RALEIGH — N.C. State University hopes to unveil another wolflike Tamaskan dog tonight for its game against Cincinnati. It will be State's second try this season before a home crowd to restore the tradition of fielding a live mascot.
Like the first dog - which was fired over the weekend amid what may have been a manufactured controversy about the quality of its kennel - this one will be called "Tuffy," after the school's strutting wolf logo.
Given the university's torturous history of efforts to put a wolf mascot on the sidelines, the setback should come as no surprise. It is a half-century saga of wolf insanity, wolf cowardice, wolf jailbreak, early wolf death and a once-ridiculed counterfeit wolf that helped inspire the football team to within a, uh, whisker, of a national championship.
Not to mention a guest appearance by a mysterious cow bearing a warning to Duke fans.
It's enough to make the current controversy a minor footnote, especially because university officials insist that they are fully committed to getting a live mascot, even if it takes several trials to find the right one.
"Our fans have made this a priority, so it's definitely a priority for us," said Chris Kingston, NCSU's senior associate director of athletics, who is responsible for getting a live mascot.
Fear that losing the season's first "Tuffy" (her real name is Roxy) may end the live mascot experiment has roiled the Wolfpack Nation, which for years has lobbied for another living, snarling embodiment of its carnivore of choice to complement the costumed Mr. and Ms. Wuf. Something with real fangs, real fur and - let's be honest here - an insatiable hunger for mutton.
Never mind that a host of previous attempts ended badly, starting in the early 1950s with an actual timber wolf named "State."
State was a lone wolf in the sense that he appeared just once at Riddick Stadium for a football game. "According to UPI, the wolf had 'to be dragged across the field, a sniping and snarling bundle of fur,'" says this year's NCSU football yearbook.
Perhaps like many ACC fans, he only cared about basketball season. More likely, though, he was just being himself: Wolves are shy, nocturnal and unsuited to appearing in giant stadiums filled with tens of thousands of roaring fans.
Disappointed university officials sold State to a traveling animal show.
By 1959 memories of his troubled performance had faded, and NCSU acquired another wolf. There was barely time to dub it Lobo before it died a premature death, for reasons lost to history.
Soon came Lobo II who, like State, couldn't handle the job. According to News & Observer columnist Charles Craven, Lobo II "essentially had a nervous breakdown," after being exposed to large crowds, and never really recovered.
Lobo II did have enough gumption to escape from his cage one night, though, and was never seen again, said Tim Peeler, managing editor of the official NCSU athletics website GoPack.com and the university's unofficial sports historian.
Lobo III, they hardly knew ye
Then in 1966, the Wolfpack faithful put their hopes on one last wolf, a cute cub named Lobo III bought for $125 that students raised by selling 25-cent shares, Peeler said. University officials were relieved to find that his wolf instincts were weak and he held up well to the crowds.
There was a reason he didn't act like a wolf; an NCSU zoology professor spotted Lobo III one day and noted that the university had been sold a coyote.
There were the inevitable taunts from rivals. Students, though, embraced the coyote, and he became the most successful of the "wolf" mascots. He was stalking the sidelines in 1967 when NCSU had its best football season ever, starting with an 8-0 record, winning its first bowl game and coming within what some believe was a single play of winning the national championship, Peeler said.
Lobo III retired in 1970, was donated to the state zoo and soon died of heartworms.
During his reign, Lobo III wasn't allowed at indoor events. This rule, according to one mention that Peeler found, started (understandably) with another little-known mascot: A milk cow that was sometimes paraded around at halftime wearing a sign: "You're dern right we're cow college, Dook better watch its step."
Since then, the only attempt at live mascots was a group of five malamutes and huskies in the 1970s that drew complaints from fans who didn't think they were enough like wolves, Peeler said.
Now the university is focusing on the Tamaskan, a rare Finnish dog that is smart, people-friendly and, most importantly, bred to look like wolves.
New athletics director Debbie Yow, who has pledged to listen closely to fans' desires, heard from many that they wanted a live mascot, and she is excited about the idea, said Annabelle Myers, assistant athletics director for media relations.
Yow, though, wanted to move cautiously. She was particularly worried, Myers said, that the hoopla of a modern football game, such as the fireworks as the team runs onto the field, would stress the dog or cause some other troubling reaction.
So she told other athletics officials to quietly bring "Tuffy" into the coliseum for the Sept. 4 season opener against Western Carolina for a one-game tryout. Feedback from fans was overwhelmingly positive, Myers said, though some thought the dog should be bigger or fiercer. Others said that it was the right dog, but there should be an entire pack.
Also, though, university officials began to get e-mail accusing Tuffy's owner, Kevin Settineri of RightPuppy kennel in Salisbury, of poor breeding practices.
On Saturday, Kingston, the senior associate director of athletics, told Settineri that the trial was ending and Tuffy's services were no longer required. In an interview Kingston declined to say whether the puppy mill accusations affected the decision. Several factors were involved, he said, including a worry among some fans that the dog wasn't large enough.
Settineri said in an interview that the accusations cost him the mascot deal, which would have been great publicity. The complaints, he said, came from people affiliated with a competitor. He added that his kennel had been inspected repeatedly by the American Kennel Club and Rowan County Animal Control.
Rowan animal control officer Thomas Staton said officers had found nothing wrong in several visits. "He's got a lot of animals, but he takes care of them," Staton said.
Kingston said Wednesday that there was still paperwork to do on the replacement Tuffy, but that it looked like the arrangements would be complete by game time.
Tonight's Tuffy, he said, fits NCSU's goal of finding a local Tamaskan owned by a family rather than a kennel. Even so, tonight will be considered a trial, because you can't predict how a new mascot will work out.
"There's just really no way to replicate 60,000 people and the screaming and fireworks," he said. "So yeah, it's a trial, but we are committed to doing this and doing it right."
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