Rooney: New Ralphie for new era of CU Buffs football a fitting match

Ralphie V heads to retirement with football horror stories

Colorado players run behind Ralphie before the Buffs play Arizona at Folsom Field on Oct. 7, 2017.

Godspeed, Ralphie V. Here’s hoping the pristine mountain views welcoming you in retirement are far more pleasing than the football scenes you were forced to witness during the bulk of your career.

This past week and a half easily was the most promising and encouraging of Mel Tucker’s first season in charge of the Colorado football program. It began with Tucker and the Buffs successfully wooing former Alabama recruit Antonio Alfano to Boulder, adding an impact defensive lineman regarded as one of the top prospects in the entire 2019 recruiting class.

It hardly ended there. The Buffs ended a five-game losing streak with a gritty win against Stanford as dozens of recruits looked on. The good vibes continued into the week as two of those recruits, four-star running back Ashaad Clayton and three-star linebacker Toren Pittman, showed they were properly impressed by pledging verbal commitments to the Buffs.

Still, it wasn’t quite all good news. Ralphie V was unable to lead the Buffs on to Folsom Field for the second consecutive home game, and earlier this week CU Boulder announced the ol’ girl will be resting her hooves permanently, with the search officially started to find Ralphie VI, hopefully in time for the 2020 season.

Ralphie V was a trooper, with her 76 total games trailing only the 78 served by the original Ralphie from 1967 to 1978. But let’s be honest here: She didn’t exactly get to oversee the most memorable of Colorado football eras.

The original Ralphie’s first team in 1967 climbed to No. 3 in the nation, and only three of her 12 teams finished with a losing record. Ralphie II endured some lean years but still was leading the Buffs’ charge when coach Bill McCartney started turning things around in 1986. Ralphie III won a national championship. Ralphie IV was there for four Big 12 North titles and five bowl games under coach Gary Barnett.

Ralphie V’s college experience wasn’t quite as memorable. In 11 full seasons and so far this year, her CU teams have gone 51-95 with just one winning season, the Pac-12 South Division championship season of 2016. At least she had that 2016 season, when the Buffs reached the Pac-12 title game and she enjoyed a chance to lead the Buffs on to the field at the Alamo Bowl. Other than that, she’s going to have plenty of football horror stories to relate to her companion out on the ranch.

With all due respect to a buffalo that never threw an errant pass, never missed a block, and never whiffed on a tackle, it is perhaps a fitting time to pass the live mascot torch to a new Ralphie. Tucker is attempting to reset the foundation of the Buffs’ program, changing the culture on the fly. Let that philosophy extend to the new mascot, who hopefully will replace Ralphie V’s steady execution with a youthful exuberance that might be more in tune with the football vision of passion and relentlessness Tucker is attempting to instill.

Fortunately for Ralphie V she had that 2016 season to savor. But it should be noted her influence in the CU athletic department extended well beyond riling up the crowd on game day.

“Watching Ralphie run never gets old,” CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle said. “It’s one of those things, when we bring recruits out it’s a special moment. We had some recruits at the game when she didn’t run the first time (Oct. 25 against USC) and I was disappointed. I always look forward to it. I love watching Ralphie run and I think everybody does. I’m sad that she’s not going to run anymore, but I’m happy she’s healthy and it sounds like she’s going to have a good retirement.”

Mark the calendars for Sept. 12, 2020. That’s when Fresno State visits Folsom Field for next year’s home opener. If the search and subsequent training go well, it will be the first game day for Ralphie VI. Maybe she will help usher in a new era of CU football that will leave her with far more thrilling stories to share to her mate once she is eventually sent out to the ranch as well.