: Bill. Freaking. Murray.
Enough of my jibber-jabber, let’s look at their mascot. The Bears didn’t have an official mascot until 2003. His name is Staley Da Bear, named after team founder A.E. Staley.
As far as bear mascots go, this one is okay I guess. Sort of like what Carlton was before he got castrated. Not too far before, mind you. The moment he started busting out Nixon impressions, you can tell his wild days have long past him by.
They say it’s dangerous to lock eyes with a bear, and this one’s no exception. He looks either heavily medicated or lobotomized like Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s too unpredictable to be trusted near children. I’d sooner introduce my hypothetical daughter to Joe Namath.
Sometimes to find the best mascots out there, you’ve got to dig a big deeper. It’s time to call upon the Super-Fans.
No mascot that can be drawn up by some marketing firm can top the imagination of the die-hard sports fan. When you get really into a team or really into a game, you risk potential embarrassment when you get so caught up in celebration. This is why, despite being a new supporter of his favourite team and knowing little about him, Bearman is already my favourite mascot. Not even his use of a child’s toy as a crotch ornament will make me change my mind.