Ralphie IV

Ralphie IV at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in 2007

Ralphie IV, the University of Colorado mascot for 10 years, has passed away. She represented CU from 1998-2008 and died on Sunday, March 19.

It is tough to find a better tradition in college football than when Ralphie runs before home games.


BOULDER – Ralphie IV, the beloved University of Colorado’s live buffalo mascot who roamed the sidelines for 10-plus seasons (1998-2008), passed away Sunday morning at the age of 19.

She was a month away from turning 20, but within the last week, she had developed an abnormal growth on her left side. Her longtime veterinarian was called and after several tests, it was determined she was suffering from liver failure and was in rapid decline.

There were no treatment options to end her suffering, and on Sunday morning she was humanely euthanized. Her caretaker, John Graves, was present and reported, “She was ready to go today. It was very peaceful … almost 20 is fairly old for a buffalo.”

She was buried at undisclosed location in Henderson, Colo., where she spent her retirement grazing in one of the area’s many green pastures.

Ralphie IV was donated to the university by media and sports entrepreneur Ted Turner in 1998. Born in April 1997 on the Flying D Ranch in Gallatin Gateway, Montana (one of Turner’s Ranches), she was named “Rowdy” by ranch hands. She was separated from her mother when she was about a month old and was literally found in the jaws of a coyote with bite marks around her neck. She survived the attack and was bottle-fed by the hands for four months. She was released back to the herd but wouldn’t bond with them, so the ranch hands took her back in and fed her grasses and grain. It was then that she was donated to CU as a yearling early in the spring of 1998.

John Parker, who trained and housed both Ralphie II and III and supervised the early training of Ralphie IV, retired after 12 years of service as caretaker in May 2000. Several others assumed the program duties for the next few years, including two former Ralphie Handlers and CU graduates, Ben Frei and Kevin Priola, until Graves took over in July 2015 after serving as an assistant for five years.

Ralphie IV was pressed into action in 1998, in the season opener on Sept. 5 against Colorado State in the first game of the series played in Denver. Her last run would also be against the Rams in Denver nearly 10 years later to the day, on August 31, 2008. The Buffaloes won both games, and handily at that (42-14 and 38-17). She handed the mantle over to Ralphie V the following weekend for CU’s Folsom Field home opener against Eastern Washington, going into semi-retirement. She no longer ran at games, but would make public appearances representing the school at the National Western Stock Show, the Colorado State Fair and other events.

"Losing ‘Rowdy’ is like losing a family member,” said Gail Pederson, CU’s former associate athletic director who oversaw the Ralphie program for 20 years, including the entire time Ralphie IV represented the school. “I was there with Johnny Parker when she arrived as a baby at his ranch in 1998, and watched her grow up to be a member of the most respected and revered live mascot programs in the county. I know all Buff fans, and especially the Handlers that had the honor to run with her, will always have her in their hearts, especially when Ralphie V and all the future Ralphie's take the field each fall. "

All totaled, Ralphie IV led the team out on the field in 75 games over the aforementioned period, which tied the number by the original Ralphie (1967-78). Ralphie IV ran with her “human herd” 55 times at Folsom Field, nine times at Mile High Stadium, at six bowl games and four Big 12 Conference championship games. The one other game in this period garnered perhaps the most national attention ever for live mascots, when she traveled with the team to Athens, Georgia, and was opposite the University of Georgia’s famed bulldog mascot, “Uga.” (Uga returned with Georgia for its game in Boulder in 2010.)

Ralphie IV will be greatly missed by all,” Graves added. “It really is a sad day for the Ralphie Program, the University and for CU fans across the nation. Fans knew Ralphie IV for her right horn that grew crooked, the Handlers that had the privilege to work with her knew her for her unique personality.

“She had a great career at the University and enjoyed all the times she led the football team onto the field, both at Folsom and at away stadiums. After retirement she lived a great life grazing away in her pastures. We lost a great buffalo, a great mascot, and a great icon.”

The Ralphie Program has always been fan-funded. Those interested in donating to the program in her name can do so by clicking on the “donate” tab at this link: www.cubuffs.com/Ralphie.

 (Ralphie IV’s successor, Ralphie V, is very much in good health and is running strong, as fans observed during Saturday’s spring game … her “given” name is “Blackout.” The University will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ralphie program this Oct. 28 in the annual homecoming game against Cal; Ralphie first ran on Oct. 28, 1967 against Oklahoma State.)