Meet CU’s Live Mascot, Ralphie the Buffalo!

Even Ralphie needs some spring training as she is run during the University of Colorado's spring football game. (Photo courtesy of Breck Hesselman)

July 27, 2022 By Mark Blaudshschun

It is part of the University of Colorado--and college football--folklore. A tradition that began 52 years ago and is still a highlight of any college football game at Colorado's Folsom Field.

Georgia (UGA) can have its Bulldog; Colorado has its Buffalo, Ralphie.

And what a sight that is at CU home games as Ralphie VI--800 pounds and growing, charges onto the field, surrounded by an entourage of handlers.

For the last three seasons, Breck Hesselman has had an up close and personal view of Ralphie, who is a female (more about that later), as one of the elite group of 15 CU students who are the gate keepers so to speak, for the iconic mascot.

To understand the story of Ralphie, you need to only go to a human archive named Dave Plati, a sports administrator at CU for more than 40 years.

Breck Hesselman (center) runs Ralphie the Buffalo at the University of Colorado football games. (Photo courtesy of Breck Hesselman)

Ralphie IV passed away at 19 a few years ago. Ralphie V is now 13 but was getting more and more frisky as she got older, so the decision was made to bring in Ralphie VI.

"I've seen so many of them and heard so many stories,'' said Plati. "But it never gets old."

Plati likes to tell the story of Ralphie V getting lost at the CU spring game a few years ago and roaming the field for several minutes.

Make no mistake, this is big business in Colorado.

The Ralphie family lives on a farm at an undisclosed location outside Boulder. Whenever he is needed for a game or an appearance, he gets in a truck and arrives for a show, which for football games, usually is a pre-game and halftime appearance and then a trip back to the ranch.

Hesselman says he had heard about Ralphie when he arrived in Boulder and  "tried out'' for one of the positions of handlers Hesselman, who graduated from CU this spring. "They ask you to do a 100-yard dash and see how you are around big animals like Ralphie. I didn't make it my freshman year, but I came back the next year and made it. It's been a blast and it's a total team effort."

They are still talking about the time that former Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth decided he wanted to block a charging Ralphie.

Breck Hesselman (far right) was one of Ralphie's handlers at University of Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Breck Hesselman)

Thankfully that idea was quickly rejected.

"I just had a great time with a lot of cool people,'' said Hesselman. "It was a unique experience."

After Hesselman graduated in May, he took a European vacation with some of his college friends before settling down with a high-tech job he landed in Denver.

When asked where he went on vacation, Hesselman said, "A few countries, England, France, Portugal, and Spain"

Spain?

It was too good to pass up. I asked the one obvious question for someone who had spent three years running with Ralphie.

Did he ever consider the ultimate experience--running with the bulls in Pamplona?

"Did it July 8," said Hesselman with a laugh. "That was an EXPERIENCE. Those guys are beasts.''

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