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September 15, 2008 | by  | in News |
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A Lions Tale

I had the rare privilege – I said, the rare privilege – of attending a rugby game in Palmerston North two weekends past. The slicksters from our fair capital city had travelled north to Turbos country to indulge in a delicacy many Air New Zealand Cup sides have come to know as “Absolutely hammering Manawatu without so much as getting out of third gear,” (a delectable treat that Northland and Tasman will only whet their palates with once more before dining out on the spud-n-beans scramble that is Heartland Championship rugby from 2009 onwards. May they rest in peace).

It was a fairly respectable turnout at FMG Stadium; the colourful folk of the Manawatu may not have had much to cheer about in terms of results, but their sheer enthusiasm and contempt for the so-called tenets of common decency had to be admired. Wellington’s Phoenix may be choired by the 2000-strong Yellow Fever Zone during the A-League’s regular season, but when placed alongside 20 geezers from Massey wearing green buckets and chanting fifty or so variations of “Turrrrbooooos! Turrrrrbooooos!” well, yeah, the Fever are still the best supporters group in the country by a long stretch – and that’s not the only slate upon which the mighty capital wipes Manawatu clean.

The 36-13 victory was also peppered by the ridiculously admirable antics of the Wellington Lions’ mascot, who’d either hitchhiked his way up State Highway 1 or conned someone in management into strapping him to the roof rack of the bus so he could be there that evening. Often seen giving wild hoards of Little Timmys and Little Sallys waves and thumbs ups at the Cake Tin, the brave lion took it upon himself to assert his inner Scar and get away with something that most residents of the Manawatu manage to accomplish before reaching primary school age: he stole – I said, he stole – another person’s jandals and then proceeded to wave them about in victory for all his adoring fans to see. The fan, admittedly, was extraordinarily drunk, and after trailing the lion around the entire General Admission section of FMG stadium (which, incidentally, covers about 80% of the ground), turned to the bemused horde of Palmerston Northians behind him and wailed, “WHY’D THE LION DO THIS TO ME, MAN?”

Indeed. How did this lion get to be so smart? How did this lion get to be so greedy? Being in Palmerston North obviously changed him. He also got me wondering where this seemingly innocuous act of theft in the name of sporting fanfare ranks in terms of historical mascot tomfoolery. Viewers of Pulp Sport will be all too aware of the fact that a mascot is capable of a great many things, like appearing on Campbell Live and breaking into games at North Harbour Stadium, but what about offshore?

Unsurprisingly, the United States is a veritable hub of bizarre mascot incidents:

In 1995, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks’ beloved “Wild Wing” was to regale fans and Emilo Estevez groupies alike by launching himself over a proverbial “wall of fire,” only to slip mid-fall in classic Simpsons style and set himself aflame.

2001 saw the arrival of the much feared “mascot penalty” when “Sebastian the Ibis” cost his Miami Hurricanes 15 yards for taunting the opposition during a pre-season match… no, I lie, it was a regular season clash… again, fibs, it was only during the Sugar Bowl, which at that point was still the place where the BCS National Championship for college football was decided. Imagine if Wayne Barnes was a water-wading member of the Threskiornithidae family instead of a stupid ref who’s stupid and smells bad and sucks and is a stupid-head – same scale.

The Baltimore Orioles’ mascot broke his ankle after being shoved 15 feet from the right-field wall by an electrician during a Major League Baseball game in 1999. His crime? Cheering too loudly.

NBA Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes, 69, knocked out the Miami Heat’s “Burnie” with a stylish right hook for spraying him with a water gun.

Wisconsin-Madison University’s “Bucky the Badger” was arrested and fined $141.50 for crowd surfing in 1996 – an act only heightened in ludicrousness by the man inside “Bucky” insisting on spelling his name “B-A-D-G-ER” when prompted by Police.

And in classic Boston Legal style, a man was awarded $2.5 million in damages after enduring a back injury caused by the harshhugging technique of the “Philly Phanatic,” – a heinous act that took place at a paint store opening in 1994. Oh, and you thought the mid-1990s was period of wholesomeness, didn’t you?

After lapsing over the railing and lamenting another night in Palmerston North without the requisite footwear needed to enter perhaps one or two of the Manawatu’s finest drinking establishments, the poor besieged Turbos fan managed to con the lion into returning his beloved jandals – but not before gazing forlornly as he saw them launched into the crowd, only to then be offered what appeared to be the lion’s equivalent of the finger as a sign-off.

Thus, with the circle of life completed, the lion returned to the pride and spent the remainder of the night doing what I had an almost uncontrollable urge to do myself: tackle and maim “Turbo Man,” – a man resplendent in a Turbos jersey with a wind turbine taped – I said taped – to his back. Palmerston North isn’t called “Knowledge City” for nothing, it seems.

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Kia ora, biography box, kia ora.

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