What’s the recipe for a mascot? You could say flexibility, crowd appeal, something related to the team name. Sure that’s part of it. But how do you really make a mascot? Let’s go back to 1965 at Ohio State, in the days when Homecoming floats were built of chicken wire covered wooden frames, slathered in layers of newspapers held together with a mixture of flour and water, and finished off with several coats of paint.
When Ray Bourhis and I were talking about creating a mascot for Ohio State, the sports teams had already been known as the Buckeyes. Ray suggested that it should be a buck’s eye. Lore says that buckeye trees may have been named such because the nut looked like a buck’s eye. Other than the nuts are roundish with a lighter spot, what deer has chocolate brown eyeballs with tan irises? And, I challenged Ray, what kind of mascot is a male deer being led on the field? Or if you make a figurine, how creepy is someone wearing a buck’s head with a big eyeball hanging out?
“No,” I said to Ray, “It has to be a Buckeye nut.” After all, the official Ohio State tree was and is the Buckeye tree, found mainly, but not entirely, in Ohio. Focusing on the nut, I envisioned that it needed to be large enough to be seen by fans in the upper deck of the Horseshoe. The design was easy, though the execution was not. Trying to get chicken wire to form a globe around a cube-shaped frame of wooden sticks was beyond my pay grade. You can see in the photo by Jim Baer, of Block O, that “round” is not necessarily round. Notice, too, that the eyes are quite large. I thought they too needed to be seen from C deck. The nose? Well, there was none, but he had a nice smile and moveable eyebrows. Despite his good features, the shape of his head was troubling. I admit, “Yes, I had an ugly baby!”
My main co-builder of the papier-mache mascot was sorority sister Becki Niuman Hollenbaugh. Where did we do this deed? On the front lawn of the Pi Beta Phi sorority house, 1845 Indianola Ave. This was prior to the 1967 addition more than doubled the living capacity. The front door was moved closer to East 15th Ave. during construction. A brick patio entryway was built over the part of the lawn where we made the mascot.
I would love to show you photos of the first Brutus as he was being created. If there were any photos that made it into the sorority scrapbook for the year, they were lost when the Pi Phi house basement flooded. I was never good about photo collections myself. In those days, I had a Brownie camera that used either 12- or 24-photo film rolls. It might take me 6 months to take enough photos before getting the film developed. Moreover, I just wasn’t one to photograph my life. I can recall taking my camera to a special occasion, asking friends to help me remember to take photos, then coming home with no new memories.
That first model was enough to get the idea of a mascot accepted. Ray had been a walk-on to the football team, so he knew the ins and outs of the stadium. Working with alternate cheerleader Mike Caporal, Ray kept the papier-mâché buckeye hidden until half time of the Homecoming game against Minnesota. Meanwhile I was in the stands fearing that the student would get arrested for making a surprise, unauthorized run on the field. To my relief, the fans got it right away that this was a Buckeye mascot. Fans cheered. No police tackled the intruder. Thankfully. That might have been the end of Brutus, who was yet to be named. His chickenwired-newspapered structure was not sturdy enough to survive a tackle.
Working with Ohio Staters, Ray got funding for mascot version #2—a fiberglass shell. When I first saw it in the basement of Drackett Hall, it was pre-painted a dark brown. My job was to paint the tan spot on the top and figure out a face. Again, my “design spec” was that it could be seen from the top of C deck. I studied the Sunday cartoons to come up with very different eyes from the first model and added a button nose. The eyebrows were still flat sticks on dowels so they could emote anger, joy or perplexion. I added a moveable mouth that could flip from smile to frown. Over the 11 years that this model was used, the eyebrows and mouth were replaced several times, notably after Brutus was kidnapped or unintentionally left or when Keith Burkes decided to go for fluffier eyebrows and a thicker smile.
When I graduated in March 1967, I delivered the Student Response speech to a packed St. John Arena. No one thought to introduce me as the co-creator of Brutus. When I filled out my paperwork for my listing of student activities for the Makio, I never thought to include “co-creator of Brutus.” It was just something fun I had done the fall of my junior year. And now that fun thing far eclipses my myriad of student leadership efforts. Who knew?
The Ohio State University Archives; The Lantern, the student voice of The Ohio State University; Jim Baer, BME 1969 and Block O President; Sally Lanyon; Paul Hawkins.