Touchdown appears on stage at Homecoming Weekend 2016

Touchdown rocks Homecoming. The number on his jersey is a nod to the Class of 1970, which gave a gift to fund ursine expenses. (Photo by Cornell University)

Fur Above: Big Red Bears Bring Touchdown to Life

Student group is the showrunner for University’s ursine mascot

By Joe Wilensky

A Florida native and self-described Disney fanatic, William Prevor ’24 regularly visits theme parks to take photos with characters in their various costumes, documenting his conquests on two social media accounts.

And when Prevor arrived on the Hill in fall 2020, he joined the Big Red Bears—the student-run organization that manages Touchdown, the University’s beloved (if unofficial) mascot. As the Hotelie admits, he had a particular motive for becoming a member.

“I wanted to see when he was wearing all his different outfits,” he says, “so I could get my picture with him.” But Prevor quickly became engrossed in the group that brings the furriest Cornellian to life—and he’s now its president.

About 15 members strong, the Bears support and manage Touchdown, including filling the all-important role of handler—a human who escorts him at athletic events and other appearances, which numbered more than 60 during spring ’22 alone.

“It’s always so exciting to see how happy seeing Touchdown makes people—from sneaking up on tour groups to greeting students and professors on the last day of classes,” says Bears member Vikas Reddy ’23.

“I also love seeing Touchdown interact with kids. At first, they’re usually a little scared—but when they see how playful and friendly he is, it makes their day.”

Touchdown meets a young fan at Lynah Rink
He always takes time out to meet his youngest fans. (Photo by Cornell University)

The very first Touchdown mascot was an actual bear, a live (female) cub that the athletic association purchased for $25 in 1915.

With a penchant for climbing the goal posts at football games, she was a crowd favorite—and she turned out to be a good luck charm when the team went on to an undefeated national championship season.

Additional live Touchdowns appeared in 1916, 1919, and 1939. Alumnus John Foote ’74 chronicled their story in his book Touchdown: The Story of the Cornell Bear; in 2015, a bronze statue commemorating them was dedicated in front of Teagle Hall.

The Big Red Bear looked a bit different in the past—seen here at Schoellkopf Stadium in 1987
He used to look a bit fiercer—as in this 1987 appearance. (Photo by Cornell University)

Touchdown’s human incarnation began some six decades ago, when he began to be portrayed by a series of students—who generally kept their identity secret until they revealed themselves at the final hockey game of each season.

The current Big Red Bears organization was formed in the early 2000s, broadening the number and types of appearances Touchdown could make. Clad in a variety of occasion-appropriate outfits, he proved to be an enthusiastic dancer, a hugger of (willing) children, and an eager participant in group photos and selfies.

Touchdown with VP Ryan Lombardi and Dean of Students Marla Love at the Moonlight Breakfast event at Okenshield's
Showing off his new pajamas at a breakfast event in Okenshields during finals week. (Photo provided)

Today, Touchdown interacts with Cornellians young and old across a multitude of events, on the Hill and beyond—from hockey and football games to Commencement, Reunion, Move-In Weekend, weddings, alumni gatherings, appearances with the Big Red Marching Band and Pep Band, and more.

Fans can request a Touchdown appearance via the Bears website (“bringing the Cornell spirit to life since 1915”); in past years, some far-flung Cornell Clubs even paid to fly him in for events. For aspiring members, joining the group—a.k.a. becoming “friends with Touchdown”—requires an application process that, in pre-pandemic times, included an in-suit audition.

Bears treasurer Maia Marshall ’25 remembers growing up in Syracuse and accompanying her father, Clayton Marshall ’92, to Ithaca for hockey games and Reunion—which is where, as a child, she first met Touchdown.

“That memory has stuck with me, and I wanted to help give others a special memory from their time at Cornell,” says the mechanical engineering student. “He provides a warm—and huggable—connection to the Hill, no matter if the event is in Lynah Rink or at Madison Square Garden. It’s a way of spreading Big Red spirit.”

He provides a warm—and huggable—connection to the Hill.

Maia Marshall ’25

When the pandemic necessitated a slowdown in Touchdown’s appearances, the Bears took the opportunity to rethink their philosophy. Fueled by his lifelong passion for theme park characters and the wonder they can create, Prevor encouraged the group to revive Touchdown’s midcentury tradition of ursine mystery.

This has meant treating him not as a costumed mascot—with a wink to the students occupying the suit—but rather the embodiment of a real bear, though a happy-go-lucky one who brims with Big Red energy.

“There’s always been a secrecy angle to Touchdown; we’ve just increased it, to be more in line with other collegiate and professional mascots,” explains Prevor, whose parents (James Prevor ’83 and Debra Hodes Prevor ’86) are fellow Cornellians. “We’ve been trying to take it a little more seriously.”

Touchdown, sporting his red-and-white Mardi Gras outfit, hands out beads on campus
Sporting a Mardi Gras outfit, he hands out beads on campus. (Photo by Jason Koski/Cornell University)

Touchdown has also become more sartorially adventurous, chronicling new outfits on his Instagram channel. Recent highlights include a Mardi Gras costume, party attire for Charter Day, pajamas that debuted at Hotel Ezra Cornell, and an Easter-themed ensemble complete with bunny ears.

And as Prevor hints, Touchdown himself will be getting a refresh in time for fall—plus his very own golf cart, so he can ride in style to more appearances.

“He’s going to take a very long bath,” he says, “and he’s going to come back looking a little bit different.”

Top image: Touchdown rocks Homecoming. The number on his jersey is a nod to the Class of 1970, which gave a gift to fund ursine expenses. (Photo by Cornell University)

Published June 24, 2022


Comments

  1. Marlise Flannery Landeck, Class of 1959

    Charlie “Chuck” Brown, class of 1960, ME, Psi U, was the Big Red Bear in the later fifties. How he loved and relished his role, relating to and flirting with us all. And we flirted back. His future wife, Nancy Sterling, KKG, just smiled and rolled her eyes! The CU cheerleaders, all men then, had great times interacting with him. It was a fabulous show. A truly relaxing event, which we all needed from academics. Ah, to be back on The Hill. Cherished memories and times.
    Marlise Flannery

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