Bucky Badger Always Warms My Heart

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3 buckys

Illustration: Barry Roal Carlsen

There is a warm spot reserved in my heart for Buckingham U. “Bucky” Badger.

Always has been; always will be.

He was christened officially in 1949, the year I was born. We share the same hometown. His favorite team is my favorite team. We’re from the baby boomer generation. Love that shared experience!

Over the years, Buckingham U. Badger has literally made me laugh out loud. He has brought joy to virtually every university event — sporting or otherwise — that he attends.

He is a celebrity in our clan, from the oldest to the youngest among us. Actually, he’s a celebrity in sports venues across the country.

I’ll never forget how he generated squeals of recognition and delight among throngs of kids on a beautiful summer evening at Fond du Lac’s Buttermilk Creek Park many years ago. The local UW–Madison alumni chapter invited him to a Buttermilk concert, and he gladly accepted — and brought along gallons and gallons of famed Babcock Hall ice cream to treat the crowd.

In the dark ages of the Don Morton football era, Bucky was one of only a couple of bright spots to be found. The UW Marching Band was the other.

Bucky and the band continue to entertain appreciative crowds, but they’re no longer the only reasons fans flock to Camp Randall. The Badgers have showcased a litany of good to excellent football teams over the past eighteen years, and the future looks bright, even rosy on occasion.

Those are a few of the thoughts that crossed my mind last November as I watched Bucky Badger doing pushups to match the tidal wave of scoring against a bewildered Indiana University team at Camp Randall Stadium.

In all, Bucky did 535 pushups that afternoon. It’s part of the job — despite his massive thirty-five-pound head and sweaty fur — for the Badger mascot to match pushups with the score after every extra point, field goal, or safety.

In fact, the responsibility that day was shared by three Buckys. When one Bucky’s arms go limp, the next Bucky steps up.

The final score was 83-20. When Bucky completed the final pushup and melted onto the turf near the student section, we left the stadium secure in the knowledge that we had just witnessed Buckingham U. history.

On the way home, I recalled the night Bucky Badger called me at my house in Fond du Lac.

It’s a matter of legend and lore in the Mentzer household.

It was April 1995. We had sent a check to our daughter, Julie, a student at UW–Madison who was desperate for financial aid from the home front. Turns out, she lost the check. And she was frantic.

“Hello … Mr. Mentzer?” The caller inquired. “I found a check to Julie Mentzer on University Avenue. I could deliver it to her, or I could just send it back to you.”

I told him I would be at Camp Randall on Saturday, a few days away, for the annual spring football game. I said I would like to meet him and thank him personally, and I could get the check from him at that point.

“That’s perfect,” he said. “I’m one of the Bucky Badgers. I’ll be there for the game.”

And so we met at the ticket office gate, though he wasn’t yet in his Bucky suit. He handed me a crumpled, street-stained check. He refused any reward, saying he was happy to help. He was an honorable young man — a salt of-the-earth Wisconsin Badger in more ways than one.

I couldn’t help but think there was a message in that chance meeting — again, in more ways than one.

The memory warms my Badger heart.

This essay originally appeared in the Fond du Lac Reporter, where Michael Mentzer ’72 is the managing editor.

Published in the Winter 2011 issue

Tags: Alumni, Badger, Bucky, Campus history, football

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