Lafayette resident Jim Wright liked being a Ralphie handler so much that he came back to the University of Colorado following a stint in the United States Air Force to coach the program for several years.

He still has the satin baseball jacket.

"I can honestly say I've got more runs than anyone," Wright said.

The fifth Ralphie first took the field in 2008, but Wright's experience with the buffalo mascot was limited to the first and second iterations of the beast, one of which he and a group of handlers chased to the 29th Street Mall — it was called the Crossroads Mall at the time — when she escaped from Folsom Field.

He added that handlers would play around with Ralphie, and he recalls riding the buffalo occasionally, but because the animals clock in at several hundred pounds, "We always had to remember that they can play back."

Cassidy Strode, of Denver, played trumpet in the CU marching band and recalled Ralphie handlers being knocked down and sometimes dragged 20 or so feet before they remembered to let go of the rope. He always got a kick out of seeing that.

He said people would sometimes kiss Ralphie on the nose while she was in her pen.

"Some people are totally obsessed with Ralphie," Strode said. "Some of the people go to games specifically to see Ralphie run. When the team is not doing well, sometimes that's the highlight of the game."


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He added that his wife, Dana, also attended CU and when the team wasn't doing well in the early 2000s, she only went to the games to see Ralphie and cheer on kicker Mason Crosby, who now plays for the Green Bay Packers.

Broomfield resident Al Wirtes said that he moved to Colorado in the late 1990s and attended a half-dozen CU games with his wife, who picked up tickets from work. He said that he attended Purdue University, which also had plenty of football fanfare, but none like a live buffalo.

"The crowd was just into it," he said. "It was one of the greatest pep rally moments you could imagine, people on their feet screaming. We didn't have anything like that at Purdue. It was wonderfully surprising."

Wright said Ralphies have always been female because they are smaller and of a more friendly disposition, at least as far as a buffalo is concerned. He said Ralphie II was very tame.

"The students voted on a name and chose Ralph," he said. "We changed it to Ralphie because they are all female. ... They never even thought about getting a bull."

While he was coach, he would sometimes keep Ralphie II in the backyard before a game in her pen — the neighborhood kids loved it — because she was kept at a ranch far enough away to be inconvenient.

Ralphie II also had her own checking account on which Wright was a signer.

"He real name was Moonshine," he said.

John Bear: 303-473-1355, bearj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/johnbearwithme