NHL Column: Gritty and the making of mascots

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FILE – In this Sept. 24, 2018, file photo, the Philadelphia Flyers new mascot, Gritty, takes to the ice during the first intermission of the Flyers’ preseason NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins,in Philadelphia. The character’s debut triggered an outpouring of comments online, including “Good luck sleeping tonight, Flyers fans” and comparisons to ZZ Top and the Muppets. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek, File)

The most stunning debut of the NHL season occurred on Monday and the season has yet to even begin. Gritty, the new Philadelphia Flyers mascot, was born that day. He was introduced at a huge press conference by the storied hockey franchise. The organization was the 30th to introduce a mascot to their squad, leaving the New York Rangers as the only one without one.

When you think of a “Flyer” you might not be sure what exactly to picture. You might not even realize that the Flyers’ logo is supposed to be a flying “P.” So when the Flyers organization decided it was time to add a mascot to their family, they must have had to dig deep into their brains to whip up a character that would promote team spirit and bond with fans.

Well, considering what Gritty came out looking like, it appears that they reached way to far into the depths of their minds to create this ugly creature. Or maybe they did not reach far enough? Regardless, Gritty turned out to be frightening, disgusting and comical all at the same time.

With googly eyes, crazy orange hair and a plump figure, Gritty is certainly a spectacle. Maybe the new mascot is just an acquired taste, but I do not imagine he will not be anything more than a laughingstock in Philadelphia this year.

Can you picture a four year old going to his or her first Flyer game and seeing that concoction floating around the ice? They might come out of that game confused about what is really going on in the NHL, or just very afraid to go back to the rink. Gritty is a creepy looking guy, especially with the scraggly nature of his hair and the eyes rolling all around.

Gritty is so absurd that he blew up social media upon his arrival on Tuesday as fans could not turn their attention away from the new creation. Even though most people are making fun of Gritty, the Flyers were definitely successful in drawing eyes to their team and new mascot. But is all publicity good publicity?

Bringing in a ridiculous mascot can have its benefits for an organization, with people who never talk about the Flyers starting to chirp. But for a professional franchise as well known as the Flyers, it is unwise to institute such a character. Adding a mascot like Gritty seems like something a minor league team would do, not one of the most popular teams in the NHL.

Professional teams like the Flyers should want to embody some level of prestige and class. That is not to say that there should be no fun, but you would think they would want to stay in the traditional realm at least to some extent. They do not need to go out of their way to promote their team with antics that a minor league organization might use.

It seems as though they are trying to copy their neighbors, the Philadelphia Phillies, in their historic success with the Phillie Phanatic. The Phillies’ legend is one of the most beloved mascots in all of sports, yet no one can really say what exactly the greenish guy is. The main appealing factor about him is that he is perfectly balanced and makes sense for the Phillies. It all starts with the name: The Phillie Phanatic. It has a great ring to it with the alliteration and the play on the “Ph” working perfectly together. Then, thinking about what a fanatic might look like in character form they created a mascot that is somewhat kooky, but not too scary. He is unique, wild, fun, friendly and original.

Now, when teams like the Flyers try to make a mascot that is more of an unknown creature than a defined thing, it almost never works. The Phillie Phanatic was the first of his variety, and that is part of the reason he continues to be so highly regarded among mascots today.

The Flyers’ reach for a new mascot is reminiscent of when another storied franchise, baseball’s New York Yankees, added a mascot named Dandy in 1979. Like Gritty, the Yankees’ mascot was an interesting red headed specimen, though Dandy was not quite the monstrosity that Gritty is.

Dandy was the exact the opposite of what the Yankees organization stands for. His furry pinstripes were uneven, he wore his hat sideways and had a lumpy figure that made him look like a fool. The mascot was so awful that he only lasted three years in New York before getting axed. As a franchise that is all about class and tradition, with classic uniforms, no beards and no antics allowed, it is mind boggling how Dandy was approved in the first place. Now, he is almost completely forgotten in Yankee lore.

While fans may wonder how Gritty was approved as well, it does not appear that he will just fade away as easily as Dandy. How heavily the organization is pushing the new furry fella might actually enable him to stick. The social media presence that Gritty is taking on is rather embarrassing for the Flyers, but it could end up making him pretty popular.

In other words, Gritty may end up being so bad that he is actually good. For one thing, he is definitely not going to be another boring bear or tiger mascot that no one cares about. Gritty’s presence will be felt. In just a few days of existence, Gritty is probably the most recognizable mascot in the league. Talk about a jolt into the limelight.

In his first game on Monday, Gritty made a rookie mistake by wiping out as he pranced around on the ice, thus adding more fuel to the social media fire. Many Flyer fans did not appear too pleased with their new supporter, greeting him with boos each time he made an appearance throughout the game. Flyer fans are notorious for booing their own team when displeased with performance, and it looks like Gritty was not exempt from this treatment. Yikes!


Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at dylan.barrett@uconn.edu.

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