Colorado receiver Shay Fields does not often admit to being slower than anyone on a football field.
He has no problem coming in second to a 1,200-pound buffalo, however. Fields, even if he could, wants no part of running in front of Ralphie.
“Even though I’m always in the front, I always let her run first,” he said. “She has to be at least 10 yards or 5 yards ahead of me.”
Luckily for Fields, he hasn’t had any scary moments involving Ralphie, but the most powerful mascot in college football has been known to strike fear in others.
The first time CU head coach Mike MacIntyre ever encountered Ralphie at Folsom Field, he felt genuine fear.
On Sept. 7, 2013, MacIntyre was making his home debut as the Buffaloes head coach. He had been properly prepared in the routine of the team running behind Ralphie, but was thrown an unexpected curve. Before taking on Central Arkansas, MacIntyre and senior safety Parker Orms were set to follow Ralphie in leading the team onto the field.
“We get out there and Ralphie’s gate is open but Ralphie won’t move, so I’m literally looking Ralphie eye-to-eye, thinking to myself, ‘I’m going to get run over, I’m dead, this is the last time … it’s over,'” MacIntyre said. “This is all happening in a split second. Here comes the team behind me so I said, ‘Parker, run! We’re going to get trampled!’
“Luckily they’ve trained Ralphie not to run behind people, so she wouldn’t go.”
MacIntyre, of course, didn’t get trampled, but it set a bad tone for his Folsom debut. The Buffs got off to a rough start before putting together a 38-24 victory.
Current Stanford head coach David Shaw was a freshman receiver for the Cardinal when he first encountered Ralphie, before a game at Folsom on Sept. 6, 1990.
“I would refer to it as my most terrifying experience as an athlete,” Shaw said before the CU-Stanford game in 2015. “Back in the day the cage used to be right outside the locker room. This was my first game. I was really excited. We come out of the locker room, and for some reason, I want to be the first guy out. They open the locker room doors, I step out, turn toward the field. I look out on the field here comes this Volkswagen with horns just dragging these human beings, and she seems to be running right at me.
“My natural instinct is to go back in the locker room, but I have 79 other guys coming out of the locker room. So, I’m trying to go back in, and they’re all coming out. It’s probably 20 yards away, but it feels like five feet away, where they finally turned it into her cage. I don’t think my heart stopped pounding until the ball was kicked off. To see a large, large fast animal coming right at you, it was very nerve-wracking.”
In returning to Folsom Field as the Cardinal coach two years ago, he joked, “I’ll be staying in the locker room until she’s in her cage this week.”
Former Stanford running back and current Carolina Panther Christian McCaffrey grew up in Colorado and knew all about the Ralphie tradition, and he recalled a moment a fear for his family.
While he was a star at Valor Christian High School, McCaffrey took a recruiting visit to CU. He and his family were on the field before the game and his mother, Lisa, wasn’t paying attention when Ralphie began her run. Someone pulled Lisa out of the way before Ralphie ran.
“The buffalo almost trampled her,” Christian said. “It was scary, but looking back, it’s really funny.”
Having that fear of an animal that large is natural. CU receiver Devin Ross remembers meeting Ralphie on a recruiting trip to Boulder.
“I was in high school still and pretty scared,” Ross recalled recently.
It didn’t take long for Ross to get over his fear, however. Like most who have met Ralphie, Ross now has a great appreciation for her.
“She’s special, and she’s nice too,” he said. “She’s not mean like I thought she would be.”