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Apr. 24, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal


Cowardly lion runs away from the field and Las Vegas Gladiators
Check out the Video

Corey as a Mascot


click on photos to enlarge...

Reporter Corey Levitan draws a few last breaths before donning the oxygen-unfriendly lion's head of Thraxx , mascot for the Las Vegas Gladiators football team
Photos by Craig L. Moran.

Levitan raises his hands at awkward and downright incorrect moments, confusing the crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center.

During a timeout, Levitan rides Thraxx's RV around the field. Narrow eye slits and sweat-dissolved hair gel nearly result in a collision with a player on the opposing team.

"You can't just stand there like an ass!" screams Buddy, the man usually found inside the suit of the Las Vegas Gladiators mascot.

I'm standing here like a lion, actually, but that's beside the point. The Gladiators have just recovered a fumble from the Nashville Kats, I'm told, and Thraxx neglected to sprint, scale the wall or do cartwheels. He had no reaction whatsoever.

Before today's Arena Football League game at the Thomas & Mack Center, Buddy showed me some of what Thraxx -- ancient Greek for a resident of the Thracian kingdom -- is supposed to do. But when and where he's supposed to do it on the field is ancient Greek to me.

"Haven't you ever watched a football game?" Buddy demands to know.

You'll probably find this hard to believe, considering my jocklike presence, but the answer is no -- not a whole one. I have watched snippets of Super Bowls -- but only from the snack table at the back of the party, in between flirting with all the women who suddenly get ignored.

Sports mascots began appearing in the 1880s, when live animals were introduced to represent team names. This practice prevailed up until the "Brady Bunch" episode in which Greg hides Coolidge High's mascot -- a goat named Raquel -- in his room.

The first professional sports mascot of the costumed variety was the San Diego Chicken, who is so convinced of his stature that he now refers to himself as The Famous Chicken. Hatched in 1974, he also pioneered the use of popular recorded music, rather than live organ, at sporting events. (Buddy uses mix tapes, which he records himself, to accompany his Thomas & Mack entrances.)

By the way, Buddy isn't the real name of the 26-year-old University of Nevada, Las Vegas student who earns $125 per game in the $6,000 suit. The prime directive for mascots is to keep their identities secret (especially for those who still attend college at age 26).

"The mascot wants to have his own aura," Buddy says. "If kids open up the paper and read about the guy in the suit ..." He finishes his thought by providing an example. Last year, the 2-year-old daughter of a friend saw Buddy step into the costume and thought the lion was eating him.

"To this day, the kid bursts into tears when she sees me," he says.

Gladiators management knows Buddy and I switched places after halftime. The arena football team's double-taking cheerleaders also guessed as much when Thraxx emerged from his locker room 7 inches shorter (excess leg fur shoved into my furry boots) and walking alongside the man supposed to be playing him. Even Gladiators lineman Chukie Nwokorie figured it out -- or at least thought he did.

"I thought you were the lady that comes out for promotions," he says during a postgame interview, adding that he watched me shield my fake head whenever a field goal sailed over it.

But the fans have no idea that Buddy's not in the suit. In fact, they have no idea who Buddy is. This means that Thraxx himself is taking the heat for my cowardly lion act. Buddy is justifiably concerned.

"The crowd should see you as, 'Let's do it! Let's get behind our team and help them win the game!' " he coaches.

Truth is, even if I had a perfect sense of what Thraxx does, and when and where he does it, I couldn't do it. I'm still hyperventilating from my last mild jog out to the 20-yard line. Colored dots dance across my visual field as I make like the Apollo 13 crew and breathe in my own hot carbon dioxide.

Only two pea-sized holes allow air to be sucked through my lion snout. And I think it's fairly obvious from my human snout how much bigger those holes need to be.

Readers frequently credit me with being brave. Here is a perfect example of why I'm not. I know what will happen if I sprint like Buddy wants me to. I will pass out. Then I will be dragged off the field and into Thraxx's locker room before my head can be removed. (That's how serious this secret-identity stuff is.)

Not only would this make a better article, but the incident would probably receive national coverage. (The game is being broadcast by Fox Sports Net.)

I belong in The Famous Chicken's costume, however, because all I can focus on is how much less fun anoxia is in practice than theory. Less than 15 minutes after I begin, my legs instinctively march me off the field, then out of the arena to the parking lot, where I desperately force a gap between my furry chin and chest with my right paw.

"You're dying and you haven't run once!" Buddy scolds me as I gulp air like the swimmer at the beginning of "Jaws."

Incidentally, there could not be a worse possible game for this experiment. The Gladiators need to win today to continue their division lead. But they're down 20 points, a gap a mascot should be able to help close by pumping the crowd.

Instead, I nearly widen that gap.

"Get off this field!" shouts a referee as I stand on the 10-yard line just before the Kats snap the ball. The Gladiators could easily receive a penalty for my ignorance. And I can just see the headline after my confrontation with eight angry men, each of whom possesses several times my strength and a small fraction of my sense of humor: GLADIATORS EAT LION.

By the fourth quarter, my vision starts blurring from the hair gel that's decided to drip down and sting my eyes. (Note to the Kats player I almost mowed down on Thraxx's RV: Sorry about that!)

"Hey!" a team official yells at Buddy. "Are you trying to prove that you need a raise?"

In the end, the Gladiators suffer almost as humiliating a defeat as Thraxx's reputation (final score: 58-44). But there is some good news. A couple of fans did notice a difference in mascots. Boy, did they notice.

"What was up with the midget Thraxx in the second half?" asked one of three similar messages posted to lvgladiators.com.

"I hope that this is not going to be a permanent change," the fan continued, "because, no offense, but the short Thraxx sucks."

No offense taken.

Click here to read more of Corey's adventures at his home page, FearandLoafing.com.




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