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The first Ralphie, a 6-month-old calf, galloped onto the scene in 1966. She was put out to pasture in 1978. The second Ralphie had planned to retire after the 1987 season but died of a heart attack after the second game of the season. Her ticker was apparently weakened by a lethal look from the infamous Stanford band. Dressed as the Grim Reaper, the Cardinal drum major had high-stepped toward her pen, where he made an abrupt turn and continued downfield.
What to do with the body? Ralphie II was packed off to a rendering plant.
Parker bought Ralphie III as an orphaned 2½-year-old in Laramie, Wyo. She has been kept with horses ever since. If Ralphie were to hang with her own kind, she would start using her horns and could well gore people—an undesirable trait in a mascot.
"She's better off not knowing she's a buffalo," says John.
"That's right," says Shaaron, "though she probably has her doubts she's really a horse."
John may be a sexist pig, but he thinks female buffalo make better mascots. "The bulls get too big," he says, "and like young college students, they have only one thing on their minds."
It's difficult to call Ralphie III a member of any species' gentler sex. Members of one of her steering committees suffered everything from sprained ankles to broken collarbones. "I was sending as many guys to the training room as the football team was," says John.
Once Ralphie starts rolling, she's as hard to stop as a rock slide on Bison Peak. On game days, she requires five handlers—two on each side, one in the rear—and from five to seven backups. "They've got to be fast and athletic," says John, who conducts tryouts each spring. His buffalo soldiers earn letters. Their duties include protecting the buffalo from pranksters when the team travels. For a 1986 game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Ralphie II was put up at the college's veterinary clinic, which was thought at the time to be a safe enough haven. "But vet students have keys," John explains. Poor Ralphie was spray-painted a luminous orange.
Ralphie III's stadium romp amounts to a large U. She runs down Colorado's sideline ahead of the team, doing an about-snout at the end zone before heading for the opposition's sideline. Rival coaches usually don't bring out their players until Ralphie has finished her run, making Colorado one of the few Big Eight home teams to take the field first. But former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer wouldn't be buffaloed. He would often bring his boys out before the running of Ralphie. One of them, linebacker Brian Bosworth, once briefly challenged Ralphie II before stepping out of her path. Eyewitnesses still debate which big ox was dumber in that instance.
Ralphie III hasn't disclosed which stadium she likes the best, but John reckons that it's Colorado State's. "They let the grass grow high," he says. Ralphie turns up her snout at artificial turf. "And that grass at last year's Orange Bowl was pretty thin," says Shaaron. "So there wasn't much picking."