The Williams mascot was recently selected from mascots nationwide to appear in a commercial for ESPN. James Dunn, who graduated from Williams in the spring, recounts his recent trip to L.A. to wear the Ephs purple cow mascot suit in a national commercial for ESPN’s College GameDay. When ESPN needed the purple cow mascot suit and a Williams student in Long Beach for the commercial the one to represent the Ephs was Dunn. Dunn had transformed Chandler Gym from the place the Ephs play home basketball games into a true home court advantage this past winter aiding the men’s team’s run to the national championship tilt.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — In 2007, when I was but a wee sophomore at Williams College, ESPN College GameDay visited our campus marking the first and possibly last time they visit a Division III school. I thought that would also be the last Williams College would ever hear from ESPN. Boy, was I wrong, and glad to be.
It was an ordinary Wednesday (May 4) when I received a call from Eph Sports Information Director Dick Quinn (DQ) asking if I knew how to get my hands on the Purple Cow mascot outfit, because if I did, then ESPN wanted to fly me to Los Angeles in three days to wear the purple cow suit in a commercial. The commercial would be for ESPN College GameDay !
DQ asked if I had room in my schedule. “It just opened up,” I said. But first we had to locate the costume.
DQ assured me that if the Ephs had not selected the purple cow as a mascot back in 1907 when the student body voted on naming a mascot, that was the same as a popular campus humor magazine at the time, I wouldn’t be asked to go to L.A.
Chris Fowler hanging with the mascots
Apparently Lee Corso, one of the regulars on ESPN’s College GameDay show, was asked to name some of his favorite mascots over the years as it was part of his shtick. Corso was known for putting on the head of the mascot of the team he thought would win the game from the site where the show was being staged that week. Of course one of his top 10 had to be the Williams purple cow. The commercial being shot was going to focus on Corso and the mascots so that is how the purple cow was asked to make its first national TV commercial.
After a call to my friend Amy Siedlecki to get a phone number for Tara Oberg, who I knew to be the last to wear the costume, I found out that it was simply a matter of checking the costume out at the Office of Campus Life. Easy enough, or at least it should have been, but wouldn’t you know upon inquiring further we discovered that another Eph student had the costume reserved for that Friday and Campus Life couldn’t loan us the costume unless that person agreed.
So there I was filled with the anxiety that this chance of a lifetime would be shot down because of a pre-engagement of some kind and I was on the verge of taking the purple cow national! It was up to DQ to work his magic and after a few hours of email exchanging I received the confirmation from him: “James Dunn, you’re going to L.A.” The trip was now set, the mascot outfit was FedExed to L.A. and it was then just a matter of waiting for Sunday to come.
I awoke Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m., which is the earliest I had been up all year. This is my senior year and I’ve mastered the class schedule system. After packing the one bag I was bringing I ate a Pop-Tart and gave my parents a call to check in; they live in the area and were driving me to the airport.
My parents picked me up at 8 a.m. and we made it to the airport a little after 9 and after a quick run through security my 9:55 a.m. flight was off on time and headed for a quick stopover in Chicago, which was mostly uneventful, but highlighted by the ten minutes that we were stuck at the gate before unloading. During that time someone spotted my Williams College sweatshirt and we had a nice little conversation about how much he enjoyed Williams College and all the great things he had heard about it. These types of moments are the ones I enjoy most about Williams; immediately garnering the respect of a complete stranger and having a sincere and meaningful conversation simply because of the school I attend. Even though I am currently graduating unemployed it’s nice to have that, and I did survey the rest of the plane and there were no conversations going on about how great a place Amherst is.
The flight to L.A was about 4½ hours, which I passed with the help of in flight entertainment and a great flyover view of the Grand Canyon that signaled my maiden voyage into stardom was not far away. Once in LAX I was greeted at baggage claim with the royal welcome of any celebrity: a chauffeur with a sign that read “James Dunn.” He sported a Chelsea futbol jersey and a chic gentleman’s cap “how Hollywood of him.” Jason, as I learned, worked for the production company working with ESPN on the commercial. He was the travel coordinator and would transport me to the hotel in Long Beach, where we were shooting.
The drive was about 15-20 minutes during which I learned how Jason didn’t believe in using a GPS out of principle as he felt they inevitably incapacitated people. Five minutes later we missed our exit and Jason pulled to the side of the road to gather directions off of his iPhone. I forgave his brief collapse of principle as it would get me safely to my hotel.
I finally made it to the Hyatt Regency Long Beach at 5 p.m. West coast time where I checked into my 12th floor room complete with harbor view and room service accommodations all on ESPN, my hard work at Williams was finally paying off.
I was really hungry and after talking over my situation with my agent Mr. Alex Mokover ’10, who stayed back in Williamstown to finish his thesis, I decided to order a burger, and a steak. They were delivered to my room just as I was finishing my Music 111 paper and watching the Sox/Yankees game on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
Two minutes later I get a text from our travel coordinator asking us to keep our room service tabs to less than what I had already charged. Oops. Sorry ESPN, consider it a repayment for my years of loyal fanship. What were they gonna do, fire me? As I found out later I actually fared much better than the Georgia Hairy Dawg, who had just gone over his limit at the bar downstairs when he received the text; he ate out that night. After eating I went to bed since we were required to be in the lobby at 7 a.m.
James Dunn with the Texas Tech Red Raider’s six guns
In the morning after showering and checking out I met the rest of the cast. In total there were seven mascots: The Oregon Duck, Brutus the Ohio State Buckeye, The Georgia Hairy Dawg, The Texas Tech Red Raider, The Florida Gator, The U Penn Quaker, and of course the best, The Purple Cow.
Nobody knew who I was except for the Quaker, so I explained, starting with Georgia (we called everyone by their representative school, — they called me “Cow”). “What year are you?” I was asked. “Remember two years ago when College GameDay was supposed to go to the Georgia-Auburn game and instead went to some tiny Division III school that no one cared about?” “Yes.” “That was Williams.” A deep sigh of comical frustration emerged from Georgia, and laughs from the rest of the guys topped off the educational moment.
We arrived on the campus of Cal Long Beach at about 7:15 a.m. Our station was amongst a wall of various costume, makeup, prop and effects trailers. Our mascot boxes were laid out for us. Mine was 10 times smaller than everyone else’s; a shoebox compared to television boxes. The other mascots made fun of me.
I tell them it’s not the size of the mascot it’s how you wear it. I pull the purple cow out. They make fun of me again. “What is that?” asks Florida. I tell him about the Purple Cow. “Is that a onezie?” asks Oregon. I responded the same way Shaq does in his own ESPN commercial when asked during a scrabble game where he gets all his q’s; “Don’t worry about it.”
Amid the scrutiny of the Division I big guns I slip on my purple and gold onezie. Red Raider has to help me zip up. It’s then that I discover the purple cow has no gloves. Once again, the other mascots make fun of me. I tell them Williams being number one in both athletics and academics focuses their efforts not on the mascot costume but on financial aid and enhancing the classroom experience. But seriously Williams, it’s time for a new mascot outfit — the head on this one is awfully damaged.
Inside the head it’s hard to tell where the duct tape ends and the fabric begins, but fear not, we made it through. Not wanting to be the first human-handed purple cow though, and not wanting to get kicked off the set for having half a costume, I bummed a pair of white gloves from Red Raider; that kid continued to bail me out again and again. Later he’d let me pose with his guns. In fact, many of the mascots took turns trying on the other’s heads and taking pictures.
After that there was a lot of hanging around while we waited for Chris Fowler’s shirt to be steamed. Chris actually stopped by and talked with us as did Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard. He was impressed to see the purple cow amongst the ranks of the mascots. I was impressed he remembered the purple cow. Fowler fondly recalled his brief time in Purple Valley. He was especially impressed with the Homecoming football tradition of St. Pierre’s Barbershop after a win. He explained to the others that Williams was a school with some of the best and most longstanding traditions. He also joked about the pregame speech in the shack at Weston Field, where there was just enough room for the entire Eph team.
There was also a lot of goofing around between mascots waiting for the shoot to begin. Once these Division I mascots got their costumes on they fell right into their accustomed role as if a switch had been flipped. Some ran to the road waving at cars, helped change a flat tire and even hijacked a golf cart that four of them drove around the parking lot while the production crew whipped out cameras to snap a few candid shots. It didn’t take much for me to fall right into the act, pretending to hitchhike out by the road with Gator.
Eventually it was time to film and we were shuttled over to the set via golf carts. The ride over was filled with numerous laughs from campus passersby that we waved to with great animation. The filming itself took about a half hour with frequent retakes.
The effect of it all was overwhelming and the whole time I had to keep telling myself that I was actually getting filmed for a commercial for ESPN. I was also praying that each take would be the last so that there wouldn’t be a chance of them realizing that they didn’t actually want the cow, or discovered that my costume had too much duct tape and kicked me off the set. Well, the purple cow and I made it through and I’m proud to say that the purple cow will appear in an ESPN College GameDay commercial. I think they said it will air in early August.
After the final cut more pictures were taken with the director, producer and the rest of the crew and we then we said our goodbyes, thanking ESPN for inviting us. I was extra thankful.
We packed up our suits, which ESPN was shipping back, and piled into a 15-passenger van headed for the airport, but not before a quick stop at an In-N-Out Burger where we feasted on Double-Doubles. I had mine with grilled whole onions; it was delicious. We ate in the van on the way to our respective airline gates.
I was the last stop along with Ohio. We were flying to Chicago on the same flight and wouldn’t you know we were seated next to each other in last row of the plane. He showed me his upcoming mascot schedule in which he was due to appear at a wedding reception. He asked me about my personal appearances and how much the cow travels with the teams. My answer was something along the lines of: “Ahem..cough..cough..small children’s birthdays…rabble rabble…library… books… college tours…Are we past the Grand Canyon yet?” I reminded him with all our differences I still made it to the same commercial that he did.
All and all I considered the flight to Chicago a great ending to an even greater experience, which we reminisced about for the rest of the flight pausing only for the viewing of our in flight movie, a pleasant romance film (or using the parlance of our time, chick flick); Leap Year, featuring Amy Adams.
Six hours later and I was back in Williamstown, not even gone for 48 hours. The whole thing was an amazing blip of activity, but one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Go Ephs !
On August 25 James Dunn began working for Sightlines, LLC, which is “a multifaceted knowledge company that leads campuses through a discovery process for facilities management, environmental stewardship, and coming soon finance.”