He’s made millions stand up and cheer. He’s put smiles on the faces of children with cancer. He’s given laughter to those who may not often have reason to laugh. And while he has brought joy to many, it doesn’t compare to the joy that he himself has received. He’s Cocky. His history is storied, his experiences many.
As a general rule, the beloved mascot of the University of South Carolina is a Gamecock of few words, but an exception was given to Columbia Metropolitan magazine as we celebrate his 31st birthday on Oct. 16.
The idea of a USC mascot was developed in 1980, but it wasn’t the Cocky that Gamecock fans know and love. The university’s first mascot, Big Spur, was a nine-foot tall menacing gamecock. In fact, he resembled Sir Big Spur, the real-life gamecock mascot that is present at sporting events today. But Big Spur was mean and scared little kids – not the feeling the university was trying to portray – so he didn’t last long. Enter Super Chick, a lovable mascot with long lashes and big lips who was the antithesis of Big Spur. But fans didn’t like him. In fact, Super Chick was booed when he came onto the field or the court.
But former USC baseball coach June Raines loved the new mascot, who was renamed Cocky. June approached the NCAA coaches and asked that Cocky be named the official mascot of the College World Series. They agreed, and he held the position for two years, which had not happened before or since. That was a great foreshadowing of the positive effects Cocky would have on the lives of so many and the national recognition he would come to know.
Eventually, the long lashes went away and Cocky evolved into the mascot that Gamecock fans see on today’s sidelines and wait in line to meet – one that is lovable and can make children smile but that can also strike fear in the hearts of the competition.
Cocky knows how to make an entrance during the pregame show before every home game at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Cocky leads a very busy life. There are few USC events at which you won’t see the popular mascot. Cocky says, “I attend every major sporting event and most other events where my presence is requested. I am there to support the teams and the fans.” And one thing you will never see Cocky do is turn down an autograph or a photo. “It’s more than just standing in front of 85,000 fans at Williams-Brice or going to Carolina Stadium. It’s about connecting with the people.”
And connect with the people he has. Cocky was fortunate enough to take the last photo with Bayler Teal, a young Carolina baseball fan who lost his battle with cancer last year. The Gamecock baseball team won their 2010 NCAA Championship in honor of Bayler, and in 2011, they battled it out again with him on their minds. “To be able to connect with Bayler in that way and have our team win the national championship for him – those are things you will never forget,” says Cocky, choking back tears.
The theme of giving back is always top of mind for Cocky, who takes many trips to visit sick children in the hospital or to see disadvantaged children who simply want to meet the mascot and have their picture taken with him. One program he is most proud of is Cocky’s Reading Express, a collaboration with the USC Student Government and the School of Library and Information Science. Cocky travels with USC students across the state to visit primarily underserved public schools and read to the children. The program focuses on students in 4K through third grade. During these visits, USC students read to the children while Cocky acts out the story. Before leaving, Cocky and his team give a book to each child, asking that they promise to read the book to others. “We are striving to wipe out illiteracy,” says Cocky. “This is just one way we can help. And to see the kids light up, to see the looks on their faces – it beats any championship. Although those are certainly fun, too!”
It’s also entertaining for Cocky to hear the comments the children make when they meet him. Many are convinced Cocky is a girl because of the long outfit he wears. And on a number of occasions children have wanted to take him home. After all, what child wouldn’t love a life-sized stuffed animal? Cocky laughs and says, “One little girl gave me a hug, took her picture with me and said, ‘Mommy, can we keep him?’ I’ll never forget that!”
It’s a kind of devotion you won’t see with many other mascots. And it’s because of this that Cocky has been named Mascot of the Year and Mascot National Champion. He is a welcome site at sporting events, community events and even the occasional birthday party. But for him, the best part of being the USC mascot is three-fold. “Being a part of a nationally-known, wonderful university that has a strong focus on academics, athletics and the community is the trifecta!”
Cocky’s parents pay a visit to USC for Parents Weekend 2010 and enjoy the game against Furman University.
The answer to one question still eluded us, so we had to ask Cocky how he really appears in that cage on fall football Saturdays, as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey and a palpable sense of excitement fill the air. All he would tell us? “It’s Black Magic.”
Yes, being Cocky is a busy job. But for this mascot, it’s definitely something to crow about.