When it comes to my job, the one duty that I hold that most people don’t know about is that I serve as the mascot coordinator. I am in charge of our two students who play Monte as well as our mini replica, Mo. Basically I schedule all appearances, oversee the financial piece of the program, serve as the liaison between the mascots themselves and the general public, and help with the development of the mascot entertainment during games (notice how I say “help”… our student performers have amazing minds and they come up with most of the good ideas).
When I got hired in the athletic department a little over three years ago, the mascot program was already nationally renowned for its excellence. In fact, Monte had held a top spot in the mascoting world for several years running. If you were to go anywhere in Missoula and ask a random person how Monte exploded onto the national scene and became the darling of college mascots, most would simply respond with a name: Barry Anderson.
During the early 2000’s, Barry Anderson donned the Monte suit. For the sake of length, I am going to omit his laundry list of accomplishments and accolades while wearing the bear suit at The University of Montana and just say that he took the Monte character/identity/brand to an extraordinary level, a level that many mascots at much bigger schools will never come close to reaching. Besides the adoring fans of Missoula, many others took notice of the special talent that Barry possessed. Around 2005, the Chicago Bulls hired him to become the next Benny the Bull.
For the past seven or so years, Barry has kicked butt in the Windy City serving as the mascot of the Bulls. He has reinvented the character of Benny much to the delight of everyone associated with the organization. Just like Monte, the Bulls mascot is not limited to athletic contests but rather a wide array of other events, functions, and commercials. But while Monte usually completes his numerous appearances around the state of Montana, Barry completes his around the world. Because he works for such a prominent sports organization, because his job is so important, and because his duties and travels seem to never end, Barry has his own assistant that is assigned to him…pretty cool, huh?
With all this going for him, most people would probably assume that after seven years of sharing the court with some of the best athletes in the world and receiving more time on national television than the Vice-President, Barry would probably have little need or desire to return west to the much slower and less-populated life of Montana. What is that saying people use to describe what happens when people assume?…
Each football season, Barry Anderson makes one return trip to Missoula to hang out with his old friends and to perform for one half during a Montana Grizzlies football game. It is always a highlight of the season for our fans as well as a big surprise as no one knows that Benny the Bull is at the game until the moment of the much anticipated mascot entrance (well it is a big surprise for everybody except the roughly 5,429 friends that Barry still has in the city). Once it is revealed that Benny the Bull is in the house the place goes nuts and an extra burst of energy is pumped throughout Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
I opened up this post by mentioning that I am the mascot coordinator. Because of this, I have the privilege of working with Barry when he comes back for his annual homecoming. This man is simply just different than your normal specimen. When you meet Barry, you will immediately notice three things: First, his sense of humor. Barry is as witty, sarcastic, and funny as they come. Even if he is making jokes at your expense you can’t help but laugh and marvel at his cleverness. Secondly, you will quickly become aware of his professionalism. He takes every aspect of his job with the utmost seriousness (I will soon elaborate more). Thirdly, you will realize the amazing talent that he possesses. I will never forget last year when he surprised the crowd by zooming out onto the field on a Harley. I watched in awe as he flung his arms up and down rallying everyone in the stands as he sped around on the field. He owned that crowd. I told myself up in the press box at that exact moment that this guy is much more than a talented mascot…he is a first-class, good-as-they-come performer.
Because I help deal with the planning of the mascot entrance, I get a high dose of the number two thing you will notice about Barry, his professionalism. I love it when Barry comes back but I also know that I better be ready. He runs a tight ship and expects perfection. Do the things he asks and you will be fine, miss out on a detail and be ready to hear it from him. But that is what makes Barry such a pro. He has everything so far planned out in his head with exact precision that even the slightest deviation from the plan can dramatically detract from the masterpiece he is about ready to lay out. People like to laugh at mascots for their unplanned rough luck, awkwardness, and mistakes. Barry eliminates all of these common mascot ailments because he is just so well prepared. On Friday night when we rehearsed the mascot entrance inside the stadium, I sat back and watched as Barry conducted the scene on the field. Directing the two Montes, Mo, the limo driver, and the dance team, we went through the whole skit over and over. Funny and specific in his demeanor, he got what he wanted out of everyone involved. Leadership and professionalism at its finest.
Despite the loss our football team suffered, this past Saturday went great. The entrance went very well and our fans were once again treated to a wonderful performance by Benny the Bull. During a timeout I played “I Gotta Feeling” and I watched Barry jump from the sidelines up onto the top of the railing of the student section and lead a couple hundred of those kids in a fist pumping frenzy. It was the exact same thing as my memory from him on the Harley last year…that inexplicable generation of energy that so few can bring out. As with the prior year, the same thought went through my head….”This guy is the real deal.”
While Barry is demanding, he is also very gracious. As we exchanged e-mails on Monday he expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to take part in Saturday’s game. He also thanked me for helping out with the rehearsal/gameday components. It always feels good to be appreciated by someone so established and highly regarded. Thank you Barry for sharing your talents with us once again. You are one of a kind. Go Griz and Go Bulls. Don’t Blink.