BOULDER, Colo. — Run, Ralphie, run!
Since 1934, a barreling buffalo has burst through the gates onto Folsom Field at every pregame and halftime at University of Colorado (CU) home games. Welcomed by cheering football fans, the bison rushes and rounds the field as she's surrounded by handlers huffing to keep up with the beast.
Ask any CU fan about ramblin' Ralphie, and you quickly realize she's a point of Buff pride.
Ralphie V retired in 2019 after running for 12 seasons with the CU team. One of only six buffaloes who have served as Ralphie, CU's live team mascot, she's now roaming on an undisclosed ranch.
Taylor Stratton is the new program manager and head coach for the Ralphie live mascot program and has experience as a Ralphie V handler.
“Ralphie V was actually our strongest, largest, fastest buffalo," Stratton said. "She wasn’t responding to cues from her handlers as well as in the past and continued to run faster and faster."
Stratton said when the bison isn't responding to her handlers' commands, there’s an increased risk to the handlers' safety, as well as to Ralphie's safety as she runs the field.
Five "Ralphie Handlers" run with her around the field: four at her sides to help guide her, and one in the back to help control her speed. The rest of the team guides her from a distance, showing her the route and keeping the field clear of obstructions. Ralphie and her handlers can reach speeds of 25 miles per hour.
Stratton and her team of varsity student-athletes as handlers knew it was time to identify a successor for Ralphie V. They did, but then the pandemic hit and the team wasn't able to practice with the new buffalo to start acclimating her to the team and a new environment.
She was living on a ranch, without being exposed to people or crowd noise that inevitably comes along with Pac-12 football games.
So the team needed to find a new buffalo, and she had to be an orphan – a buffalo not attached to a herd.
Stratton reached out to a fellow CU alum, Drew Isham, who, along with her dad Will, raises buffalo. Bonus: They are both CU alumni and eager to help the cause.
“She gave us a call, and we were happy to acquire a little baby for her," Drew Isham said. "This is by far the best mascot in college football."
The Ishams' ranch in Chadron, Nebraska, didn’t have an orphaned buffalo in their herd last year, but they did find one on a ranch just outside of town.
Will Isham said the rivalry ranch helped them herd out a CU successor.
“I think you’d be surprised how many Colorado fans are in Nebraska, and you’d be surprised how many Nebraska fans are in Colorado also," he said.
Ralphie VI is the Ishams' gift to the university. The significance of this opportunity is not lost on Drew Isham.
“Ralphie’s just as exciting as watching the football game," she said. "Just getting to see this animal come out and really take charge. You know, if that animal changes its mind, it could be in the eighth row. They’re still pretty wild animals.”
Stratton and her team of Ralphie runners have bonded quickly with the new baby buff. They reward a good practice run at Folsom Field with grain as soon as she's guided back into her trailer.
She's about a third the size of Ralphie V and growing quickly. Already the team is learning more about her personality.
She responds to the crowd noise. Stratton calls her a “ham.”
“She always goes slower by the student section, and she picks up pace on the way home,” she said.
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