Mascot Memoirs: Duke Blue Devil
February, 7, 2013
By Charles Curtis | ESPN The Magazine
Lance King/Getty ImagesDuke University's mascot writes what's on his mind on a piece of tape affixed to his forehead.Editor's note: Welcome to the fifth installment of "Mascot Memoirs," in which NCAA mascots from around the country relive their fondest memories from behind the mask. Previously, we checked in with Michigan State’s Sparty, Notre Dame's leprechaun, Georgia Tech's Buzz and Syracuse's Otto the Orange.
For non-Cameron Crazies out there: Ever wonder why the Duke Blue Devil wears a piece of tape across his forehead with a message scrawled on it? Just ask Tyler Donahue, who wrote some of those words himself as the Devil from February 2011 through May 2012, when he graduated (though he’s come out of retirement a couple of times).
“It’s what’s ‘on his mind.’ Get it?” Donahue said. “Generally, it’s something that will make fun of the team we’re playing or something funny.”
Those strips of tape aren’t thrown out either. Donahue reported that the Blue Devils' locker room has old messages dating back to the early 2000s posted on the wall.
With Duke facing ACC rival North Carolina State tonight, less than a month after Wolfpack handed the Blue Devils their first loss of the season on Jan. 12, here are some of Donahue’s favorite Blue Devil memories.
• Date: Sept. 2, 2011
• Where: Charlotte Douglas International Airport
• Event: An EA Sports store opening
Donahue says: “If you really go anywhere, no one questions you as the mascot. They invited me and the UNC Tar Heel. The funny thing was you’re thinking, ‘I’m going to show up at the airport, I’m going to send the suit through security, it’s going to be a big hassle.’ I drove and met up with the UNC mascot at a warehouse about two miles from the airport. They then put us at the back of an unmarked white van and drove us to the back entrance. No one checks my bag or anything. We walk in the back door, walk down an abandoned corridor, up an elevator, through a door and into the terminal. I remember I was texting my mom: ‘I am in the back of an unmarked white van, I am going into an airport to assume another identity. I feel like Jack Bauer.’
Lance King/Getty ImagesBelieve it or not, these guys are buddies.
“We spent a lot of time taking pictures. Sugar Ray Robinson was there signing autographs, we took a couple of pictures of boxing with him. Everyone wants a picture and the pose is the same. A lot of people assume I hate the Tar Heel. Actually, it’s really funny. Being a mascot is such a unique experience. You really have a little bond with the other mascots. People are surprised to hear that, for the ACC football championship and the basketball tournament, the conference actually flies in all the mascots even if a team’s not in the championship. For a couple of days leading up to the championship, they put all the mascots together in a hotel. Mascots are really one of two types of people: They’re either incredibly outgoing or just kind of weird. So, you put a whole group of them together, hilarity always ensues. Some of my favorite memories are going to the tournament this past year and rooming with Georgia Tech’s Buzz.”
• Date: Sept 17, 2011
• Where: Chestnut Hill, Mass.
• Event: Duke’s football team beats Boston College, 20-19.
Donahue says: “The first away football game I did last year was at BC. I’m thinking up what I should write on the headband and how to make fun of BC. I came up with a great idea: ‘The Eagle is Grounded.’ I’m walking around the student section and I have a bunch of BC fans staring at my forehead. They give me this weird look. I had no idea what they were making fun of me for. Someone says, ‘The Eagle is gronded?’ I forgot to put the 'U' in. Do I acknowledge it and run off the field? Do I roll with it, [and say] ‘Oh, that’s what I meant to do?' It burst my bubble.”
• Date: Oct. 1, 2011
• Where: Miami
• Event: Duke defeats Florida International on the road, 31-27
Donahue says: “The football team at Duke is very good at making the mascot and cheer squad feel like we’re part of the team. We travel to every away football game, so we fly on their plane and stay in the hotel with them. The second away game we had was at Florida International University, down in Miami. They’ll have a changing room ready for the cheerleaders, but we have an all-female cheerleading squad, so I can’t just go in there -- I need somewhere else to change. I would go and change in the football locker room. You stick yourself in the corner and stay out of everyone’s way.
Getty ImagesThe crowd at FIU wasn't entirely hostile.
"I went out and did the game. Usually, opposing teams aren’t awful -- they’ll yell stuff at you, but they recognize it’s a dude in a suit. For some reason the FIU fans were just awful to us. They were spitting on our stuff, throwing stuff at us. We came from behind in the last five minutes of the game. I remember walking off the field blowing kisses to the crowd. The coolest part was going back in the locker room and being a part of the celebration. I remember [Duke QB] Sean Renfree walking by and saying, ‘Way to go Blue Devil Boy.’ I was like, ‘You know what? I can deal with that nickname.’”
• Date: Feb. 16, 2012
• Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium
• Event: Duke comes back from a 20-point deficit to defeat NC State
Donahue says: “People don’t realize how small Cameron Indoor is until you get into it. Because it’s so small, everyone’s literally on top of you. One of my favorite games to do, we were playing NC State. We went into halftime down 16. I believe with about 11 minutes left, we were down 20. We ended up chipping away at the lead, coming back and winning the [in] last minute or so.
“During every game, around four minutes left, they’ll play the [Cascada] song ‘Everytime We Touch.’ It’s one of those songs that [makes] all Cameron fans go nuts. I ended up jumping on top of the scorers’ table and beating my chest. I walk over and see the cheerleading coach with a look of pure terror on her face because when I jumped up, I was inches away from knocking a huge glass of water over on every open laptop on press row. I just barely missed it. After the song ends, I’m completely out of breath, ready to pass out. I ran right by her because I had to get into the back room and take the head off so I could just breathe. The energy was unbelievable.
Lance King/Getty ImagesAt Cameron, everyone is on top of each other.
“When you’re an undergrad and you’re the Blue Devil, it’s supposed to be a secret. It’s kind of like having a secret identity -- you feel like Clark Kent. So, you start having to figure out how to lie your way out of situations. People who are the Blue Devil are big fans, so you have to start coming up with excuses. We have at least two Blue Devils and switch off at halftime. So I was set to do the second half [of the NC State game]. But I knew for the first half, I was going to be there with my friends and had to find a valid excuse to leave without alerting them.
"One of my buddies was in on the secret and I changed his name I had on my phone from ‘Bradley’ to ‘Mom.’ I told him to call my phone five or six times before the end of the first half. Two minutes left, my phone starts blowing up. I ended up saying, ‘I gotta go call my mom, I don’t know what’s up.’ I had to think on the spot and -- I feel bad about this -- I ended up making up an aunt, a second sister for my mother, and making up a disease that she had and saying I had to go talk to my mom about it. I thought it was so clever. I got a text back [from my friends]: ‘I’m so sorry, let me know if you need anything.’ I felt so bad.”