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The man behind the mascot

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Associate Director of Media Relations | 405-744-5540 |

On the worst days, it’s just too hot. That makes the 45-pound mask on his head bear down a bit more. 

Take that parade in nearby Oilton, for example. Michael Harris’s stint had just begun as OSU’s most recognizable jaw line: the mustachioed mascot, Pistol Pete.

The early summer sun beat down early and hard. Harris, who stands a thick 5 feet 10 inches, only had three blocks to mosey, but his shoulders, on which the mask rests, weren’t used to the head’s weight. Plus, he had the misfortune of getting stuck behind the Shriners. 

“God love the Shriners, but it’s not fun trying to dodge their cars,” said the journalism major. 

Especially on hot days, the mask smells like “your own personal locker room” inside. It’s the same with the other mask worn by the other Pete player, student Ryan Nickell.

“It’s like the offspring of a greenhouse and a locker room on your head,” he says, further describing the smell. “We try to Febreeze the masks every now and then, but there’s really only so much you can do.”

At football games, Harris is suited and booted, his orange chaps, white shirt and vest drawing a crowd everywhere he goes. Sometimes, he’ll feel a pinch on his back side. He will turn around and a lady will explain: “I love Wranglers.’”

It’s not just games he works. He gets calls for appearances at funerals, birthday parties and weddings. But dancing with the bride is not as awkward as it may seem. Even though walking presents its own obstacles. 

Simple tasks such as going through doors and taking stairs are the worst. There’s just no way to do it right. And, somebody always gets bumped. It never fails that he ends up clocking some bystander with the orange brim of his 50-gallon hat. 

But that didn’t stop him from suiting up for several hundred appearances this year as one of the only college mascots packing heat — that’d be a Ruger .357. 

While the gun isn’t so much, his favorite part about the job is getting to make kids smile, he said. They all want to shake Pete’s hand. 

“Kids’ll come up and tell you all sorts of stuff,” he said. “It’s funny. I get a kick out of listening to kids talk. They’ll ask if you can come have pizza at their house.”

He signs autographs. He has his own baseball cards. And it seems like University of Oklahoma fans want more pictures with him than OSU fans. 

While representing the university, he must always be on his best behavior because everywhere he goes as Pete, all eyes are on him. 

Outside of his life as Pete, Harris has a degree in public relations and is finishing up his journalism degree. He worked three years as the O’Collegian sports editor but burned out after too many late nights. He half-jokingly calls the mascot role a fitting capstone to his academic career. 

He’s Pete because deep down, Harris, a Tulsa kid who graduated from an Episcopalian high school, loves OSU. That’s a prerequisite for any Pistol Pete, but he loves the school so much that the role is especially difficult for him during games. 

If he wants to contest calls or shout his pleasure at a big touchdown, a tough basket or a Gallagher-Iba-shaking dunk, he has to bite his lip because Pistol Pete can’t say anything. 

“It’s been difficult — a little bit — just because I go to basketball games and football games. I get mad and I yell,” he said. 

It’s good that Harris isn’t allowed to talk, anyway, he said.

“It would look kind of odd because his lips don’t move.”

Story by: Matt Elliott

Photo by: Phil Shockley

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