John Routh, '82
in March 2009
John Routh, ’82, was Cocky before Cocky was cool. In fact he was Cocky before the loveable University of South Carolina mascot even had a name. As the first person to adorn the Cocky mascot suit, it’s safe to say that John left Carolina with big shoes to fill.
Originally from Columbia, SC, John currently lives in Miami, FL, but he’s a frequent visitor to his old stomping grounds.
It may be difficult for many Gamecocks fans to remember a time when the furry red mascot wasn’t patrolling the sidelines and stands at Carolina athletics events. Prior to the start of the 1980s, there wasn’t a permanent mascot until a fraternity Homecoming project became the genesis of one of the University’s beloved institutions.
“Before there was Cocky, there was Big Spur,” John explains. “The Big Spur mascot was originally on a float for Homecoming. Then the one main guy who was working on the project, Chuck Eaton, started wearing Big Spur to the games. Back then, there really weren’t a lot of costumed mascots. Eventually the Athletics Department wanted to take charge, partly for liability reasons, and came up with their own costumed mascot, and held tryouts for students.”
Following the tryouts, John and another student, Bob Lane, tied for the most points, so it was decided that the two would split duties initially.
“They decided for fall of 1980 that Bob would do the first half of the football games as Big Spur, and I would do the second half,” John recalls. “One game they needed me as the microphone man, so he actually did it the first time Cocky took the field. To put it lightly, the fans did not receive Cocky very well on the first appearance. So we went back to using Big Spur the next week for the big game between Carolina and Georgia which featured George Rogers and Herschel Walker. Bob finished the year as Big Spur, and I became the flagman.”
New Life for Cocky
Even though Cocky didn’t catch on initially, John still thought the costume could be put to big use. The Big Spur costume had its faults, and its large tail was a hazard to unwary fans.
“We had this (Cocky) costume, but we didn’t know what to do with it,” John says. “We started using it as ‘Super Chick’ at women’s basketball games. So Cocky started working there, and by the end of the year I was also doing the men’s games as Big Spur.”
The end of basketball season didn’t mark the end of exposure for the costumed mascot as John took the initiative to bring Cocky to Sarge Frye Field in the spring of 1981.
“I asked (baseball coach) June Raines if I could come out to the games, and he said ‘sure’,” John recalls. “So I was just working the crowd a little bit at the baseball games, and I thought about giving it up because it wasn’t as big a deal to begin with. Then one day, a cute a little four-or five year old girl wearing a little Carolina Cheerleader outfit, came up to me and said ‘Cocky, I love you.’ So I figured I could do it a little longer.”
Despite the approval of one of his “biggest” fans, John remembers that it took a while for Cocky to be accepted because it was so new that many people didn’t know how to react to it. He continued working baseball games where the director of NCAA championships saw him perform at the NCAA regional and told coach Raines that if South Carolina won the regional then he should bring Cocky along to the World Series. Fortunately for all involved, the Gamecocks did win and advanced to the College World Series. John and Cocky performed at all four of Carolina’s games and were well-received by the crowd.
From then on it appeared the mascot was here to stay.
“For football the next season we went to a sort of hybrid of Cocky and Big Spur,” John says. “We used it at the first game on the road and it wasn’t really received well, so we went back to Cocky starting at the second game of the ’81 season. So we did that, and in 1982 I was invited back to be the official mascot, and I worked all the games.”
You can’t take the kid out of the costume
The idea of performing as a mascot went way back for John Routh. You could say his mascot career started as an eighth grader at Hand Junior High School (now Hand Middle School) where he was asked by one of the cheerleaders to be the Hand Hornet. Ironically that costume was made by his brother, Billy, and he had worn it at a few games as well. History would repeat itself during John’s days as a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Carolina.
“Three of my fraternity brothers were cheerleaders, and one of them was the captain,” John explains. “I was always a little ‘off.’ I once came to a fraternity party that had a cowboys and Indians theme, dressed as a Cleveland Indians baseball player. The best part about being the mascot was hanging out with cheerleaders, and it was a chance to travel and meet people. I had the chance to go to Hawaii with the football team one year. “
John’s aforementioned appearance at the College World Series helped lead him from a fun college opportunity to a fulltime career. It was there that he met University of Miami baseball coach Ron Fraser, who wanted a mascot for his team.
“They actually created their mascot character after seeing me perform in ’81 and asked me to come down there to work as their mascot,” John says. “What I thought would be a six-month job turned into something I stayed with for 10 years.”
In addition to the mascot job, John had some other duties and eventually became the assistant director of marketing for the Miami athletics department. In addition to a decade of serving as the Miami Maniac and Sebastian the Ibis for the University of Miami, he also performed at approximately 35 minor league baseball games during the summer. That led to even more opportunities.
“I later got the job as Billy the Marlin and worked for the Florida Marlins for 10 years,” John says.
Underneath the costume, he’s still garnet and black
Despite spending a majority of his adult life in Florida, John Routh is true to his roots and is a proud member of the Carolina Alumni Association. John returns to Columbia several times each year to attend Carolina games and enjoys watching his legacy at Williams-Brice stadium and other venues.
“It’s fun to watch Cocky running around now,” John says. “I love the fact that he’s grown to become this big icon. Certainly the guys who have followed me have carried on the tradition.”
With all his travels, some of his greatest memories revolve around Carolina, and he’s proud to have served as the Gamecock mascot.
“Growing up in Columbia, I have been a Gamecock fan all my life,” Routh says. “My father graduated from Carolina in ’48. My four sisters also graduated, and I had a brother who attended Carolina as well. My family was very entrenched in Carolina, and I was a big sports fan. As a kid, I used to listen to Bob Fulton on the radio with my scorebook. Not having the athletic ability to get on the field as a player, this was a way to become part of the athletics program.”
John’s grandfather served as one of the first University doctors in the 1940s, and his grandmother rented apartments on Greene Street, serving as a “mom away from home” to hundreds of Carolina students for more than 60 years. Although his Carolina days seemed to be all fun and games, he’s appreciative of what he learned in Columbia and how it led him to a career.
“I enjoyed the whole experience,” John says. “I was in the advertising/public relations track, which was essentially what I’ve been doing with most of my life. The experience of the education is what I used for my entire career as projecting the public image of your school.”
John still lives in Florida, sells sports memorabilia on the Internet and serves on the executive committee for the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame.
“I like to tell people I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up."