Brutus Buckeye kicked off his yearlong 50th birthday celebration Thursday in front an enthusiastic crowd of Ohio State students during the Office of Student Life’s Buckeye Kick-off at the Ohio Stadium.
OSU’s favorite anthropomorphic nut spent the evening celebrating with old friends, including Athletic Director Gene Smith and players from the national championship-winning football team.
He also spent time making new friends while helping introduce freshmen to some of the university’s most cherished traditions.
“Welcome to the ‘Shoe,” Smith said to first-year attendees. “This is your new home, right here — seven days a year.”
Students also practiced quick counts with the football team, met Student Life Vice President Javaune Adams-Gaston, sang along to “Hang on Sloopy” and “Carmen Ohio,” and watched the marching band spell Script Ohio and play “Across the Field,” in celebration of the song’s 100th anniversary.
All the while, Brutus led the spirit charge, giving O-H-I-O tutorials to the freshmen in the crowd, coaching students through field goal and maneuverability challenges, and even busting out a new “swag dance.”
Lauren Burns, a member of the OSU dance team and a fourth-year in marketing, said during the event that hanging out with Brutus is always a good time because he keeps the spirit squad laughing during games.
“It’s definitely an honor that we get to be with him on his birthday,” she said. “What better way to celebrate than at the Buckeye Bash with all the incoming freshman — they get to celebrate the tradition and something that we hold so close to our heart.”
But Brutus, one of the most beloved mascots in college sports, wasn’t universally well-received when he first arrived in the fall of 1965.
One letter to the editor from George E. Shute, published in The Lantern on Nov. 30, 1965, read, “If I didn’t know better, I would say the contest to name the Buckeye mascot was held by the University of Michigan. Really, how in the world did a name like Brutus win the contest?”
At that point, OSU had gone 95 years without a mascot.
There was plenty of school spirit back in the Woody Hayes era, but with a devastating shutout loss to Michigan the year before and OSU’s next Rose Bowl still a few years away, the Buckeyes were in need of a little energy boost.
The seed was planted, and the quest for a mascot had begun.
Kerry Reed, a now-retired pastor, was a member of the Ohio Staters Inc., the student organization charged with developing the perfect mascot in 1965. Reed said the organization worked with the Athletic Department and others on the project.
The original papier-mâché Brutus was an immediate hit when he made his debut during the homecoming game against Minnesota.
A month later, he reemerged as a dark brown, 22-pound fiberglass shell during the game against Iowa. A student would wear it over his entire body with shoulder harnesses. The next development added three levers inside the shell to raise each eyebrow and spin the mouth upside down to a frown during a losing game.
When Reed, a 1966 graduate in sociology and social studies, heard the university was holding a campus-wide contest to name the new mascot, he said he hiked down to Thompson Library to start researching names.
Reed said he entered three names, including Brutus. The committee picked Reed’s submission, and he won a $50 gift certificate to the Union department store for his winning proposal.
“I liked the alliteration: Brutus Buckeye,” he said. “I also liked the thought that, at least in my mind, Brutus sounded like someone known for brute strength, for power, and would not easily back down.”
And Brutus has shown that strength through the years, proving himself resilient in the face of various adversaries.
He found himself running for his life after a vicious attack by a giant squirrel while performing his duties as the newly appointed senior OSU campus affairs correspondent for a Nov. 2, 2006, episode of the Daily Show.
He was attacked again in 2010 when Ohio University’s Rufus the Bobcat jumped on his back and began punching him in the head. The student playing the bobcat later told the Associated Press he had been plotting against Brutus since before he even became OU’s mascot.
Even fellow Buckeyes have been a little rough on Brutus throughout the years. He was stolen several times by different student organizations, and the 1975 sneering, squinty Brutus didn’t even last a year after being booed by fans during a home game at the ‘Shoe. His head was promptly replaced back to a rounder, more nut-like head.
But Brutus survived.
He has also spent a lot of time being strong for others throughout his 50-year career as OSU’s mascot, bringing his spirit and energy on and off the field.
He regularly visits hospitals to cheer up patients, young and old, though this habit is somewhat newly formed as his head size has shrunk to allow entry through narrow hospital doorways.
Brutus’ role not only as an athletic icon but also as a student leader and goodwill ambassador is worthy of being highlighted, said Tracy Stuck, assistant vice president for Student Life.
Her office is helping plan a yearlong Brutus Birthday tour to varied athletic and community events, hospitals and food banks.
OSU will be hosting a gala event Nov. 6 at the Union, just before the football game against the University of Minnesota, the same team OSU played when Brutus made his game day debut.
The open event will continue the Brutus celebration with dinner, entertainment and special guests, including an expected 40 former Brutuses.
The evening will aim to raise money for an endowed scholarship for future Brutuses. The Ohio Staters aim to help raise $1.5 million for the Brutus program.
“For the students, it’s hard to hold a job. You see the Buckeye all over the place … so we’re trying to recognize the leadership role that Brutus plays all over campus,” Stuck said.
Catie Sack, a third-year in journalism, and Nicole Schumacher, a fourth-year in marketing, serve as co-chairs of the newly formed Brutus committee. The two Student Life interns are working to help future Brutuses by spending time digging through The Lantern and university archives to learn more about his past.
“Brutus is an ambassador of the university, and he represents what Ohio State means to the state,” Sack said. “Being able to work on this project and share this project is so incredible in that we get to see how he makes people feel happy and brings joy to everyone.”
Reed said he and the other members of the Ohio Staters had hoped Brutus would ultimately be a positive expression and have a real effect on students.
“I’m glad that it’s not just limited to the athletics, but in fact shows up at charity events and things that can rally some support and interest for programs beyond athletics,” he said.
And, of course, Reed wished Brutus a happy birthday.