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For CU Boulder’s Ralphie mascot, a low-key life with occasional public cameos

Hutton Cameron, 2, and his sister, Kenzie 4, get their photo taken with Ralphie earlier this month at McGuckin Hardware in Boulder.
Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer
Hutton Cameron, 2, and his sister, Kenzie 4, get their photo taken with Ralphie earlier this month at McGuckin Hardware in Boulder.

A few months ago, a pair of University of Colorado graduates and boosters invited friends and family members to Boulder for what was a very CU-centric wedding.

Also in attendance: a live buffalo.

“They got married at Folsom Field, and Ralphie ran,” said John Graves, program manager for the university’s mascot program.

For 50 years, the school has celebrated the tradition of trotting out Ralphie, the buffalo, as the face of CU’s athletic program. Over that span, five different buffaloes have held the position, all sharing the same name.

As anyone who follows the university likely knows, the current mascot, a female named Ralphie V, runs a lap around Folsom Field at Buffs home football games.

But her public appearances, beyond those games, are few and far between. The couple that enjoyed her at their wedding scored a relative coup, as Ralphie is only taken from her farm — location unknown, per a deliberate effort by the university to keep it a secret — to make appearances about two dozen times per year.

Of those annual appearances, only one or two are unrelated to university affairs.

“I get requests to take Ralphie to events all the time, and we say no to almost every single one of them,” Graves said.

That’s not surprising with how much coordination is required to get Ralphie from one place to another.

First, Ralphie needs to be accompanied at any event by at least eight handlers. The handlers are student volunteers, and staffing limitations may keep Ralphie from attending outside events.

And then there’s the cost, which is prohibitive for many.

If someone wants to get Ralphie to their event, they must make a donation of at least $4,500 to the Ralphie program, and cover transportation costs. If the event happens to be on campus, the cost is slightly lower — $4,000.

Beyond cost and staffing, Ralphie’s managers must also make the call, each time they get an invite, as to whether a particular event is going to be safe for the buffalo.

Combined, those barriers end up disqualifying all but a handful of requests.

But that doesn’t necessarily have to spell doom for those hoping to catch a glimpse of Ralphie outside of the football-stadium context.

She also runs every year at the city’s Fourth of July celebration at Folsom Field, which is a free and popular event. She also appears annually at the National Western Stock Show, one CU soccer game and, every now and then, a CU basketball game. Recently, she made a cameo at McGuckin Hardware in Boulder.

As Graves explained, it’s probably for the best that Ralphie keeps a low-key schedule.

“We don’t want to make her do any more than what she wants to do, so we try not to make a lot of appearances with her,” he said. “We like to let her just hang out on the ranch and graze away, versus trying to do something every day with her.”

Still, it’s important to note that no two Ralphies are the same. The current mascot may well enjoy the events more than some of her predecessors.

“Ralphie IV was more laid-back,” Graves said, “But Ralphie V loves to run.”

Alex Burness: 303-473-1389, or

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