Ralphie I lived a full life. CU's first buffalo mascot was well-traveled and garnered favorable publicity for the university. She reigned as homecoming queen, survived a kidnapping and was a working mom. She set a high bar for all Ralphies that followed.
In the early years, the University of Colorado students tried out a dog, a goat and a donkey as impromptu mascots. By 1934, the CU student newspaper, Silver and Gold, decided the school needed an official mascot. The name Buffaloes was selected from over 1,000 entries.
For the next few decades a series of different buffaloes ran at football games.
The students named one of them "Mr. Chips" in 1957.
In 1966, a 5-month-old bison from a ranch in Sedgwick, Colo., was bought with a $150 gift from John Lowery, father of CU freshman Bill Lowery.
The student body chose the name Ralph, for the "rrrralph" sound the animal made when running, so the story goes. The name was quickly changed to Ralphie when an observant fan pointed out the buffalo was female.
Ralphie quickly became popular at CU and across the country. On the job for 13 seasons, she appeared every CU home football game from 1966-1978. She also traveled in a trailer to a number of bowl games.
Early handlers were known as "the men in Ralphie's life."
In 1970, Ralphie was kidnapped by Air Force Academy cadets. The captors led her around Falcon Stadium dressed as a buffalo burger, sandwiched between oversized burger buns, alongside a giant bottle of ketchup. She was returned unharmed.
The following year, Ralphie was elected CU's homecoming queen.
At the Gator Bowl in 1972, some Auburn University students tried to capture Ralphie, so she was assigned extra security.
CU hoped to eventually replace Ralphie with one of her own calves, but that wasn't to be.
Ralphie I gave birth to at least three calves while on duty as mascot.
Handlers first believed that Ralphie was expecting in 1970. The CU sports publicist found the announcement on the front page, while the football team report was buried inside the newspaper. The exciting news prompted calls from the press as far away as New York.
That first pregnancy news turned out to be false.
The first Ralphie offspring, Buffy, also spelled Buffie, was born in the spring of 1972. The female sadly died of pneumonia the next fall.
Streaker, another girl, was born in 1974. She died of head injuries after trying to escape from her pen.
Spirit was born in 1975. Also female, Spirit made several appearances with her mother including Homecoming, Spirit survived into adulthood, but had a personality that was not suitable for taking her mother's place. "She was the meanest thing you ever saw," a handler commented.
Spirit apparently took after Barney, Ralphie's 1,700-pound nasty-tempered boyfriend, the father of all of her calves.
A university report indicates four offspring. A search revealed another pregnancy announcement for Ralphie in 1976, while she was attending the Orange Bowl in Miami, but no information on a fourth calf. According to Gayle Shirley's book "Four-Legged Legends of Colorado," one calf died after it was born during an October snowstorm. It froze to death before anyone discovered it.
After a giving a lifetime of service to the University, Ralphie I retired to pasture in 1978. She died in 1982 after reaching the elderly buffalo age of 17.
Carol Taylor and Silvia Pettem write on history for the Daily Camera, alternating weeks. Write Silvia at the Daily Camera, 5450 Western Ave., Boulder, 80301 or email firstname.lastname@example.org , and write Carol at email@example.com.