Top of the Morning, Sept. 9, 2017

Top of the Morning, Sept. 9, 2017

If the University of Illinois goes ahead with a mascot, RALPH CAREY is available to help with ideas. He has UI ties, lives nearby and carries a rock-solid resume.

"Sure, have them call me," he said.

Carey is the founder of one of the most famous college mascots, Western Kentucky's BIG RED, which will be at Memorial Stadium tonight. He was a senior in '79 when WKU ran with his unusual concept that had little to do with the school's nickname, Hilltoppers. It — Big Red is gender neutral — was introduced at a basketball game on Dec. 1, 1979. Carey was in the costume, GENE KEADY was the coach and the crowd of 10,300 was beside itself.

Since then, Big Red has gained celebrity status thanks to ESPN commercials and national talk-show appearances. It's seemingly everywhere in Bowling Green, from college games to birthday parties to wedding receptions. Business is so good that eight students — plus two handlers — are involved this school year.

Carey, whose daughter and stepfather hold degrees from the UI, lives in Glen Ellyn. Now 60, his day job is with an advertising agency, but he also referees college football. In the late 2000s, he even called an Illinois game at Memorial Stadium. His mascot advice to the UI is the same he offered to WKU nearly 40 years ago: "Go offline, avoid regional stereotypes. It's a challenge, but can be done."

The keys, he said: 1. Mobility, 2. Ability to communicate emotions, and 3. "Some sort of gimmick," citing the San Diego Chicken and Phillie Phanatic as early pioneers.

Although he doesn't often promote his role as the brains behind Big Red, Carey is proud of the mascot's rise to fame.

"There's satisfaction knowing that you had something to do with it," he said. "It's been a long, strange journey that I did not anticipate."

Topics (2):People, Television

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illini82 wrote on September 12, 2017 at 12:09 pm

I don't think a blob of red and blue phlegm will fly with the fan base but if you make it gender neutral, an un-natural state except for maybe protezoa, a small but very vocal minority will cheer heartily. Not at the game of course but someplace other than sports events.

Just do as the Hoosiers do. NO MASCOT.  

We don't need one. it'll be booed, rejected, laughed at, hated and most of all ignored.