Oct. 31, 2001
by Scott Barbee
About two hours before game time, while the Cavalier football players are suiting up in their locker room, another important group of Cavaliers is also preparing for the game. They are the Mascots: CavMan, ‘Lil Hoo, and the Cavalier on horseback.
Five students share the duties of the CavMan and ‘Lil Hoo, switching off at halftime of the games. The uniforms are hot, making it all the more impressive that they can maintain the necessary level of intensity and enthusiasm.
“Endurance is the key,” says ‘Lil Hoo. “Especially for those noon games in early September. I’m sweating bullets after about five minutes in that suit.”
Before the home football games start, the mascots, particularly CavMan, can be seen all over Grounds getting everyone revved up about the game that day. He’ll be in the parking lot, tailgating and chatting with fans, at President Casteen’s house on Carr’s Hill, and will even visit all the luxury suites in Scott Stadium before opening kickoff.
“I’m just running around, getting people fired up for the game!” says CavMan, who acknowledges that he does some pretty crazy things while in costume. “The facial expressions that no one sees because I am behind the mask are priceless. Sometimes I just stop and say, ‘Man, what a weirdo!'”
And, when the game starts, not much changes. The mascots must maintain the bedlam that they have created during the pregame. One of CavMan’s favorite stunts is what he likes to call the “Scott Stadium Leap,” patented after the “Lambeau Leap” of the Green Bay Packers in the NFL. CavMan leaps up onto the brick wall that outlines the stadium field and climbs into the crowd of students.
CavMan is known to do some other crazy stunts too. At the game down in Chapel Hill earlier this year, he was seen running around in the end zone with the Tar Heel mascot’s head on.
“I had to talk him into [switching heads with me],” says CavMan, “but he eventually broke.”Even as a mascot though, these figures agree that it is important to know your limitations.
“It’s important to know your audience,” says CavMan. That is probably the most important thing. You’re dealing with infants up to 80 years old. When you are in the student section, you’re slapping people on the back and throwing people in headlocks, they don’t care. But, when you are dealing with the kids, your motions have to be a lot more reserved.”
The most popular mascot with the kids is the inflatable ‘Lil Hoo. The suit is powered by a 12-pound motor and a 12-pound battery that are attached to a belt worn around the waist of the person inside. A tube is connected to the lower part of one of the legs to draw air in, and a little air leaks out through the seams so that the suit doesn’t get over pressurized.
“It’s very fun and different,” says ‘Lil Hoo. “You can be very creative inside that suit. I love having people ask me if it is a robot.”
‘Lil Hoo is un to operate, but it can be very difficult. That is why ‘Lil Hoo went to camp this summer at the University of Nebraska, home of the first inflatable mascot. The camp was headed by one of the industry’s best inflatable mascots, the inflatable mascot for the Houston Rockets of the NBA and the Houston Comets of the WNBA. ‘Lil Hoo and the rest of the inflatable mascots all learned the newest tricks of the trade, but that wasn’t the highlight of the trip for ‘Lil Hoo.
“Taking over the Omaha Mall with about 12 inflatable mascots was ridiculous,” he says.Right now, ‘Lil Hoo is once again back in Omaha, being anatomically improved by the company who started the inflatable mascot trend. When he returns to Charlottesville, he will be about a foot shorter with smaller feet and a smaller head. The improvements will allow ‘Lil Hoo to be a lot more flexible and will expand his list of possible tricks. The smaller head will also allow ‘Lil Hoo’s body to inflate better.
The CavMan and ‘Lil Hoo maintain very busy appearance schedules not only appearing at all home football and basketball games, but also making an additional 150 appearances each year.The two masked mascots are complimented by The Cavalier, who, on horseback, leads the team out of the tunnel at the start of every game and at halftime. Started in 1994, The Cavalier was an instant success, and just this year has become a permanent fixture for UVa football.While his first duty is to lead the team onto the field at the beginning of each half, The Cavalier spends time in the tailgaters parking lots before the game, trying to pump everyone up for that day’s game. He says kids and adults alike all love his horse.
“If you were to ask me whether the fans like me or the horse more, it would be tough to tell,” says The Cavalier. “Everyone wants to take a picture. And it’s not so much me as it is the horse, I’m not even sure if I am in the pictures!”
His horse, Little Woman, is a 12-year-old thoroughbred, who The Cavalier says is perfect for the job.
“It takes a mentally strong horse to deal with those unnatural surroundings,” he says. “When your standing in the tunnel waiting to come out – you’ve got 50,000 fans screaming out there, and then you got the player coming up behind you making a lot of noise – stomping, banging, and beating. It’s a lot of distractions, but she is fantastic. When we first did this back in 1994, I brought five horses to the stadium to see which one would be the best, and she was perfect.”
Little Woman starts her game days with an early morning bath before heading to the stadium where she is a main attraction.
“I’ve had people say that the only reason that they come to the game is the horse.”Both The Cavalier and Little Woman look forward to their shining moment when they lead their team on to the field.
“It’s a rush. You concentrate totally on galloping straight down the field. I just don’t want to run anybody over out there! To hear the entire crowd when you leave that tunnel, it’s incredibly loud. I try to do whatever it takes to get the fans all excited.”One of the ways that The Cavalier fires up the crowd is by waving around his saber.
“Oh, it’s real,” he says. “It’s actually an antique that belongs to a friend of mine, Shelly Gordon. He owns the Tavern Restaurant.”
The Cavalier says that people always worry about him getting hurt, especially carrying that sword, but he is a very experienced rider. Having been riding for about 25 years, since the age of 15, The Cavalier plays polo and takes care of horses as a hobby.Nothing is as fun for him as running down the length of David A. Harrison III Field in front of 50,000 fans.
“It’s not work at that point anymore, it’s just fun.”