Harmon’s Histories: A tragic tale of live UM bear mascot
Where was I? Oh yes, I was going to tell you about that bear. Well, actually bears (plural).
The Quill and Dagger society (and the whole University of Montana, for that matter) used live bear cubs to promote events in the early days of the school.
U-M’s athletic teams were actually known as the “Bears.”
Of course it’s a bit tough having a bear cub as a mascot. For one thing, bears grow – and are not “cubs” for long.
So, the university was constantly going through bear cubs – having to find a new cub for a mascot every year or two.
Now, “Teddy,” the particular bear cub I mentioned last week, was not only “the likable mascot of the U-M football team,” but played an important part in one of the Quill and Dagger society’s performances at Missoula’s Union opera house.
“Teddy was taught a number of fine tricks and will do a number of good stunts for the edification of the audience,” promised the Quill and Dagger society, in fact, they said, “would be the event of season.”
In addition to “Teddy,” there were cubs named “Fessy” (honoring University of Montana football coach Doug Fessden) and “Jerry” (honoring coach Jerry Williams).
But, using live bear cubs was problematic. They are animals and obviously don’t like being chained. On top of that there were the occasional “kidnappings,” and animal rights protests.
Genell Jackson, writing in the 1956 Montana Kaimin, said, “Jerry came to MSU shortly after school started this fall. Although a female, she was promptly named after the Grizzly coach Jerry Williams!”
“She was a very unhappy and very mean little bear when she first arrived. The early football games must have seemed like the end of the world for her. A far cry from peaceful woods: the noise and pompom girls scared her and it took two heavy chains to hold her.”
“Even then she made several almost successful attempts at freedom. But it wasn’t long before she began to warm up to her captors. She allowed them to pet and rumple her dark fur without snapping. Toward the end of the season, she even seemed to enjoy the football games. Rather than struggle to get lose, she would sit quietly tween the legs of whoever was her “date” for the day.”
“It was only when the music or crowd was especially loud that she would jerk her chain. Once she did get free and scampered across the field and made it up a light pole before 'she was caught.”
“Just what is to become of Jerry hasn’t been decided, but it is quite probable she will be sent East to grow up in a city' zoo.”
“The Grizzly Growlers have been caring for Jerry, and she has moved from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house to Fort Missoula. But where ever she goes, the best wishes of the Grizzlies and students of MSU will go with the little brown bear.”
Over the years, the “Bears” became the “Grizzlies” or “Silvertips,” and mascots changed with the times. There was the “Hamm's Beer Bear” and later “Otto the Grizzly,” sponsored by the Grizzly Auto Centers.
But, the athletic department, by the 1990s, wanted “a more engaging, friendly and energetic mascot.” The result was “Monte” who was first seen at the start of the 1993 season.
The person inside the bear suit, it was decided, would not be identified until after he/she was no longer a student at U-M. Barry Anderson was one of the high-profile Monte mascots, who went on to work with the Chicago Bulls mascot team.
Anderson was famous for doing acrobatic cartwheels and flips. He would ride motorcycles and horses, and was “always surrounded by cheerleaders.” He was nominated as Capital One's Mascot of the Year a number of times. “Monte” was even in a Super Bowl commercial with Joe Montana!
These days, you see Monte everywhere – corporate functions, business advertising, school classrooms – promoting the U-M brand.
It’s been quite a ride for “Teddy” from the 1890s, doing “tricks and stunts for the edification of the audience,” at Quill and Dagger society events, to today’s all-encompassing role as the campus mascot!