“Hey, you should do this! You can travel with us!” said one of the players. “I DARE you!!” That was all the encouragement Kyle needed. Having been Strongsville High School’s drum major who led his 200+ member Marching Mustang band in an Orange Bowl parade, leadership and ability was not the initial concern. Brutus tryouts were on the exact same day as the Scarlet & Gray Show tryouts, a group that had been part of Kyle’s daily routine for the past 18 months. He was caught between loyalty and the lure of being Brutus.
Kyle had no former Brutus as a mentor, no clue about how to try out, but soon figured it out with the help of Scarlet & Gray teammates Todd Fournier and Jim Stevenson in the basement of Weigel Hall, 24 hours after reading the flyer and just over 12 hours prior to tryouts. Kyle successfully navigated the face-to-face interview, the cheers, and the requisite routine to “Hang on Sloopy,” but it was his 2-minute skit about Brutus waking up on game day that likely put him at the top of the tryouts. The skit, set to classical music, followed a morning in the life of Brutus—from brushing his teeth to Morning Moon, washing clothes to the Marriage of Figaro, eating breakfast to Mozart and finally competing against a Wolverine to Chariots of Fire (slow motion, of course!). With Kyle’s knack for good fortune, someone filmed his tryout and ran it on WBNS-TV that evening.
During Kyle’s tenure, the opportunity to elevate Brutus’s brand became apparent. Kyle worked for the Ohio State licensing department under Ann Chasser. His initial projects included two new University logos: Fighting Brutus and THE Ohio State University. The Fighting Brutus was marketable on tee shirts, cups, and other fan gear. THE started out as square stationary logo for President Jenning’s office, then with the number of Ohio State athletes introduced each week on Sunday and Monday Night Football, really took off. According to Kyle, “THE went viral before viral was a thing.” He says it is “an awesome brand extension that has lasted 30 plus years. Who knew?”
Each Brutus puts his or her distinctive mark on their tenure. In line with his personal goal to ensure that crowds laugh, have a good time and leave wanting more, Kyle’s “trademarks” were custom flags and third quarter costumes that poked good-natured fun at visiting teams.
The flag tradition started when Kyle discovered The Flag Lady Flag Store in the Yellow Pages under “Flags.” He called the Wednesday, September 9, 1987, prior to his first game as Brutus. His goal? “I wanted to walk in to the ‘Shoe with the largest flag in the country. I asked Mary if I could buy one in time for Saturday. She laughed, asking, ‘WHY? Who is this?’ I really could not tell her, so I stopped by the store that afternoon, introduced myself, shared my vision and asked her to keep the secret.” Kyle started off with an order for a 4 by 6 foot Block O flag and three wooden flag poles. He and Mary set a weekly Friday afternoon appointment for the next two years.
During the team warm-ups in a sweltering 100-degree September afternoon hostile environment in Baton Rouge, Kyle noticed that Coach Bruce, whose team was facing #4 LSU, took the time to walk over and provide encouragement to a member of the extended support team. Kyle speculates that Coach Bruce’s downfall was that he just wanted to coach football, lead his players and coaches (including Urban Meyer) and not have to interface with administration, the press or alumni. Bruce’s last game was Kyle’s first Michigan game as Brutus. Following the 23-20 Buckeye victory in Ann Arbor, Ohio State fans lifted both Earle and Brutus over their heads, a script ending to one of the most chaotic weeks of administration vs. athletics turmoil on campus, everyone knowing that THE Game was Coach Bruce’s final game.
For his final game of 1988, Mary really wanted to create THAT FLAG that Kyle inquired about originally, one larger than rivals Iowa and Illinois. Since those schools wouldn’t disclose their flag dimensions, Mary made a 12 by 18 foot Block O flag that would surely dwarf the others, all the time hoping that 6’6” Kyle could carry it on a 24-foot aluminum pole without flying away or tumbling to the ground. Kyle loves to tell the story, “The flag was HUGE, and the forecast called for a very windy game day. Steve Vehrs and I attempted to get into Ohio Stadium the night before the game to see if I could even pull this off. With the gates locked, I literally wedged my way in through the steel fence, Steve handed me the monster flag with a pole that was forever long. After a few practice runs, someone yelled down asking what we were doing there. I pointed to the flag and motioned…Really, you have to ask?”
The year 1988 was John Cooper’s first year in the head football coach slot, and the last year for basketball’s Gary Williams. Kyle’s introduction to Coach Cooper was benign in comparison to his first encounter with Earle Bruce. Coach Cooper simply said, “Hello, I’m John Cooper. Glad to meet you.” Kyle remembers Coach Cooper as a good guy who was happy to say hello—often twice—to everyone he met. Kyle recalls Cooper knocking out 5-6 commercials prior to the start of the season. “He was everywhere.” Also “everywhere,” Basketball Coach Williams saw the recruiting and alumni potential with Brutus, often asking Kyle to join him on speaking engagements and recruiting visits. “Hi, I am Gary Williams and this is my friend, Brutus. May we come in?”
The day after graduation, Ohio native Kyle packed up his apartment behind Varsity Club and moved to that state up North, of all places. In Detroit, Kyle joined the globally recognized advertising agency, the J. Walter Thompson Co., for the agency’s premier account, Dearborn’s Ford Motor Company. Following an “awesome” (Kyle’s word) 29-year career with JWT heading offices in Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Tulsa, Kyle was recruited to join Cox Media Group, where he serves as Strategic Integration Director for its cluster of TV, Radio, Digital and Research teams in Oklahoma—a perfect career path for a Journalism major who graduated with a degree from THE University’s advertising program.
Kyle is a paradox. He describes himself on LinkedIn as The “I Know a Guy” Guy Everyone Knows, but he didn’t tell his parents he was trying out for Brutus. Later, even his then soon-to-be-finance Tammy did not discover he had been a college mascot until they went to an Ohio State alumni game in Columbus. “I introduced her to my friends from college. The next day we all gathered in front of St. John Arena. Everyone had red shirts on, matching shorts. We start walking towards the stadium with the band behind us. Tammy was thinking this was pretty cool, an awesome atmosphere. As we walked closer to the stadium, she asked for her ticket to the game. I laughed, then all at once EVERYONE pushed forward and sprinted down the ramp into Ohio Stadium. The friends she had met the night before were now doing flips and running down the field as 100,000+ yelled and cheered.” Tammy said, “Something you want to tell me?”
Given his propensity for entertaining, Kyle admits that one of the hardest parts of being Brutus was to remember not to speak while in persona. Even reporters’ questions had to be answered with hand or body gestures. Thankfully for Kyle, he is no longer under that restriction. That would make his life in broadcast journalism a bit of a challenge!
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