THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Chance for mascot to milk the spotlight

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / August 27, 2010

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There were many funny moments underscoring the separation of Him from Them, but one of the better ones came when it was time to take out their mascot costumes.

“The Purple Cow was in a nice little shoe box,’’ chuckles Jim Dunn. “There were about 10 refrigerator boxes for the others.’’

The occasion was a recent gathering in California to shoot a promo featuring mascots for the wildly popular ESPN Saturday college football pregame show, “College GameDay,’’ the one in which Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and the great Lee Corso are live each Saturday at a college campus on the morning of a featured TV game. The culmination of the show is when the fun-loving Corso makes his game prediction by slipping on the head of the school’s mascot.

You had Brutus the Buckeye from, of course, Ohio State. You also had the Florida Gator, the Oregon Duck, the Texas Tech Masked Rider, and the Pennsylvania Quaker.

And the Williams College Purple Cow?

Yes, indeed. Unpretentious as he may be, the Williams College Purple Cow was hobnobbing in the big time, and before you say, “Since when is Penn in college football’s big time?’’ be aware that Penn was an early gridiron power and was still playing major opponents in the ’50s before settling down in the Ivy League. The Penn Quaker drips with tradition.

But Williams, though wildly successful in its own world — the Ephs have won the Sports Directors Cup, emblematic of overall Division 3 athletic supremacy, 12 straight times and 14 of the 15 times it’s been offered — is decidedly low key, compared with what goes on in those other locales.

So what was the Purple Cow doing there? The answer is simple: Lee Corso loves Williams, and he definitely loves the Purple Cow. He made no demands for the Purple Cow to be included in the promo but the powers that be were well aware of his affinity for the Purple Cow and thought it would be a natural.

(For the record, Williams is known as the Ephs, named after school founder Ephraim Williams. But its mascot is the Purple Cow.)

The story began in 2007 when ESPN decided to pass up the Auburn-Georgia game in favor of Amherst at Williams, one of the great Division 3 rivalries in any sport (it was the 122d meeting). For Corso, this was a true adventure.

“First of all,’’ he says, “you can’t get there. We’re driving and driving and driving, and there are these mountains, and, suddenly — boom! — there it is. I fell in love with the whole place. I went to the barber shop where they congregate after a game and I had a great lunch. It was sensational.’’

He would be speaking of St. Pierre’s Barber Shop, where the team does indeed pay a visit after a Homecoming victory, and Papa Charlie’s on Spring Street, an establishment now in its third incarnation while retaining the slogan, “Still Only Three Hours From Fenway Park.’’

Meanwhile, everyone in Williamstown loves this Lee Corso story: “I come down in the morning at the inn,’’ Corso says, “and I ask the lady, ‘Where is the stadium?’ And she says, “The field is over there.’ ’’

Anyway, they do the show, and when the moment comes, Corso has already made up his mind which team he’d be going with, and it had nothing to do with X’s and O’s, or even the locale, though it’s always safer to pick the home team. Oh, no, he had already made up his mind that when it came a choice between the Lord Jeff of Amherst and the Purple Cow of Williams, it was strictly no contest. Corso plopped the head of the Purple Cow on his shoulders, and that was that.

It was prescient, too. Final score: Williams 20, Amherst 0.

So when Williams got the invitation to participate in the promo, there was only one problem: There is no specific individual serving as the Purple Cow. It’s not like those other places. At Williams, it’s fun, it’s casual, and it’s hit or miss.

“We bring out the Cow when we want to, or if something’s going on,’’ explains Williams sports information director Dick Quinn. “He made a lot of appearances during the basketball season this year because we were very good.’’ (The 30-2 Ephs were national runners-up to Wisconsin-Stevens Point.)

“You see him on campus tours. We have pictures of him in publications reading a book.’’

Quinn thought Jim Dunn, a newly minted Williams grad, would be a good Purple Cow, and off Dunn went to Long Beach, there to mix with the more polished, veteran, career mascots. These guys had even been to — get this — mascot camp!

“It was kind of a surreal experience,’’ reports Dunn, who majored in English. “You see how serious a business it is with these other guys. We don’t take it that seriously.’’

The was good-natured kidding about the Purple Cow and nerdy Williams and that stuff, but the big-timers treated Dunn very well.

“My costume just zips up in the back, and the head is a lot smaller than theirs,’’ Dunn explains. “They couldn’t get over that.’’

Dunn is a big sports guy. He was thrilled to meet the “GameDay’’ hosts, and he was able to chat up Corso about his time in Williamstown.

When he went to California, Jim Dunn, Williams ’10, was among the newly unemployed. Since he returned, he has gained a position with a facilities management company called SightLine. Being a Purple Cow obviously has more cachet than anyone ever knew.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.