As I put on the suit for the first time, I could not help but ask the people in charge of Peter the Anteater, “Has this thing been washed?” Without a moment of hesitation they responded, “Every chance we get.”
I said, “Cool,” and hopped into it with the same blind trust you give a taxi cab ride; just hop in, see where it takes you and try not to let the smell get to you. I was Peter the Anteater for one night at the men’s basketball against Eastern Washington.
The suit had a stale, pungent and lingering stench that you would find in a locker-room that is 12-feet underground, has no windows, no ventilation, piles of old gym socks and shag carpet on the floor to soak in the glory of man-sweat.
This may sound weird, but as an athlete, I felt right at home. I loved the smell. Once it hit the nostrils, I felt my inner champion celebrator soul pouring forth. The scent hit my senses like a drug and as I strapped the head on, I immediately let loose and could not help but be hyped. I felt like a cheerleader, Disneyland character, back-up dancer and 6-foot-3-inch powerhouse Anteater all at the same time. And then I realized this might be the most amazing night of my life.
But that was all within 15 seconds of having the suit on, and I was not even on the court yet.
As I left the private dressing area, I felt the buzz of the crowd and my mentality immediately changed. I was a new person. No one but the athletic department staff knew who I was and I had free range in the entire gym. I could do whatever I wanted.
So what was the first amazing thing I did?
I, like a jerk, made a little girl cry. Great, huh?
As I made my way to the student section, a little girl and her mom were walking toward me to get their seats. I, in Disneyland-esque technique, knelt down and stuck my hand out for a high-five. The girl was mortified and immediately ran the other way.
That was not a good start. I felt bad and slightly malicious. I was a sad little Anteater for a second until I made a huge connection.
The light bulb over in my head clicked and I remembered that it didn’t matter if the girl got scared of me because no one knew it was me. I realized that I could do whatever I wanted and not have to worry about being judged or ridiculed. There was incredible freedom being Peter.
From that point on I just started dancing (I think the stale sweat smell got to me). Every time the band started playing, I would start breaking it down like Chris Brown. Some people loved it, and others just looked at me like I was an idiot. I was cool with both, but when that happened, I found myself keeping my distance from the haters and heading over to the Completely Insane Anteaters.
I stuck pretty close to the CIA because they were the most responsive to my attempts at getting the crowd hyped. However, one dude was a little too responsive.
A student dressed in a C.I.A. shirt strolled in and once he spotted me, he immediately smoothed his way over to me and with genuine compassion opened his arms to give me a hug. I dove in and was met with some slippery hands. As he hugged me, he started to jokingly moan and say he loved me.
I thought that it was hilarious and as his hands ever so softly moved down to my ass, I once again felt the freedom of no one knowing who you are, and I let it happen. He grabbed my Anteater ass and in no way was it weird. It was simply a beautiful mascot moment.The kid was stoked I played along with it and that was part of my job, to get the students excited. Whatever works, right?
And that is what the night was all about. Just doing whatever worked. As the second half came to a close and the team was still getting beat by just a few points, it was hard to keep my Anteater façade up because I really wanted to just watch, but I still made efforts to get the quiet kids up out of their seats.
I had to. I was the symbol of UCI pride and if I quit jumping around when the team was losing, I would be a bad fan, student and person all at once.
I was lucky the athletic department let me do this and I realized, with the suit or without the suit, cheering is fun and it’s time that everybody that makes it to these games approaches it like they have an Anteater suit on.
It’s just better that way.
Don’t believe the hype, believe the Hypothesis.