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Ohio University mascot Rufus poses for a portrait next to the Bobcat statue outside of Peden Stadium.

From papier-mache to motorcycles, Rufus represents Ohio

A look back at the Bobcat mascot through the years. He had a girlfriend and fought a nut and rides a motorcycle.

Leering with yellow, feline eyes on green field ahead, the bobcat poises to make his move. He sets his sights on the target ahead, through the tunnel and revs the engine. In seconds, the motorcycle the bobcat sits upon fires into action and out onto the field, the roars of the Harley quickly drowned out by the roars of thousands of Ohio fans.

It’s game day. And Rufus is in the building.

“To me, Rufus embodies what it means to be a Bobcat,” Drake Bolon, lifelong Athenian and assistant athletic director for marketing and sales, said. “He really does embody the spirit of a lot of our fans and our students.”

Ohio University has a history that stretches throughout two centuries, almost every presidency and more than a few wars, both on-and-off American soil. Yet for less than half that timespan, its students and faculty have been able to call themselves “Bobcats.”

Up until 1925, OU’s sports teams threw passes, hit doubles and shot free throws to cheers for the "Green and White” and “Us.” There was no mascot and no university-wide team nickname.

To resolve the blind spot, the school’s athletic department put on a contest for students that would award $10 to whomever could come up with the best team name, according to Betty Hollow in her bicentennial tome Ohio University 1804-2004, The Spirit of a Singular Place.

Hal H. Rowland, a former OU student, had the winning suggestion. His write-in of “Bobcat” nailed the athletic department’s criteria for the contest; the predatory cat “best exemplified the fighting spirit of Ohio University,” the athletic department said.

The first team that played with the new nickname was the men’s basketball team, which beat Denison 33-21 in its inaugural game as the Bobcats, according to an essay titled “Origin of Mascot” by a 1967 OU student, Gary Krino, found in the Alden archives.

It wasn’t until 35 years after OU first adopted the Bobcat moniker that a face was put to that name. For their float entry in the 1960 Homecoming parade, the men of Lincoln Hall wanted to leave the university something special.

Tom Schantz, secretary-treasurer of Lincoln Hall during the 1960-61 academic year, led the creation of the first Bobcat costume.

According to the January 1984 edition of the Ohio Alumnus, Schantz and the rest of Lincoln Hall “wanted to donate something permanent to the university, something that would last.”

Schantz, a fine arts major, designed patterns for gloves, pants, a knit sweater and a papier-mache head to be constructed as the first ever OU Bobcat. The gloves and sweater were put together by two different Philadelphia-based companies, but Schantz ran into some troubles with the head; no one in the region seemed up to the task of making it, so he had it made in France.

All told, including long-distance calls to Western Europe, the suit cost $250 to make, $100 of which covered the head.

The suit, first worn in the 1960 Homecoming Parade by fellow Lincoln Hall resident Dan Nichols, brought immediate "good luck" ushering in Ohio’s first win against rival Miami in 14 years that day. That team finished 10-0.

It was less than a decade until a second feline came into the mix. According to Hollow, the residents of the all-female Howard Hall wanted to join in the mascot-making business. They put together a female companion for the Bobcat, dubbed the Bobkitten. Howard Hall resident Francesca Femia produced the design.

In a 1970 edition of The Post, staff writer Claudia Bernard, reported the university decided the Bobkitten needed to be sanctioned to continue to appear on game day.

Athletic department officials, according to the article, claimed their reasoning was that if they started letting bootlegged mascots and students out on the field on game days, more mascots would be unveiled. Thus, the Bobkitten only had a brief appearance.

From then, the Bobcat costume underwent a handful of design changes that kept it largely in step with mascots of the time.

“All those Bobcats through the years almost fit the evolution of other mascots,” Bolon said. “You look at mascots in other college and pro sports, they used to be more of the cute and cuddly variety, and now, they’ve evolved to be a more athletic, sleeker trimmer look that you see today.”

From the tall, looming Bobcat of the ’70s to the more mouse-like mascot in the ’90s and early 2000s, OU’s nickname-sake had some major appearance changes. None of them, however, officially had a name. That changed in 2006.

“There was a fan vote held for the name,” Bolon said. “Rufus was just an obvious one to some extent because the scientific name for a bobcat is a (lynx rufus) and Rufus Putnam was one of the founders of OU as well. So, there was kind of a double meaning.”

That game was also the first time Rufus rode out on his motorcycle. The university is provided the Harley-Davidson bike by Athens Sports Cycles, the only motorcycle dealer in Athens, for Rufus to ride every home game barring inclement weather, Bolon said.

“I think Rufus is one the most ferocious looking of those Bobcats through the years," Bolon said.

For Charles Brandon Hanning, acting on that ferocity was the only reason to wear the costume.

On a Saturday afternoon in late September 2010, Ohio had an away football game against in state rival Ohio State and Hanning was wearing Rufus’ costume.

“When I got there it was a pretty terrible feeling because I knew I wasn’t supposed to do this, and there were about a hundred thousand people here that are not going to approve of me doing this,” Hanning said.

During the pregame revelries at Ohio Stadium, Hanning left behind his cheerleading squad and rushed to the opposite corner of the “Horseshoe.” There, he found Brutus Buckeye.

“Then the band started playing and I was like, ‘This is the whole reason I wanted to be the mascot, there’s no way I’m not going to do it,’” Hanning said. “And I just started running.”

Hanning, as was much publicized at the time by news outlets such as ESPN and Deadspin, tackled Brutus and landed a few punches on the mascot, before security escorted him off the field.

“(Security) took me to the breakroom,” he continued, “And a lot of the other bigwigs at Ohio State were in the breakroom, and they were like, ‘What was going on out there?’ and I was like, ‘I punched Brutus.’ ”

For Hanning, that was always the impetus for donning Rufus’ head.

“I thought about it in high school because my senior year in 2009, Ohio played Ohio State that year ... and I just thought how awesome would it be if Rufus beat up Brutus,” Hanning said. “Even through how much I didn’t like (being the mascot), I kept doing it, so I could beat up Brutus.”

Per Hanning, the OSU student who wore the Brutus costume had a similar level of dedication, albeit in an almost equal and opposite fashion.

“One of the big things why I never got in trouble because the other guy loved being a mascot so much he wouldn’t reveal his identity so he couldn’t press charges,” Hanning said. “He wouldn’t have been allowed to be Brutus anymore.”

At the time, Hanning said he had already dropped out of OU and was enrolled in Hocking College. OU requested he never again attend a Bobcat sporting event.

Today, the athletic department has a process to avoid something like that happening again, Bolon said.

Anyone trying out for Rufus now must undergo an Ohio University Police Department background check and wear the suit in trial runs at some sporting events before officially being included in the stable of mascots, Bolon said.

Nowadays, Rufus spends almost as much time on the field or court as he does off, attending reading events at schools around Athens with athletes and helping to promote OU functions.

One thing that will never change, no matter the costume: Rufus will be there on game day to cheer on Ohio against Mid-American rival Miami, just like his ancestor did 55 years ago. Only now, he rides on a Harley.


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