By Published: Sept. 1, 2017

young Ralphie

A Buffalo For the Buffaloes

As a CU freshman in 1965, Bill Lowery (Bus ex’69) was shocked to see a costumed buffalo at Buffs football games instead of the real thing.

“I grew up in Texas and in the Southwest Conference,” he said. “I was used to seeing live mascots.”

So the cowboy from Lubbock acted: In fall 1965 he proposed a permanent live buffalo mascot to the Silver and Gold freshman spirit committee.

The idea was a hit, and the group assigned him the key task of finding a buffalo.

By summer 1966, Ralphie I was in Boulder, readying for action.

She wouldn’t be the first buffalo to appear at a CU football game — others, rented or borrowed, had made sideline appearances since at least 1934, when CU adopted “buffaloes” as its nickname. But the arrival of Ralphie I, a calf from Colorado’s northeastern corner, set the stage for Ralphie’s game-day runs.

Lowery was the right guy at the right time. An animal lover, he’d brought two horses to CU. And his father was a rancher. The elder Lowery paid $150 for a young female buffalo from Sedgwick County and donated her to CU.

Bill Lowery and three fellow students — incoming sophomore class president Don Marturano (Econ’69), Victor Reinking (A&S’69) and John McGill (Engl’69), all pictured below — trained the live mascot at CU-owned Green Meadows Riding Ranch in east Boulder, under manager Buddy Hays.

Ralphie made her Folsom debut in fall 1966, according to Lowery and Marturano, who said they ran her on the field at the Oct. 1 Kansas State game. (The spring 1967 yearbook shows a picture, labeled “CU’s new buffalo mascot, Ralph,” of Lowery and crew escorting a buffalo in a stadium.) CU Athletics endorsed the buffalo dashes in 1967, marking the start of the tradition.

On that October day in '66, Lowery’s team loaded Ralphie into a four-horse stock trailer and drove her into Folsom’s north end zone, where the team awaited kickoff. Asked to move, they grabbed Ralphie’s ropes and charged onto the field in cowboy boots — flailing, wild, euphoric.

“The crowd went absolutely nuts,” said Lowery, now of Vernon, Texas. “I said, ‘I think the buffalo is here to stay.’”

CU won the game 10-0.

The next year Ralphie appeared on national television during the Bluebonnet Bowl.

And with that, said Glenn Porzak (PolSci’70; Law’73), president of the 1967-68 sophomore class, “She became a celebrity.” 

Photo from Coloradan archives