When I was a child I looked upon sports mascots as superheros of a sort. But this belief was shattered on a fateful day in my teens. Shattered like the collarbone of a man in a bear suit.
Join me for this tale.
It was around 2004 in the winter. I was still in high school. And since Salt Lake is not a land of unlimited activity, I found myself at an amateur hockey game.
The hockey team in question, The Grizzlies, had just introduced a new mascot.
Grizbee be thy name.
If you aren’t familiar with a sports arenas there are several entrances where things like zambonis and athletes can come out. I was above one of those, but down below in the tunnel sat a hot tub. It was a promotion of some kind. In this hot tub were a variety of what I believe would be described as coeds, winners of some contest.
Now let me explain about this bear and the tradition to which this bear belonged. Because Salt Lake is home to the maniacal Jazz Bear. The Jazz Bear is a hardcore dude. So much so he was featured on an episode of Nitro Circus.
Grizbee, in his inaugural year, had some expectations to meet. Nevermind that the costume was a lot thicker than the Jazz Bear’s. On the night in question, the person inside that Grizbee suit came to fuck shit up.
Where I was sitting there something like a ten to fifteen foot drop down into the hot tub below. It was just me, my two friends and then BEHOLD A GRIZBEE.
Grizbee walked up in front of us and stood over the ledge, glaring down at the hot tub.
And Grizbee was holding a ladder.
If you’ve never seen a mascot up close let me tell you it’s hard not to ascribe them magical qualities. They have giant heads and move in exaggerated ways. They do impossible stunts in front of giant crowds like low rent bear versions of Tom Cruise.
And Grizbee was no different.
Grizbee planted the ladder and climbed up on it, and a booming voice filled the stadium. The announcer called out in a playful tone, “Grizbee what are you doing?”
Suddenly the sparsely populated stadium took notice. And it was in this moment that I believe the seeds of tragedy were sowed.
It’s possible that this was intended to be nothing more than a gag. Because of course there wasn’t room for this goofy bastard to jump into a small and full hot tub, from 15 feet above.
But like I said I said this was Utah, and we love our goofy bastards in bear suits.
“Jump!” cried my friend. And that was all it took. The chorus knew their lines and we all started calling for the bear to jump. Even the people in the hot tub were calling for Grizbee to jump, though they must have know there was nothing but heartbreak to come of it.
But powerful is the call of the costumed bear.
And intoxicating is the call of the crowd.
I was only a few feet from epicenter. You may be saying, “John, how did you think this would end? How could you have thought it would ever work out?”
Have you ever seen a man in a bear costume preparing to jump off a ledge into a hot tub full of people and surrounded by concrete? It’s very convincing. How on Earth could such a situation present itself without at least some purpose?
That’s when the ladder started to wobble.
Grizbee planted his feet and jumped. Superman style, head first.
I can still see Grizbee flying through the air all these years later. Because I remember looking and thinking, no way.
No way he’s going to miss the hot tub. No way.
Grizzbee hit the hot tub square in the collar bone and bounced off it smacking into the concrete below.
The stadium was silent. My friend let out a nervous laugh and I looked at him, Tony don’t laugh. I think he’s dead. And that made Tony laugh harder.
After five or so of the most uncomfortable minutes of my life, Grizbee came to. One of the young attendents for the game helped him out of the stadium. The announcer called out, “Grizbees okay everybody! Wave Grizbee!”
And Grizbee, who never removed the bear mask, gave a concussed wave before exiting the stadium.
I went to a hockey game this year, and Grizbee was there. No doubt with a new warrior taking up the calling and donning the suit. But alas, Grizbee never brought out the ladder.
As I sat there, pushing 30, hoping a teenager in a bear suit would get seriously injured for my amusement I thought, Life’s not so bad.
Because no matter how bad things get in the future I’ll always know the simple truth…
That as long as I never break my collar bone in front of an arena full of strangers whilst dressed as a pudgy bear, well then things could always be worse.