Ralphie the Buffalo
Ralphie the Buffalo is the name of the live mascot of the University of Colorado Buffaloes. Ralphie has been called one of the best live mascots in sports, and she is often erroneously labeled male.
The team of "Ralphie Handlers," who are varsity student-athletes, run Ralphie around Folsom Field, the University of Colorado's football field, in a horse shoe pattern before each half of each home game. It takes five Ralphie Handlers to run her around the field: two up front on each side to steer her around the field, two in the back on each side to help guide her, and one in far back to control her speed, called the "loop" position. Ralphie can reach speeds of 25 miles per hour (40 km/h). Female bison are used because they are smaller and less aggressive, as well as for insurance reasons, although Ralphie has knocked over her handlers on more than one occasion. Because of this, whether or not Ralphie runs is at the sole discretion of her handlers, and her run may be canceled if she is unusually nervous or upset.
The tradition began in 1934, three weeks after the selection of Buffaloes as a nickname for the University in a contest by the school newspaper, the Silver & Gold. A group of students paid $25 to rent a bison calf and a cowboy as his keeper for the last game of the 1934 season. The calf was the son of Killer, a famed bison at Trails End Ranch in Fort Collins, Colorado. It took the cowboy and four students to keep the calf under control on the sidelines during a 7–0 win at the University of Denver on Thanksgiving Day.
Live bison continued to make sporadic appearances at CU games, usually in a pen on the field or sometimes driven around in a cage. In the 1940s, the school kept a baby bison in a special pen at the University Riding Academy. The first named bison was "Mr. Chips," who appeared for the first time at the 1957 CU Days kickoff rally; Mahlon White donated him to the school, and it was cared for by a men's honorary.
Ralphie I (1966–1978) was donated to the school in 1966 by John Lowery, the father of a CU freshman from Lubbock, Texas, when she was six months old. Initially, she was given the name "Ralph," because of the noise she made while running. After a sharp-eyed sister of Colorado's Delta Delta Delta pointed out that the bison was a female, however, the name was changed to Ralphie.
The first handlers were the five officers of the sophomore class who ran the bison around the stadium in a loop. They would pick the bison up before the games from her caretaker C.D. "Buddy" Hays at the Green Meadows Riding Stables and run her around for a few hours to tire her out to make her easier to manage and run with. At the conclusion of the game, fans would start the "Buffalo Stomp" which would cause the stadium to shake and create a loud thundering noise. CU officials, however, had to stop the Buffalo Stomp tradition due to damages it was causing to the stadium.
The tradition of running Ralphie around in a loop on the field started October 28, 1967 during CU's homecoming game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys which CU lost 10–7. Head coach Eddie Crowder had given permission and thought it was a great idea having the team follow Ralphie out on to the field. Also, personnel that had experience working with animals took over for the five sophomore officers. The five sophomores then appointed themselves as the board of directors of fundraising and raised enough money by selling stock to take Ralphie to the 1967 Bluebonnet Bowl.
Ralphie attended all football home games and bowl games until her retirement in 1978, a 13-year career. Her final game was on November 4, 1978 against Oklahoma, CU lost 7-28. She achieved national celebrity status and was kidnapped in 1970 by Air Force Academy cadets. She was also voted the homecoming queen in 1971.
Ralphie II (1975–September 19, 1987), originally named "Moon" (short for Moonshine), made her debut on November 18, 1978, the final home game of the season and last game for head coach Bill Mallory for CU, a 16-20 loss to the Iowa State Cyclones. Her name was changed to Ralphie II because the name had become so popular. The Bank of Boulder, which was a significant supporter of the first Ralphie, bought and donated Ralphie II to CU. Ralphie II suddenly and unexpectedly died on September 19, 1987, following a 31–17 win over the Stanford Cardinal. She was expected to retire at the end of the 1987 season and was kept at the Parker Ranch. Featured in the picture are: Ken Kramer (83), Todd Benson (84), and Kirk Petrick (83).
Ralphie III was pressed into service with only five weeks of training due to the sudden and unexpected death of Ralphie II (1987). She was being trained to replace Ralphie II, who was due to retire at the end of the 1987 season. Ralphie III made her first appearance on November 7, 1987 in a 27–10 win against the Missouri Tigers. John and Shaaron Parker donated the orphan, who was also kept at the Parker Ranch.
At the 1993 Fiesta Bowl, four of the five students running with Ralphie III slipped and fell on the slick field. Only the student in front was left. Ralphie was loose for a period of time. Her final game was against Nebraska on November 28, 1997, Colorado lost 24-27.
After Ralphie's death, the Colorado State Senate passed State Resolution 98–10 by Senator Elsie Lacy—concerning a tribute to Ralphie III the University of Colorado bison mascot, stating: "That the University of Colorado and fans alike have lost a most beloved mascot and are saddened by the occasion of Ralphie III's death."
The first Division I female athlete to run Ralphie was Anne C. Griggs, who first ran Ralphie III in 1994. 
Ralphie IV (born April 1997), was born at Ted Turner's Flying D Ranch in Gallatin Gateway, Montana and donated to the University in response to an article in Bison World magazine. She was originally named "Rowdy" by ranch hands. She was separated from her mother and, at only one month old, was found in the jaws of a coyote with bite marks around her neck. She was bottle-fed for four months while recovering and then released back into the herd, but she would not bond with them. Ranch hands took her back and fed her grass and grains before they decided to donate her to CU. John Parker, who trained and housed both Ralphie II and III, brought her back to Colorado from Montana and supervised all of her early training. Parker retired as Ralphie's caretaker in May 2000. Long-time CU supporters Dale and Lynn Johnson housed Ralphie for the following year, with Parker's assistant, Ted Davis, assuming the program duties for the 2000 season. In the summer of 2001, two former Ralphie Handlers and CU graduates, Ben Frei and Kevin Priola, took over the program. Together they coordinated the selection and managing of up to 12 student handlers as well as all aspects of training, care and feeding, and public appearances. At the end of the 2009 Football season Kevin Priola retired as one of the Directors of the program and was replaced by John Graves, a former Ralphie Handler and CU graduate.
Ralphie IV made her debut at Mile High Stadium on September 5, 1998 against Colorado State. Colorado won 42-14.
Ralphie IV, fully grown and mature, weighs in at about 1,300 pounds (590 kg), over three times her weight when she made her debut against the Colorado State Rams at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado on September 5, 1998. Her home is now in nearby Henderson, Colorado. Her exact location remains a secret because of previous attempts by rival schools to kidnap Ralphie, or otherwise render her unable to run.
Ralphie IV has only refused to run twice. She got spooked November 21, 2003 as she charged out of her pen for her routine run across Folsom Field to mark the start of the game versus CU's nemesis, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Instead of mightily rumbling over the turf, she halted at the 20-yard line, dug her hoofs into the grassy field and refused to budge. CU lost the game 22–31. She also refused to even leave the gates on November 26, 1999, also against Nebraska in another loss, 33–30 in overtime. A Kansas State Wildcats player was once run over by Ralphie. She also has provided the team's only serious accident in 2000 when she tossed Meghan McCarthy "like a bale of hay," leaving permanent scars from her horns.
Ralphie came into the national spotlight in November 2002 as Violet Stromberg, a 96-year-old lifelong CU football fan, left her life savings of $40,730 to create the Ralphie Fund which helps pay for Ralphie's hoof trimmings, transportation, harnesses, ropes, vet bills and $1,500 a year in oats, alfalfa and grass. Ralphie IV ran in her final regular-season football against Colorado State on August 31, 2008, CU won 38-17. Her final post-season game appearance before Colorado's loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Independence Bowl on December 30, 2007.
Ralphie V (born October 2006) was introduced to the public on November 17, 2007 in a major public event called "Ralphie's Salute to a New Era." According to CU officials, Ralphie V will not take over all Ralphie duties immediately; both Ralphie IV and V will share duties as long as Ralphie IV remains healthy. Ralphie IV will retain duties that require a relatively sedate and experienced bison while Ralphie V will take over the most physically strenuous duties.
Like her predecessor, Ralphie V was donated to Colorado by Ted Turner. She was born in October 2006 at the Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico and was named "Blackout." She began training at the age of two months to prepare her to take the field. When she was introduced at the "Ralphie's Salute to a New Era" event she weighed in at 500 pounds (227 kg). Ralphie V runs faster than Ralphie IV and still somewhat wild, according to handlers, and will be larger than the past Ralphies. Her debut game came against Eastern Washington on September, 6th 2008, Colorado won 31-24.
Ralphie V took the field with the football team for the first time at the spring game on April 19, 2008. In her pre-game run Ralphie ran perfectly, but slipped out of her harness at the very start of the halftime run, bumping, but not trampling, one handler and shedding all but one of her other handlers. Zeb Kopasz was the only handler to hold on to her. They were able to get her under control on the far 25-yard line and return her to her trailer.
She rarely travels to away games—bowl games excluded—and only when permitted by the rules of the host stadium. Ralphie IV traveled to the September 23, 2006 game against the Georgia Bulldogs along with an ESPN producer and cameraman who documented the trip and aired a special on that weekend's College Gameday. She also traveled to the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl.
She wears a custom-made banner that reads "GO CU" on one side, and "Beat [the opposing team]" on the other side with the CU Logo, such as "Beat CSU." Ralphie travels to games and appearances in a black custom stock trailer emblazoned with her name in gold. Ralphie and her trailer are pulled though the University Hill neighborhood before games on her way to the stadium.
Ralphie is held in a secret location so that she will not be harassed or harmed by the public, keeping her and the public safe from harm.
A tradition of the Ralphie Handler Team is to eat a large team breakfast or lunch at a local diner prior to game-day events.
- Colorado Buffaloes football
- University of Colorado Boulder#Mascot; spirit program
- Colorado Buffaloes#Mascots
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ralphie.|
- University of Colorado Ralphie official site
- ESPN Page 2 - article about Ralphie and her handlers
- Colorado Traditions
- College football's 12 coolest mascots: 1. Ralphie the Buffalo, Colorado. FoxSports.com. Retrieved 2010-09-01.