By Dalton Ray–
You see him lead the football team out of the tunnel during home games. He has a designated spot on the floor for men’s and women’s basketball games. You’ve even seen him parachute into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. He puts smiles on kids’ faces as he runs through the crowd high-fiving, taking pictures and signing autographs. Louie the Cardinal is everywhere.
One of the most underappreciated people in any athletic program is the mascot. But who is inside of the 50-pound suit? Nick Marshall and Madison Hammond are two former mascots for the university. Marshall sported the suit from 2004-2005 and Hammond from 2005-2009.
Both Marshall and Hammond got into the mascot game through fellow former Cardinal Bird Jason Wade. Wade was Marshall’s big in his fraternity and Marshall offered to help out because of the overwhelming amount appearances. Hammond met Marshall during Hammond’s freshmen year, contacted Wade and ended up auditioning for the spot in front of spirit coach Todd Sharp.
Being the mascot for U of L isn’t only showing up at football and basketball games and running around. Fans can see Louie at nearly every sporting event. With 21 official sports, being the bird can get time-consuming. They have special appearances at events: The Cardinal Caravan, birthday parties, weddings, promotional events and even the occasional funeral, not to mention national cheerleading competitions.
While you need to have charisma and high energy to be Louie, it’s not all fun and games. Both former mascots say you transform into a representative for U of L.
“Another side people don’t see is that you’re an ambassador for the university,” Hammond said. “A lot of the times, the mascot will be the only student representative at a donor dinner or some other special event. You’re only in the suit for 30 minutes or so, the rest of the time you’re outside of the suit. So you really have to carry and represent yourself and the school in a high manner.”
Additionally, people might not think of game day preparation.
“I remember my first game as the mascot was against Cincinnati in football,” Marshall said. “I was thinking, ‘Just put on the suit and run out there’ but no. For football, it’s an all day thing. You have to get up early in the morning and do all the tailgating stuff. Then once game time is near you have to stretch, make sure you stay hydrated during the day, have a sweatband and make sure you’re mentally ready.”
Once game time finally arrives, the bird has to be able to keep his emotions under control.
“If you’re running the team out for a big game like a bowl game or a big conference basketball game, it’s easy to get caught up,” Hammond said. “Your adrenaline is pumping, the crowd is going crazy and it’s really awesome. But also at the same time you’re trying to rein it in because you’re in the spotlight and you really don’t want to trip over your feet or something. You can go from such a high to a low real fast so you have to find a balance.”
When Louie isn’t making special appearances, running around PJCS or dancing on the dugout of Jim Patterson Stadium, he is competing at cheer competitions. Between the games and competing being the mascot doesn’t seem as fun and easy as it seemed to be.
“When you go to Nationals and you say you’re with U of L cheerleading, you’re treated like a king and they’re going to take care of you,” Marshall said. “You have to have a hard work ethic because you have to learn these different routines and if you mix one up you can really get someone hurt. And if you mess up you’ll hear it from your teammates and the coaches. Doing that really made you have more pride because you truly felt apart of something.”
Hammond would add, “People don’t realize the time commitment, it gets really tough around (NCAA) tournament time and you’re emailing a professor and telling them you’ll be on the road another four days and you’ll have to miss their final or a test. Then when cheering nationals come you have to really be able to flip the switch. You have to be ready to do all these games during the day and then put in work from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. to learn these routines for national training.”
Even during games it’s not all easy going being the mascot. It’s easy to get caught up in excitement and not realize something on the court or field.
“It’s really easy to jump the gun or misread because you’re hot and can’t really see,” he said. “So a big play happens and you get super excited. You jump up and you’re trying to dance around and you don’t see an injured player down. Or if something happens and you try to run out and do your thing and you start to notice no one is really into it then you see that the play is under review or if you’re really asleep at the wheel it for was for the other team.”
While there are some hard times being the mascot both former Cardinal Birds agreed it was well worth it and they loved their time as being Louie. One of Marshall’s favorite times as the bird didn’t come on the field or at a stadium but at a home.
“This kid had cancer and he couldn’t leave his home. Todd asked me if I could go meet with him and I jumped on it,” he said. “So I go change in the at Oxmoor in some store and I’m riding down Shelbyville Road will my head out the window. When I got to the home the kid’s face just really did it for me, he was just so appreciative and excited. I did the autograph for him, played with him for about 25 minutes and I really just had such great time with that kid. That’s something I’ll always have with me and something I’ll never forget.”
Hammond’s greatest memory came by way of Louisville’s finest.
“The night before the Orange Bowl they had a big banquet to announce the honorary team captain,” he said. “I’m back in the green room suited up and I’m ready to go. They told me to wait back there and they would bring in the guest of honor in a minute. So I’m just sitting in this room by myself and all of sudden they wheel in Muhammad Ali. So it’s just me and the greatest of all time alone in this room and he’s staring at me. After a minute he takes a piece of paper, folds it into a paper airplane, throws it at my head and laughs. Easily the greatest moment of being a the Cardinal Bird.”
Being Louie has its mix of ups and downs. From the long game days to the long practices with the cheer team to the traveling. The unique experience is something only a few can relate to. The most common bond the group share is the enjoyment of putting a smile on fans’ faces.
File photo / The Louisville Cardinal