Sometimes a mother learns years later about what her children did in their youth. You can imagine my shock when I learned that Brutus Buckeye, the all-wonderful, kind, cheerful mascot of Ohio State, had tended bar at North Heidelberg. He never told me. Until now. 

Jack Tamburello, from Richmond Heights, OH, was one of the early Bruti who would have benefited from the scholarships now being made available. Determined to go to college despite monetary challenges, Jack deferred his enrollment until Winter 1969. Luckily, he found a job that helped with tuition and satisfied his penchant for fun.

On Becoming Brutus

As were many of the early Bruti, Jack was in the proverbial “Right Place at the Right Time.” Jack’s right place was in Mini-Block, the basketball arm of Block “O” students.  The right time was the February 9, 1971, Purdue game when Brutus Dave Boyer was MIA with the flu. The game was being regionally televised; Brutus’s appearance was imperative. Mini-Block leaders asked for a volunteer. Jack suited up; the Pep Band was playing; Angel Flight members were in formation. Jack noticed his friend Linda Schaefer among the women standing at attention. He recalls, “I went up in front of her and started dancing.” Linda looked through a Brutus eyehole, “Jack?” He nodded, “Yes.” She joined in on the dance, much to the delight of the TV cameras. 

Impressed with Jack’s spontaneous portrayal of Brutus, Block “O” asked him if he would be interested in being Brutus after Dave’s term ended that spring. Jack answered, “You don’t have to ask me twice.” Jack’s tenure included the two football seasons of 1972 and 1973 and the basketball season of 1972-3. His signature outfit was a pair of gray corduroy bellbottoms made by a friend. When those were in the laundry, alternate pants were white or denim bellbottoms. Jack added the script Brutus to the back of the head. When Jack inherited the role, “Brutus” was printed in two-inch letters. He gave it more emphasis by mimicking Script Ohio and increasing the size to about 8 to 10 inches.

MAKIO 1974, page 202. FRONT ROW: N. Naylor, S. Epstein, M. Cornwell, Brutus, J. Tamburello. SECOND ROW: J. Gilson, S. Winemiller, S. Shulok, M. English, L. Lewis, M. Mash. BACK ROW: S. Walters, C. Schaaf.

Away Games

Since Brutus was not part of the Athletic Department until 1975, Jack had to write to opposing schools to obtain a field pass for away games. Traveling was assisted by several Block “O” board members, including membership chair Judy Gilson, who strapped Brutus to the back of her station wagon. Depending on the sports season, they would pick up the fiberglass Brutus head from a room in Ohio Stadium’s archway or from where the head was locked to a pipe in St. John Arena.

Judy Gilson transports Brutus to Indiana State game. Lantern photo by Charles C. Reinhart.

Fall 1973, the Athletic Department agreed to provide transportation. They entrusted Jack with a van and a credit card—for gas, no food or lodging.  “I would take the other Block ‘O’ officers in the van,” Jack recalls. On one trip, he was at the wheel when a tire blew. The van fishtailed. Judy, who was on that trip with five or six other officers, thought, “Oh my God, we’re going to die!” The seats had been removed; the occupants tumbled like a cement mixer. With no jack in the van besides the driver Jack, the motley crew was left to pay $100 to replace the tire. Brutus survived without harm.

At the end of his Brutus career, Jack petitioned the Rose Bowl Committee to march in the January 1, 1974 parade (the Ohio State matchup against USC). They kindly declined for two reasons: 

  • It was too late to submit an entry.  Rubbish, I say. The teams had not been decided until playoffs in December. 
  • Brutus’s “great weight” would be too heavy for the streets of their small town of Pasadena to bear. Really? And what about the motorized vehicles maneuvering the floats? 

Jack did not attend the Rose Bowl game or parade.

Troubling Times

Jack recounts the story of the Illinois game at Zuppke Field. The now defunct mascot of Illinois, Chief Illiniwick, would dance through the lines of their band as they came on the field. One of Jack’s friends on the sidelines said, “Jack, the Chief likes to dance. Why don’t you go out and dance with him.” Having warmed up with a little liquor, Jack thought, “That sounds like a great idea.” He put Brutus on and started dancing with Chief Illiniwick until he heard an overhead announcement, “Would someone get the damn buckeye off the field?” 

Jack was escorted to the end zone, where he agreed to stay. There were further repercussions. The Courier, a Findlay, OH, newspaper, nominated Brutus for the Biggest Wise Guy Mascot award. Alumnae Gloria Olson, citing the Courier article, wrote of her sense of humiliation in a letter to the editor of the Lantern, “May I suggest that Brutus behave like the Number 1 Buckeye?”  Finally, and worse, a letter from the Athletic Department stated that if it ever happened again, he would no longer be qualified to be Brutus. Jack offers, “I was a good boy after that.”

Brutus was abducted twice during Jack’s tenure. One of those times was harmless; a fraternity did it as ransom for a fundraiser. Another time made the news. On Thursday, February 1, 1973, the Lantern ran a story, “Brutus Buckeye abducted.” Jack, discovering Brutus missing from St. John Arena, reported the theft to campus police. Mary Cornwell, president of Block “O,” offered a $50 reward for the safe return of the beloved mascot. Although she said no questions other than “Why” would be asked, Mary was quoted as saying, “If we ever find out who did it, their ass is grass.” A Lantern article on the following Monday reported that campus police agent Robert Taylor found Brutus “broken and defaced with ‘extensive’ damage” by the Administration Building at 3:45 am. Brutus was returned to Block “O” for repairs. The case was under investigation. For all we know, it is still a cold case.

Good Times

During his college career, an offer went out from Phi Sigma Sigma sorority to start a Little Brothers program akin the Little Sisters some Fraternities had. Jack applied and was paired with Carolyn Berliner. Little Brothers did various events and fundraisers. In looking back, Jack realizes he might have been able to make more money for the charities if he had placed the Brutus head next to him on the oval!

At a game in the ‘Shoe, Jack, in his Brutus persona, heard a “Hey Brutus” coming from Block “O.” He turned to see the card section showing Brutus with blue eyes and a mustache. Unmistakably Jack. Aw.

Phi Sigma Sigma Little Brother Jack Tamburello selling lollipops for the Heart Fund. Lantern photo by Doug Brookhart.

“I was always dancing, I mean always.” Jack danced his way into becoming a fan favorite. In an unprecedented move, Block “O” asked Jack if he wanted to do Brutus again after he graduated Spring 1973. For Jack it was a rhetorical question, “I loved doing it. It was a blast.” A Loudonville teacher during the week, Jack made the trek to Columbus or away games the fall of 1973. Jack handed off Brutus duties to Keith Burkes, who took over for the basketball season starting January 1974.

Post OSU

Jack put his B.S. in Education from Ohio State to good use for 22 years as a teacher of algebra, pre-algebra and science in junior high schools in Ohio. After his year in Perrysville near Loudonville, he taught in Columbus at Norton Middle School for 9 years, then eighth grade at Gesu, a Catholic school in Cleveland. 

Jack’s second career was as home health care nurse until 5 years ago, when he received a diagnosis of Stage III bladder cancer that had spread to lungs, bone and lymph nodes. A new trial drug, not without  horrendous side effects, worked. “I’m in remission for right now. So I’m a happy boy. Every day is a blessing.”  In talking with Jack, you feel that gratitude and joy shining through. He was quick to share, “Thanks for creating Brutus. Those were some of the most fun years of my life.”

As for Ohio State activities after college, Jack attended the 2015 Homecoming game where Brutus’s 50th birthday was celebrated. When the 1965 Brutus came on the field, Jack yelled out, “Fake. That’s fake. What did you do with the original Brutus?” If only someone on the committee had consulted those who were intimately familiar with Brutus of that era, they would have made the replica smaller, rounder, and painted it differently. If only. 

Going forward, Jack is planning to get involved with Upstate Buckeye Backers, near Greenville, SC, with 30,000 members strong. I told him to be sure to let them know he was Brutus!

Photo Permissions:
The Lantern, the student voice of The Ohio State University; MAKIO photos from The Ohio State University Archives; Jack Tamburello