Mascot Memoirs: Notre Dame leprechaun
November, 14, 2012
By Charles Curtis | ESPN The Magazine
Barry Cronin/Getty ImagesSenior Bryce Burton wears the leprechaun hat for Notre Dame's undefeated football team.Editor's note: Welcome to the second installment of "Mascot Memoirs," in which NCAA mascots from around the country relive their fondest memories from behind the mask. Check out the first one, which focused on Michigan State’s Sparty.
Notre Dame’s leprechaun has a rare distinction among mascots: He doesn’t wear a mask. Instead, he gets to don the famous green suit -- not to mention the one prerequisite of every person who is named leprechaun.
“Being able to grow a chin-strap beard might be the one requirement,” Fighting Irish mascot Bryce Burton said.
Burton, a senior majoring in Science-Business who is applying to medical school, was previously Notre Dame’s “Blue Squad” leprechaun, making appearances with teams like women’s basketball and soccer.
He was promoted to the “Gold Squad” this year to root on the currently undefeated football squad.
Here are some of Burton's favorite memories of dancing the jig:
• Date: July 16, 2011
• Where: South Bend, Ind.
• Event: 2011 College Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Dinner
Bryce says: “One of the first events I ever took part in was a parade for the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend.
"Rudy [Ruettiger] had his own car in the parade, and before [the parade] started, he had come back to where I was with a group of people from the University of Notre Dame. I started to make my way over to him because I obviously wanted to meet him. He turned and looked at me and, before I could say anything, he told me he wanted to take a picture with me. It was the first time in my life someone famous had asked to take a picture with me, rather than the other way around.
“Jon Gruden was the emcee of the Hall of Fame jacket ceremony that year, which took place after the parade. He's a football legend, so I wanted to take the opportunity to have the cheerleaders that were there with me take a picture with him. Gruden went to high school in South Bend and was really nice when we got next to him. He chatted with us about who we are and what we are studying. After taking the picture with the cheerleaders, he said he wanted to get a picture with the leprechaun, so I ended up taking a picture with just the two of us.”
• Date: April 1-3, 2012
• Where: Denver
• Event: 2012 Women’s Final Four
Bryce says: “I was part of the Mascot Challenge during Fan Fest. It was the Stanford Tree, the Baylor Bear, the UConn Husky and me. Each mascot was paired with two children from a local Boys & Girls Club. During the first task, the mascot had to help their children complete an obstacle course, and the slowest time was the first mascot to be eliminated. I got off to a good start with a win in that round.
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesThe Stanford Tree almost stole one.
“The second round was a dancing portion. The mascot and the children went up and they turned on a random collection of contemporary songs. I tried to channel my inner John Travolta from 'Grease' and performed any random dance move that I thought of. The Notre Dame fans were super-supportive, and I ended up with a win in round two as well.
“The third round was a Q&A between me and the tree from Stanford. Three basketball questions about coaches and rules were asked. The tree actually missed one, but for some unknown reason, it was counted as correct. They initially counted one of mine incorrect, but after protesting, they checked and it was ruled correct.
"Once that was done, they went to 'decide.' The deliberation took several minutes until I was finally declared the winner. I was presented with a $1,000 check for the university. Upon closer examination, they had originally written in Stanford as the winner for some inexplicable reason. The deliberation had taken so long because they had to find tape to cover it and write ‘Notre Dame’ over it.”
• Date: Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 2012
• Where: Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland
• Event: Notre Dame beats Navy 50-10 in Ireland
Bryce says: “There’s leprechaun stuff everywhere [in Ireland]. It’s a cultural thing there. That’s not the case here; it’s kind of an outlier. At the game, when people were taking pictures, some of the Irish people would yell, 'I’m actually from Ireland! You have to take a picture with me!'
Barry Cronin/Getty ImagesNo surprise that the leprechaun was a big hit in Dublin.
“On Friday night, we had an event with Irish people. The prime minister spoke. They had an Irish band there, a singing group and one woman who emceed the whole thing. I had never heard of her, but apparently in Ireland she’s a big deal -- someone compared her to the Oprah of Ireland.
“I have red hair and red beard, so people always ask me if I’m Irish. I’m not. In Ireland, I let them think that I was.”
• Date: Oct. 13, 2012
• Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
• Event: Notre Dame defeats Stanford 20-13 in OT with a stop on fourth-and-goal
Bryce says: “That was the loudest I’ve heard Notre Dame Stadium. I remember when they asked what side of the field [the Fighting Irish] wanted, they pointed to the student section, and the whole place went crazy.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Fighting Irish's epic goal-line stand.
“When Stanford got to the 4-yard line, I was sitting on the goal line. It was deafening down there. There was no doubt in my mind they stopped Stanford again and there was some controversy. When we made the stop, I was jumping up and down like everyone else, screaming.
“Masked mascots have to be exaggerated with all their motions with their hands and hand-shaking because you can’t see their face. I don’t do those big head nods you see those other guys do; I can smile and pump my fist and everyone knows what I’m thinking. I think it makes it a lot easier.
“ESPN 'College GameDay' was at the game. I got to film a short segment white water rafting a couple of days before and that was used as a Bass Pro Shop advertisement during the show. I also was able to film several other segments of me interacting with fans.
"The best part, however, was definitely at the end of the show, when Lee Corso always does his big pick. While the other cohosts, including Vince Vaughn, were talking about the other games of the day, Lee came down and quickly got dressed in a leprechaun suit. For his pick, we both went on stage and did the Irish jig on the 'GameDay' set. The experience was incredible, and something I will remember for the rest of my life.”