BOULDER - Ask anyone who has ever seen a CU Buffs football game, and they'll tell you the best entrance in all of college football is Ralphie.
Or at least, almost anybody. (And if they say it isn't - pray tell ask them who can beat a thundering buffalo running in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains)
As a Buff myself, I may be biased, but there is nothing quite like the roar of the crowd when the PA announcer's baritone echoes across Folsom Field, "HEEEEEEEEREEEEEE COMES RALPHIEEEEEEEEE!" and the fiery beast is unleashed, trampling across the gridiron, chased wildly by men and women in jeans and cowboy hats (which rarely stay on their heads for more than a few yards).
I get chills every time I hear those three words.
In a word, it is epic. To me, it is Colorado.
Over the years since the tradition began (in 1967), there have been several buffaloes known as Ralphie, each with their own nickname.
Raplhie IV, known as Rowdy, graced Folsom Field (and many other fields and stadiums) for more than ten years. She ran Folsom Field 55 times, sprinted nine runs at Mile High Stadium, and led the Buffs to six bowl games and four Big 12 Conference championship games.
With 75 sprints under her belt, Ralphie IV was tied with only the original Ralphie for the most runs leading the team onto the field.
She was the Buffalo I first watched at Folsom as I became a Buff myself.
She's the buffalo whose first run was against in-state rival Colorado State in 1998. The same foe would see her final run, 10 years later, on Aug. 31, 2008. She led the team to victory on both of those days.
"She had a great career- the buffs were a very strong football team then - Ralphie IV brought them a lot of luck. it's a very sad day and we're all sad to miss her," said one of her handlers, John Graves, who is also the program manager of the Ralphie live mascot program at CU Boulder.
We asked what he loved about Ralphie IV, there is a lot to love about her, but he boiled it down to her personality and one very distinct trait.
"All the fans will know Ralphie IV because of her crooked right horn she had. It just always grew crooked I don't know what it was, but that's just something that happens. She was very distinguished just by that crooked horn, but you know she had a lot of spunk and a lot of fire in her. She love to take the field with the team behind her. We just had a blast running with her. It was always great running with her," said Graves.
WATCH: Ralphie IV's last run
More importantly, Ralphie represents the spirit of the University of Colorado, the Buffs who came before me, and the proud Buffs who will continue the tradition well after I can no longer cheer them on.
The University of Colorado posted a touching tribute to Ralphie IV, including her journey to Boulder, prior to 1998.
Ralphie IV was donated to the university by media and sports entrepreneur Ted Turner in 1998. Born in April 1997 on the Flying D Ranch in Gallatin Gateway, Montana (one of Turner's Ranches), she was named "Rowdy" by ranch hands. She was separated from her mother when she was about a month old and was literally found in the jaws of a coyote with bite marks around her neck. She survived the attack and was bottle-fed by the hands for four months. She was released back to the herd but wouldn't bond with them, so the ranch hands took her back in and fed her grasses and grain. It was then that she was donated to CU as a yearling early in the spring of 1998.
Recently, a veterinarian determined she was suffering from liver failure and her health was rapidly declining.
Ralphie IV was humanely euthanized on March 19, just a month away from turning 20 years old.
She was buried at an undisclosed location in Henderson, Colo., where she had spent her retirement grazing in one of the area's many green pastures.
We will miss you, Ralphie IV, but we know the tradition will live on long beyond your years.
And I thank you, Rowdy, for introducing me to the best entrance in college football, for inspiring my love and pride in CU Boulder, and for making me a proud Colorado Buff.
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Editor's Note: Ralphie V, the current mascot known as "Blackout," is in great health and even got a run in this weekend at CU's spring game.
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