A FEW DAYS after probably the most notorious mascot battle in school soccer historical past, Sean Stazen (aka Brutus Buckeye) sat down in his Columbus, Ohio, residence and opened his laptop computer, hoping to get some homework achieved. The very first thing that popped onto his display, nevertheless, have been information tales from China and Australia.
The tales featured the hilarious, dreamlike and now ubiquitous photographs of the battle royal between Brutus and Ohio College’s Rufus the Bobcat simply earlier than kickoff on Sept. 18, 2010, inside OSU’s Horseshoe. There was a New York Occasions headline describing the sneak assault concocted by Rufus (aka Brandon Hanning) as a “Pupil’s Machiavellian Plan” that was two years within the making and stuffed with extra twists and turns than a fourth-quarter flea-flicker. And simply in case Stazen wasn’t absolutely conscious that he had been unwittingly thrust into one of many first nice viral moments in sports activities — one which divides school soccer followers to today — there have been hyperlinks to Ohio State coach Jim Tressel joking that Brutus was “possible” for the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes’ subsequent sport, weblog posts by Ohio State grad college students calling Rufus “Technology Y’s model of the Unabomber” and solicitations from a number of Columbus attorneys asking whether or not Brutus wanted help urgent assault fees.
After giving up on the thought of homework, Stazen, a senior communications main, turned his TV to ESPN’s PTI, the place Tony Kornheiser and visitor host Invoice Simmons have been debating … the Rufus-Brutus fracas. “That was the craziest second,” says Stazen, who now lives in Columbus together with his spouse and 7-month-old son. “I am sitting there watching myself on TV, questioning, ‘Is that this actual life proper now?'”
It was exhausting to inform.
In the meantime, in Athens, Ohio, and all through Massive Ten nation, Rufus was being hailed as a hero of faculty soccer have-nots. There was discuss of a statue. And the picture of him socking Brutus within the puss was already being printed on T-shirts, displayed in Ann Arbor bars and used as display savers throughout the faculty soccer panorama.
“We’re the little guys, however we additionally assume we’re lots cooler than Ohio State,” says Terry Smith, an Ohio U. grad and editor of The Athens Information for 34 years till his retirement in Might. “So we have all the time had this type of bizarre, underlying superiority. And to see Rufus come out and manifest it the best way he did was fairly nice.”
In the long run, the Rufus-Brutus brawl grew to become probably the most dependable litmus check in school soccer. The way you interpret the mascot melee — whether or not you assume it was (A) superior, or (B) an assault — relies upon nearly fully in your emotions about Ohio State and the untouchable (and typically unscrupulous) powerhouse stage of faculty soccer it represents. “Both everyone liked it or everyone hated it,” Hanning stated of his ambush on the time. “It is by no means been something within the center.”
And so to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Rufus’ epic assault on Brutus and, in the end, the return of Massive Ten play and the Buckeyes’ much-anticipated 2020 season (starting Saturday vs. Nebraska at midday ET), that is precisely how we determined to current it. Alternatively from each views: Ohio State’s and everybody else’s.
Sean Stazen grew up in northeast Ohio, within the coronary heart of Buckeye Nation, the place as a child he attended most dwelling video games together with his dad — additionally an Ohio State grad. Sean’s bona fides as a Buckeyes nut are simply verified on his Fb web page: a household portrait (full with PBR tallboys) outdoors Columbus’ notorious Little Bar. There’s additionally a basic snapshot from the 1973 Ohio State-Michigan sport on the top of the Woody Hayes-Bo Schembechler rivalry, when the Buckeyes ripped down the M Membership banner unfurled on the 50 earlier than a sport in Ann Arbor.
Within the spring of his freshman 12 months at OSU, Stazen was driving a campus bus and noticed an advert for Brutus tryouts. Potential Bruti should endure an intense two-day tryout that features gauging how candidates work and transfer inside the enormous, awkward nut head; efficiency of an authentic skit; numerous hypothetical apply situations Brutus may face; and a proper job interview performed by a panel of coaches and Brutus alumni. (Stazen now serves as an alumni rep on this panel.)
The mascot screening course of at Ohio College (2010 enrollment: 21,508, in comparison with OSU’s 56,064) was barely much less concerned.
A month earlier than college began, the Bobcats’ cheerleading coach known as Hanning.
“Wanna be Rufus once more?” he requested.
“Certain,” Hanning replied, not bothering to say one vital element about his enrollment.
After not making the reduce as a freshman, Stazen reapplied the next 12 months and made the crew. It will grow to be a life-changing expertise. “Brutus does loads of occasions on prime of simply video games,” Stazen says. “He goes to youngsters’s hospitals right here in Columbus and visits youngsters who’re preventing some loopy battles, and serving to to carry smiles to these youngsters’ faces — that is the No. 1 factor I am going to bear in mind from being Brutus, not the large video games or Rufus however that stuff with the youngsters.”
Hanning grew up in Pomeroy, a village simply outdoors of Athens, as a self-professed Buckeyes hater. In 2008, as a senior in highschool, he watched the Bobcats journey to Columbus and practically upset the No. 3 Buckeyes. Ohio State’s final loss to an in-state college got here in 1921, when Oberlin nipped the Buckeyes 7-6. After sporting O-S-Who? T-shirts at their Friday walk-through, the Bobcats got here aggravatingly near stunning the world, main 14-12 within the fourth quarter earlier than finally falling 26-14. The Bobcats must wait till 2010 for an additional shot on the Buckeyes.
On the similar time, there was a string of untamed mascot donnybrooks — Coastal Carolina’s Chauncey the Chanticleer vs. James Madison’s Duke Dog; IUPUI’s Jawz the Jaguar vs. Oral Roberts’ Golden Eagle; the Oregon Duck vs. the Houston Cougar — making the rounds on a quickly rising video web site known as YouTube. Annoyed and powerless whereas watching his Bobcats come up quick in Columbus, with an countless loop of mascot melees swirling in his teenage boy mind, Hanning blurted out his thought to his buddies, who after all thought it might be freakin’ superior. “I remembered seeing the Oregon Duck beating up one other mascot, and I assumed it might be actually humorous if Rufus beat up Brutus,” Hanning instructed ESPN in 2010. “I did not know precisely how it might occur, however that was the entire cause I attempted out for the Rufus job. That was it.”
In his e-book “Sure, It is Sizzling in Right here,” AJ Mass, a fantasy sports activities editor with ESPN who served as Mr. Met from 1994 to 1997, writes a couple of form of mascot mania phenomenon the place, very similar to a goldfish rising to suit the scale of its bowl, a mascot’s ego typically expands to fill its large outsized foam melon. “The individuals who get dragged into the mascot world, there’s performers, there’s skilled gymnasts, there’s right-place, right-time form of individuals after which there’s guys who’re simply ‘have a look at me, have a look at me,'” Mass says. “However they’re probably the most fascinating ones, sadly.”
Says Stazen: “All I can image is that this man’s dorm room wanting like Ray Finkle’s bed room wall in ‘Ace Ventura,’ with diagrams in all places of his grasp plot and photos in all places with Brutus with satan horns.”
As a freshman at OU, Hanning not solely secured the Rufus duties, he even tried a dry run throughout a sport in Buffalo. “I used to be pondering I ought to go forward and check out tackling one other mascot,” Hanning stated. “He is a bull. I introduced a purple sq. cape factor, like in a bullfight. He was simply enjoying round, appearing like he was charging me. I tackled him and put him on the bottom. It was fairly humorous and nobody acquired upset as a result of it wasn’t Ohio State.”
The subsequent summer season, nevertheless, Hanning determined to drop out of OU to work and attend a local people school. With the sport in Columbus simply weeks away and his goals of bashing Brutus seemingly dashed (most each NCAA mascot is a pupil), Hanning stated that is when he acquired a name out of the blue from the Ohio cheerleading coach — who had no thought he was not enrolled.
Just a few weeks later, on Sept. 18, 2010, Hanning boarded the crew bus to Columbus and introduced, “I am gonna beat up Brutus.”
Everybody simply assumed he was joking.
The sheer monetary dominance of the Ohio State soccer program actually retains soccer applications at Ohio and the remainder of the Mid-American Convention afloat. Earlier than COVID-19 hit, the MAC was scheduled to earn more cash from its 11 Massive Ten ensures ($10.5 million) than from its total TV income ($10 million). In trade for budget-saving paydays between $1 million and $2 million, all of the Buckeyes get in return is a just about assured warm-up W. Prior to now 60 years, the Buckeyes are 27-0 towards the MAC, with a mean victory margin of 30.1 factors, which might simply be twice as giant (they humiliated Miami by 71 in 2019 and crushed Bowling Inexperienced by 67 in 2016) if not for Ohio State’s unusual restraint and sportsmanship.
“It is similar to if individuals hate the Yankees or individuals hate the Lakers — the extra success a crew has, the extra, naturally, you are simply gonna have haters that wish to see you fail,” says Adam Widman, the Chicago Bears’ director of media relations and an OSU graduate who was an assistant sports activities info director on the college in 2006 and ’17. “Brandon had hate for Ohio State; that is how this entire factor began, and it is like, ‘Nicely, if we will not take OSU down on the sector, then I am gonna beat the crap out of their mascot.’ It simply comes with the territory.”
The ridiculous top-heavy economics of faculty soccer drive smaller Division I faculties like Ohio to really grovel and be glad about the beatdowns and accompanying crumbs they obtain from Ohio State. Over time, this Theon Greyjoy-type state of affairs creates a deep resentment that Rufus tapped into. “Our crew was getting ready to sacrifice itself on the altar of faculty soccer for some big-time publicity and a paycheck,” Smith wrote in The Athens Information in 2010. “Hanning did the one factor that might probably permit OU to flee Columbus with some self-respect. He launched a shock assault, and introduced down one of many sacred symbols of Ohio State College, that ridiculous Buckeye.”
To make issues worse, the Bobcats have been additionally pressured to humble themselves earlier than a soccer manufacturing unit that dares to seek advice from itself as “The” college in Ohio whereas enjoying in a spot known as Ohio Stadium, as if the precise Ohio College, based six a long time earlier than OSU, did not even exist. “There’s soccer after which there’s all the pieces else,” Smith says. “And as an OU grad and an OU pupil, like loads of different Bobcats I all the time felt superior to Ohio State due to all the pieces else.”
For a lot of, Rufus’ type of public service did not finish there. An missed subplot to the saga is that two days earlier than the sport, Athens was hit by a twister. The storm killed one resident and destroyed a number of houses together with the Athens Excessive College soccer stadium, which was rebuilt and lately renamed Joe Burrow Stadium. “On the time,” Smith says, “individuals round right here actually wanted one thing to chortle about.”
On the iconic Ohio Stadium, opposing mascots truly share a locker room close to the Buckeyes’ entrance to the sector. Stazen all the time tried to make use of this time to play gracious host. “However this time, once I went in to get modified, Rufus had already been in there, modified and made his approach out to the sector,” Stazen says. “So I used to be like, hmmm, unusual, OK, possibly he is only a very punctual man or no matter.
“Brutus runs the crew out onto the sector, main the best way with one other cheerleader, carrying a giant OSU flag. So I am doing this, and swiftly out of the nook of my eye, effectively, my mouth — Brutus sees via his mouth — I see Rufus standing on the sidelines, staring, after which he simply takes off operating proper at me, and I am pondering, ‘That is weird. What’s this man doing?'”
It is a full coincidence, however as Rufus fees towards Brutus at midfield, the eyes of every mascot seem to have been stitched in a approach that completely suits the second: Rufus has the offended, bulging eyeballs of a rage-ridden feline strung out on catnip, whereas Brutus’ large dilated oval eyeballs give him the shocked and traumatized expression of somebody who simply inadvertently Googled a phrase that yielded not-safe-for-work outcomes.
After considering the scheme for 2 full years, the day earlier than the sport Hanning lastly selected his plan of action: linger inconspicuously with the OU cheerleaders on the sideline across the 20-yard line, then spring on Brutus at midfield. The following scrum is meant to create a pure roadblock — just like the marching band scene in “Animal Home” — turning the Buckeyes’ wonderful, grand entrance into one large, chaotic human automotive crash. “I used to be approach up within the press field when it occurred,” Widman says, “and all I bear in mind is certainly one of my pupil employees yelling out, ‘Whoa, Rufus goes after Brutus!’ It was only a loopy scene.”
“I did not have a plan past that,” Hanning stated.
Powered by what Hanning described as “a ton of adrenaline,” he bravely fees towards midfield, lifting his large cat paws like somebody making an attempt to run in scuba fins. He lunges wildly at Brutus, practically taking him, the cheerleader and the enormous Ohio State flag all the way down to the turf. However then, mere milliseconds earlier than the complete plan is about to unfold completely, the unthinkable occurs. His Rufus head begins to fall off, and with out realizing it, Hanning’s mascot coaching kicks in. “That is why I let go,” he stated. “After a 12 months of being a mascot, it was intuition to attempt to maintain the pinnacle on.”
From Brutus’ perspective, after all of the buildup and bravado, when Hanning arrives at midfield, he seems to lose his nerve. As an alternative of executing a Ray Lewis-style blowup sort out, Rufus flails meagerly to the facet, wrapping himself round Stazen’s hips like a scared little one. Utilizing the cheerleader and the large flagpole for assist, Brutus is ready to brace himself, keep upright and shake off Hanning. “After I stated to myself, ‘OK, I suppose that is occurring,’ I kinda decrease my shoulder and sidestep him, and we hit, however I can get my one arm excessive of him and throw him all the way down to the bottom,” Stazen says.
So as to add insult to damage, Hanning then commits the cardinal sin of mascotting by permitting his head to pop off, the mascot equal of getting pantsed in health club class.
“If it was a greater sort out, it might have been lots worse, with all these gamers piling up behind us,” Stazen says. “As an alternative, Rufus acquired a sort out however Brutus acquired a beheading.”
As an alternative of punting the Bobcat head into the top zone, Brutus, as the larger mascot, politely permits a dismembered, embarrassed and susceptible Rufus to gather himself. That is Stazen’s favourite picture from the complete ordeal, standing triumphantly over a headless, humbled Hanning. That is what occurs when a boy messes with a person is how Stazen as soon as captioned the shot. After a dismissive shoulder wipe, Brutus continues undaunted, main the Buckeyes down the sector to the north finish zone. “I simply figured that was the top of it,” he says. “After which suddenly, I really feel somebody soar on my again and I am, like, not offended or something, simply aggravated, like, ‘Dude, come on, what are you doing?'”
“He missed him and Brutus simply shrugged him off,” Widman says. “I feel Rufus panicked and was like, ‘I can not exit like this.’ So he acquired up and adopted him all the best way all the way down to the top zone and jumped him from behind. I imply, come on. Put these two in an octagon the place there is not a sucker-punch scenario and I am going to put my cash on Brutus 9 instances out of 10.”
Nobody outdoors of Columbus cares if he makes the sort out. Going after Brutus in entrance of greater than 105,000 followers contained in the famed Horseshoe is a legendary transfer regardless. And the best way Rufus sees it, it was Brutus who fled. That left Hanning with no alternative. He reattached his head and took off in pursuit of the cowardly nut “to complete what I began.”
In the long run zone, between a line of Ohio State cheerleaders and a row of gamers solemnly praying on the aim line, the mascots conflict one final time as boos start to rain down from the group. An exasperated Rufus pulls Brutus down from behind and begins punching him within the face. Brutus, nevertheless, continues to be sure by the next calling — and a partial scholarship. “So now it is like, ‘I gotta get this man off me,'” Stazen says. “My first thought with the best way he is positioned is to flip him exhausting over my head, however I notice he can most likely seize my head and pull it off, and Brutus Buckeye shedding his head in entrance of 110,000 individuals at Ohio Stadium shouldn’t be what we would like.”
Hanning: “Neither of us stated something, however I might positively inform he was fairly pissed off about it. I used to be just about simply hitting his foam head. I did not wish to damage the man inside. I simply wished to make him look silly.” Mission completed. Throughout this flourish, Rufus manages to sock Brutus proper in his large bulgy eye. It’s, maybe, lesson No. 1 on viral memes: Although it does not precisely symbolize the complete incident, this picture is the one which takes root and spreads throughout the globe, the one being tweeted and reposted to today.
“Rising up in Columbus, you will have so many household and mates that went to OU or have ties to OU, so this grew to become their final second of glory, blowing up all of our telephones,” Widman says. “My brother is an OU grad, and so after all he was simply texting me each picture and video he might get his arms on. And I had one other buddy who renamed his fantasy soccer crew Rufus Haymaker. Even Michigan followers have been having enjoyable with memes and GIFs and whatnot. And I do not blame them one bit. We would most likely do the identical factor to them if the scenario was reversed.”
As if Rufus hasn’t embarrassed himself sufficient already, because the lame wrestling match ultimately zone fizzles, a gassed, determined Hanning makes an attempt one last low blow that, fortunately, does not land. An Ohio State official steps in and escorts him away, telling him to steer clear of Brutus the remainder of the sport, which the Buckeyes win easily 43-7. Afterward, OU coach Frank Solich quips, “Clearly, we would have liked to sort out the man with the ball, not the mascot.”
Later that evening, again in Athens, Hanning finds an open door on the college’s enviornment. He throws the Rufus costume into an workplace and easily walks off campus, by no means to return. The subsequent day, OU bans Hanning from all athletic occasions in perpetuity. The subsequent week, when the OU cheerleaders are usually not on the Bobcats’ sport towards Marshall, some speculate that it is punishment for not reporting or stopping Hanning’s plot towards Brutus.
With Brutus declining authorized motion and remaining silent and OSU deciding to not make a fuss, the complete incident is about to blow over when Hanning decides to go public together with his evil genius: that he had been planning the assault for years; that it was, actually, the one cause he had bothered to don the Rufus getup within the first place; that his one hope was to finish up on “Tosh.0”; and, if the varsity was planning on disciplining him, good luck, he had dropped out only a few days earlier. The elevated protection and the embarrassing lack of mascot oversight forces OU to challenge a proper assertion apologizing to Ohio State and its followers. In a letter to the editor, the earlier Rufus additionally declares Hanning’s actions to be “an absolute embarrassment to myself and plenty of different Ohio followers.”
Not everybody handles the fracas with the identical form of aplomb as Brutus. portion of Buckeye Nation is slightly gradual to see the humor in Hanning’s stunt. Simply since you’re in a mascot go well with doesn’t suggest the legislation nonetheless does not apply, one Columbus lawyer writes to Stazen. There’s discuss of a “Ship Brandon Hanning to Jail” Fb web page. The mascot neighborhood is downright appalled, to say the least. (Mascot fights are speculated to be staged and agreed upon by each events beforehand, with the express understanding that the house mascot all the time wins.) “There was a premeditated assault with loads of foresight and malice connected to it, and that should not be celebrated,” says Mass, the previous Mr. Met. “I am not going to equate it to a terrorist assault, nevertheless it had that form of planning connected to it. He used the very best entry level with probably the most consideration on it for the utmost quantity of publicity and ache.”
“The entire ‘unhealthy style’ factor appears just a little snooty,” Smith says. “When one thing is thus far out in left subject that it is so odd and strange, come on, it is simply humorous. Which is why Brandon lives on as an antihero in Athens, like Robin Hood or one thing.” This summer season, Hanning instructed an ESPN producer he was coaching to grow to be a tugboat captain. His Fb web page lists his present residence as Barbados. And the pinned tweet on Hanning’s Twitter profile is a play on the Colin Kaepernick Nike marketing campaign. There is a black-and-white silhouetted portrait of Rufus pounding Brutus subsequent to the caption “Consider in one thing even when it means sacrificing all the pieces” and the hashtag #LegendsNeverDie. Maybe that is true. “That is gonna be his declare to fame for an excellent very long time,” Widman says. “He is gonna be capable of inform his grandkids sometime, ‘I took down Brutus Buckeye.'”
“I do bear in mind on the time wishing I had thrown him for an enormous suplex or one thing, however that may have been my final day as Brutus, and as a substitute I acquired to maintain being Brutus till that subsequent April, and I would not commerce these reminiscences for something,” Stazen says. “We by no means spoke. We by no means met. I by no means noticed him or spoke to him or heard from him. It is simply this loopy, hilarious factor that occurred earlier than a soccer sport that has lived on for a very long time. I can not imagine it has been 10 years already. It is one thing individuals bear in mind and chortle about and acquired a second of leisure out of. On the finish of the day, as mascots, that is kinda what we’re there for.”