Three people play one role

By Laura Powers

Three Pitt students walk around campus with a secret identity. Separated by classes, hometowns… Three Pitt students walk around campus with a secret identity. Separated by classes, hometowns and majors, they unite under one mask ‘- that of Roc, the Pitt Panther mascot. Athletic department regulations require current mascots to remain anonymous. So for this article, they’ll go by Roc 1, Roc 2 and Roc 3. It’s part of their allure, they say. ‘It’s something we’ve just always done,’ said Theresa Nuzzo, the mascots’ coach. ‘It’s kind of like a mystique, a hidden thing as to who’s really in there.’ Roc 2 said he enjoys the anonymity. It allows him to be more outgoing than he normally would be, and to have a little extra fun. One day, Pontiac had a car displayed at Heinz Field, and Roc 2 decided to hop in the driver’s seat. ‘I just got in the car and started beeping the horn and stuff and the guy was laughing,’ he said. ‘But if a normal man would do that, they might call the police.’ Earning these privileges, the mascots say, is no easy task. Potential Pitt mascots undergo a thorough audition process, where Nuzzo said she looks at their athleticism, rhythm, creativity and character when in uniform. Nuzzo asks the candidates to dance and act out a given scenario. Roc 1, who acted as the sole panther last year and is currently on a break while he recovers from knee surgery, said he thought the audition would only involve him speaking to the coach. He said he was surprised when Nuzzo asked him to demonstrate how he would pump up the crowd if Pitt was down by two with 30 seconds left in a basketball game. Roc 1, who had never been to a basketball game before, said he found the whole process ‘nerve-wracking.’ After they make it through the audition process, mascots are responsible for attending football and basketball games, as well as charity events and other public functions. Some people, Roc 2 said, even request that the panther attend their wedding. The Rocs divide the events among themselves. Roc 3 said he particularly enjoys going to the sporting events, where everyone surrounding him gets ‘caught up in the moment.’ He said it’s worth getting suited up in a hot uniform if he can help people enjoy the game and get a good laugh. ‘It’s ridiculous. I’ve literally probably lost 10 pounds during a game,’ he said. ‘As goofy a job as it is, it’s an honor to be able to put it on and have fun with it,’ he said. Pitt students who have played the part of Roc the Panther before said the experience had a profound effect on them. Rand Werrin, who was the mascot in the early ’60s, said he’s as enthusiastic about Pitt athletics now as he was when he was student here. A dentist with an office just blocks away from the University, Werrin wears his ‘Let’s Go Pitt’ T-shirt every Friday and attends every football and basketball game he can. Werrin said that when he was a student here, he loved Pitt football so much he tried to play on the team. But an encounter with Pitt alumnus Mike Ditka made him think twice about try-outs. ‘I got into the elevator in Schenley Hall, and this person stands in front of me and he’s taking the entire space. He was twice the size of me,’ said Werrin. ‘I realized at that point I’d better go out for the panther, because I wasn’t going to beat this guy out for football.’ Werrin said he felt being the mascot was the only way he was going to get out onto the field. During his reign as Roc, Werrin said he used to do a lot of stunts to stir up the student section. At a game against Miami, he said he took one of the opponent’s palm trees and planted it in the broad jumping pit in Pitt Stadium. When playing University of Southern California, he had a jousting contest against their Trojan mascot. He even decided to milk the Navy goat one game, and the Navy’s student section ripped off his tail. He said, though, that he never lost when there was a wrestling match between him and another mascot. ‘When I was the panther, I used to wrestle with them because I was a state wrestling champion,’ he said. ‘So I’d always win, and that was a lot of fun.’ Now, Nuzzo said, mascots are only allowed to interact with each other in ways that promote good sportsmanship. ‘They put rules across the board for all mascots that there’s no interaction, per say, and there’s no taunting or anything with each other,’ said Nuzzo. ‘It has to be in good sportsmanship and a good representation of the University.’ John Ashcroft, who was the mascot from 2000-04, said that he once scheduled a fight against the Alabama Birmingham mascot during a game. The fight left him with a bloody nose. ‘I got my [butt] kicked by the mascot,’ said Ashcroft. ‘We had a scheduled fight for the third quarter of the game, and he came out really fighting. I didn’t realize it was going to be a real fight. Usually you have it staged, but he was actually slamming as hard as he could.’ Ashcroft said that his role as the panther has only increased his affection for the University. ‘I have so much love for Pitt now because of it. I got to travel with the team. I was there when we won and when we lost,’ said Ashcroft. ‘The experience I got being the panther has definitely been pretty rare, [and] I don’t think a lot of students get that kind of experience.’