Arranging an interview with Peter the Anteater can be tricky. Ever try e-mailing Peter at his UCI address? Your message bounces back as undeliverable. You have to go through his people at UCI Athletics, but when it comes to unmasking the mascot, they’re a tight-lipped bunch.
“We can’t reveal Peter’s name,” says Robby Ray, assistant director of marketing for athletics. Eventually a phone number for Peter is procured, but not before Ray drops a bombshell: There are not one but three Peters sharing mascot duties. A conversation with one of the Peters, and Ray, reveals other curious facts:
- Peter’s gender neutral. “He” can be male or female. “I have to remember not to walk like a girl,” says the lone female Peter. “I try not to sway my hips.”
- Peter got a much-ballyhooed makeover in ’05 after some fans complained he was too cute, too cuddly and, um, too fat. So they came up with a new, buff Peter. But guess what? They never mothballed the old Peter uniform. Instead they trot out warm-and-fuzzy Peter for community events, when the occasion calls for a softer touch, like visiting hospitals.
- What’s it like wearing the uniform? “You have to be in shape, and kids always want to pull Peter’s tail,” says Ray, who’s donned the furry costume several times. Fortunately, Peter’s new head is smaller and lighter than the old one, but weirdly, you tend to smile when you’re wearing it – even though nobody can see your face. “You find yourself smiling when they take your picture, which is all the time,” Ray says. But that’s not the worst of it. Peter has a long nose, and if you’re not careful when turning your head, “you can take someone out.”
- Every mascot’s worst nightmare actually happened to female Peter: “I was running up the stairs before a basketball game and my head fell off,” she says.
- Students elected the Anteater as the UCI mascot in 1965 – to the dismay of campus administrators who favored more traditional contenders like the Seahawks and Eagles. Peter is inspired by Johnny Hart’s “B.C.” comic strip. “Zot,” the sound Hart’s anteater made when nailing his prey, has become part of the campus lexicon.
- Peter has his own MySpace page,www.myspace.com/petertanteater. MySpace allows individuals – and an occasional mammal – to post personal Web pages with their bios and pictures. Students who belong to MySpace can connect with Peter and make him their friend.