The running of the University of Colorado's live buffalo mascot, Ralphie, is a triumphant moment, a glorious flash of the Wild West thundering across Folsom Field as a raucous crowd chants her name.

Except for that one time in 2008, when it was not that.

The setting: a spring game, an annual scrimmage that gives fans the first glimpse of the team before the season begins in the fall.

But in 2008, the players weren't the only ones making their big debuts. That game marked the first appearance of Ralphie V, the latest in a line of buffaloes that have carried the CU-spangled saddle blanket through Folsom Field.

"I remember it very well," said John Graves, who runs the Ralphie handler program. "That was her very first public run she ever did. She was only a year old."

Handlers were hoping for a smooth debut. That did not happen.

Instead of running her route around the stadium and back into her trailer, Ralphie decided to call an audible. Seconds after the gates were lifted, Ralphie got loose of her harness, a few handlers hit the turf and Ralphie was free.

"She was so small she jumped out of her harness, because it was too big for her," Graves said. "That allowed her to get free momentarily."

Jason Phillips remembers being at the game and watching it all play out.

"I feel kind of bad, because I just remember it being hilarious," he said. "Ralphie just runs a guy over right away. Right off the bat I'm thinking, 'Were they not ready? Did somebody open the gate too soon?'


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"My other enduring memory is one guy holding on for dear life."

Ralphie was corralled, but not before her run drew roars from the crowd.

"I do remember it was a well-attended spring game for some reason," Graves said. "The fans, they all pulled out their phones and their cameras."

Added Phillips: "I remember almost cheering her on in the moment. I feel bad, because it's the handlers' job to keep her under control, and I'm rooting for her to get loose."

Thankfully, the excitement didn't result in any injuries.

"Nobody got hurt, so we can look back and laugh at it," Phillips said. "It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened at a spring game, that's for sure."

Part of the reason that day was so memorable is that Ralphie mishaps are few and far between in recent years.

"I've talked to some of the former handlers, and Ralphie I would get loose from time to time," Graves said. "There are some pictures of her getting loose, and the handlers would fall a lot back then. We do a lot of training now to prevent that."

Ralphie V's 2008 debut is the only time a Ralphie has gotten loose during a game in recent years, though Graves said there have been a few times when a Ralphie has simply refused to run.

"There were a few games where Ralphie IV did not want to run," Graves said. "Her pen opens, the handlers start running and she just stands there. She weighed 1,100 pounds. You can't make a buffalo do anything she doesn't want to."

But for the most part, Ralphie has flawlessly led the team out on to Folsom Field. Except for that one day in 2008, when buffaloes once again roamed the west.

"I have fond memories of that day," Phillips said.

Mitchell Byars: 303-473-1329, byarsm@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/mitchellbyars