Pitt mascot Roc turns 100 years old

By Natalie Bigley

You might not think you know anyone who is 100 years old, but you do.

Sporting a special No. 100 jersey and a colorful birthday hat, Pitt’s mascot, Roc the Panther, celebrated his 100th birthday on the William Pitt Union lawn on Wednesday afternoon — dancing, as always.The Student Alumni Association, in cooperation with the Blue and Gold Society and Pitt Athletics, hosted the event to celebrate Roc and inspire Pitt pride before Homecoming weekend.

A giant inflatable helmet was on scene, and several alumni tables lined the driveway, showcasing party favors and more than 500 cupcakes covered in blue and gold icing.

Student Alumni Association members who walked past the party were invited to help themselves. They could also enter a drawing to win Pitt merchandise or an iTunes gift card.

Every hour, students joined the association’s members in singing “Happy Birthday” to Roc. About 450 people stopped throughout the day to party with him. Even Chancellor Mark Nordenberg came by to congratulate Roc on his 100 years.

Since the Panther mascot was selected by the University’s publicity committee on Nov. 16, 1909, Roc has become a noticeable presence throughout the community and even around the nation.

Amanda Johnston, vice president of membership for the Blue and Gold Society, said Pitt chose the panther as its mascot because it used to be native to the Pittsburgh area.

Panthers are the epitome of power and nobility, which are some of the reasons why the University was the first school to use one as its mascot, according to the athletic department’s website.

Even though Roc’s jersey varies with each sport, his overall appearance remains the same. The only thing that changes is the person inside.

Some people might wonder who the man underneath the fur is, but as a rule of thumb, Pitt mascots are not allowed to reveal their identities. They must stay true to that promise to demonstrate loyalty and commitment to the school.

One of these men behind the fur weighed in, saying, “Part of being a mascot is really being a big Pitt fan, and if you aren’t, then it’s going to show. You’ve got to really like it and enjoy what you’re doing.”

And on Roc’s birthday, this passion showed.

Even though Roc was the celebrated cat, it still looked like game day as he flexed his muscles and took pictures with passing students.

“It’s exciting,” first-year graduate student Devyn Swain said. “100 years at this University is really special. It shows the commitment the University has to preserving its great sports programs.”

Johnston, who has played an active role in maintaining Pitt traditions, said, “Everyone looks forward to going to Pitt games and seeing a familiar face. Win or lose, Roc is always there.”

This same school unity and loyalty can be traced back to the decade when the panther first received the name “Roc.”

In the late 1930s, during the time known as the “Golden Age of Pitt Football,” a player named Steve Petro was famous for his tremendous school spirit, both on and off the field. Best known for his nickname, “The Rock,” he was said to be the foundation on which Pitt football grew. And from this, the panther’s name and legacy was born.

“A school mascot is good, because everyone can have an entity to call their own,” said one mascot, who was not allowed to give his name. “It’s a nice symbol for students to rally around.”

Some student attendees said the party was a reminder how Pitt traditions before Homecoming weekend are important.

“As a freshman, it’s really cool to be here,” student Heather Mathews said. “One hundred years only happens once.”