The University of South Florida football team may be smarting from a dismal 2-10 season, but one player has served the team unfailingly, rocketing USF to the top of a highly competitive national bowl.
Rocky the Bull.
He's magnetic and mischievous, with a furrowed bull brow and bulging bull biceps he likes to flex for the camera. And now, he's in the finals for the 2013 Capital One Mascot Challenge.
"My game face is the only face I have," Rocky's motto goes. He spent weeks going head-to-head with other mascots, picking them off via online fan voting. Now, Rocky is up against Raider Red of Texas Tech University, a moustached, finger-gun slinging cowboy who won the contest last year.
The champion will be announced at the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando. The winning school gets $20,000 for its mascot program, but both USF and Texas Tech get $5,000 just for making it to the finals. The money goes toward travel and upkeep of mascot suits, which can cost upwards of $3,000.
The two mascots bested 16 foes including Cam the Ram of Colorado State University, Mike the Tiger of Louisiana State, Pee Dee the Pirate of East Carolina, even Michigan State's famed Sparty.
It was competitive just to get into the contest. USF had to submit photos, awards and footage showing Rocky at games and community events, getting the crowd excited and showing off his originality, creativity and a signature move — boxing.
Perhaps even more valuable than the money is the exposure. Rocky has been featured in commercials on ESPN during college games, introducing USF's fuzzy gray ambassador to millions of TV viewers.
Rocky appears at about 350 events around campus all year, and there's a lot of mystique surrounding him. All students who don the suit remain off-limits to interviews, lest anyone discover the bull's true identity.
You can vote for Rocky at capitalonebowl.com. Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3394.