Saturday, 26 December 2015

Kermit's Distant Relative

I have had a busy day, and it doesn't seem to be stopping. I watched a ton of hockey today with both the World Junior Championship and the Spengler Cup tournaments getting started, but I spent a lot of time doing housework. HBIC Headquarters is looking prim and proper once again after the Christmas rush, so I wanted to bring this story to you. Everyone knows Youppi! came to the Canadiens from MLB's Montreal Expos, but from where did Youppi! come before he landed a gig with the Expos? The story of Youppi!'s start actually is tied to both the Philly Phanatic, Kermit the Frog, and Miss Piggy!

I want to draw attention to Mike Rubin of Victory Journal who did a ton of digging on this story as he uncovered Youppi!'s origins as well as many other mascots in sports. Everything points back to a Minnesota woman by the name of Bonnie Erickson who was and is directly responsible for 16 mascots in the four professional sports leagues in North America. I'm guessing her designs are the inspiration for many more mascots as well.

I highly encourage you to read the linked story above. I want to focus on the hockey mascots only, and there's a short paragraph all about Youppi! in Mr. Rubin's story. He follows it up with the impact Youppi! had on Miss Erickson's newly-forming business as she began to get paid in a big way for her designs. Mr. Rubin writes,
Youppi! (French for "Yippee!") followed in 1979, and the Montreal Expos' mascot quickly became the only untouchable on that club's payroll. The cost-conscious team may have dealt away future Hall of Famers like Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, and Pedro Martinez, but their seven-foot-tall mascot with his couch-potato belly and wildfire-orange fur outlived the franchise itself — after the Expos moved to Washington, DC, in 2004 to become the Nationals, Youppi! became the first free agent mascot and joined hockey's venerable Montreal Canadiens.
Indeed, Youppi! was the only Expo that never was under the threat of being fired or traded. He was and still is a fixture on the Montreal sports scene despite jumping the barrier from summer sport to winter sport in moving from baseball to hockey.

There's a lot that goes into making mascot as well, and Miss Erickson went over the creation details for how they came up with their furry spots-minded creatures. Mr. Rubin writes,
Costumes were constructed from fake Icelandic sheepskin fur, foam, feathers, yarn, spandex, fleece, and plastic (in the early years, eyes were made from L'eggs egg-shaped pantyhose containers). Each costume had to be flexible enough to allow a performer to express himself, durable enough to hold up through at least 81 home games plus promotional appearances without any major repairs, yet be as light and cleanable as possible. Even so, the suits ended up weighing 35 to 40 pounds, and tended to get pretty stinky. (Harrison recommends spraying suits regularly with cheap vodka to fight the funk. "It takes out the odors," he says. "Free tip. We’ve done some research!")
That last tip alone might be worth the value of the mascot's skin. You have to think that baseball mascots, who routinely bake in the sun, would have it harder than hockey mascots, but both sports' mascots are, as Mr. Rubin wrote, "35 to 40 pounds" of "fake Icelandic sheepskin fur, foam, feathers, yarn, spandex, fleece, and plastic". Having been a mascot for a short period of time, I can certainly tell you still sweat like a hockey player inside the suit!

There are even times when their ideas aren't accepted. Not surprisingly, the New York Islanders, who have had their own run of different mascots, are one of the teams named by Wayde Harrison, Miss Erickson's husband and business partner, in the article. Mr. Rubin writes,
One proposal, a giant rodent called Rink Rat for the New York Islanders, is fully fleshed out. "We made the whole presentation and they signed a contract to build the costumes," says Harrison. "Then the team got sold and the new owner didn't want one."
I'm not sure if a giant rat would have endeared the Islanders to heir Long Island following in the 1980s and 1990s, but Rink Rat never saw the light of day aside from some drawings and designs.

According to Miss Erickson, only Youppi! exists from all their designs in the NHL. There are six others that the former Jim Henson Productions and Sesame Workshop employee created who still exist today, but the Phanatic and Youppi! are by far the most recognizable. Honestly, it's not a bad legacy to have when you consider that she spent 40 years working with Jim Henson and was the creator of Miss Piggy and the balcony critics Statler and Waldorf.

The sports world is a much better place thanks to Miss Erickson and Mr. Harrison. Please click the link above and read the excellent work done by Mr. Rubin on Victory Journal. It's one of the more excellent pieces I have read in a long time!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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