|[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Albert, left, and Alberta get the crowd revved up with some dirty dancing during halftime of the Kentucky game on March 8.
By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 21, 2003
GAINESVILLE -- Armed with walkers and oxygen bottles, geriatric Kentucky fans have the Florida faithful reeling. Oh, the Wildcats are up by nine, too.
Timeout. With 15:37 left, Albert and Alberta the Alligator strut onto the floor of the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.
Are you ready to get your mascot on?
Because in their world, mascot is a verb. Albert and Alberta start a rousing dance number, wiggling, shaking and kicking their furry feet in unison to bring the school-record crowd of 12,581 back to life.
"I have to mascot," Albert explained.
Among those who don these clumsy, sweat-stained costumes, mascotting has its own language. To mascot is to entertain. To amuse. To dance. To cheer, and to get everyone else cheering, too.
Sometimes, to mascot is just to make it out alive.
Florida rallies to cut Kentucky's lead but loses 69-67 when Anthony Roberson misses a shot at the buzzer in that March 8 game. The Gators are done.
Albert and Alberta are not.
There's a wedding that night in Orlando.
There are six Alberts and five Albertas.
If you see six mascots running around Gainesville on football game days, it's not the beer. There are three Albert and Alberta costumes, put to extensive use by college students darting all over town, clandestinely exchanging suits.
If there's a tennis match, a Gator Club in another city, a department barbecue, if the alumni must be plied for cash, Albert and Alberta do their duty.
Parties. Weddings. Cross country meets.
Mascotting never ends.
"I've done wedding pictures on Florida Field," Alberta said. "Over the summer I had to drive to Boca Raton and do a wedding, and then there are the birthday parties ...
"Everybody wants Albert and Alberta."
This Albert and Alberta, interviewed in their dressing room after the Kentucky game, remain anonymous at the request of the university.
They are on partial athletic scholarships. Did you know you can letter in mascotting?
Alberta is in her third year as the mascot. The 20-year-old junior advertising major/business minor from Kissimmee landed the job before auditions. A seasonal character actor at Walt Disney World, she's done Chip and Dale (mostly Dale), six of the seven dwarfs (not Dopey) and Snow White.
She is the iron mascot: This year she is pulling double duty as a Dazzler on Florida's dance troupe.
"It's kind of insane," she said.
Albert is a 21-year-old fourth-year computer science major from Altamonte Springs. The skits and dances are their own. His tryout: Alberta giving Albert snout-to-snout resuscitation.
"There's an interview and an improv," he said of the tryout. "They have a bunch of different questions. Like you knock over a little kid's drink. What do you do? Teenagers are picking on you. What do you do?"
Mascotting, above all else, is an honor.
Legend has it that, years ago, a former Albert was spotted at Fat Tuesday. He claimed it wasn't him, that a roommate misappropriated the costume. Right.
"That was a huge, gargantuan deal," Alberta said. "They still talk about it at tryouts. They're like, 'If that ever happens, you're done.' "
Yeah, the job stinks sometimes.
Literally. The suits are dry cleaned free. But it takes a day, and with so many appearances and everyone taking classes, not all the suits get cleaned.
The Alberts accept it. The Albertas do not. To make it tolerable, they determined which two can share a sweaty suit, and which cannot.
"It's kind of gross because different people leave different smells in the suit," said Alberta, who claimed she can identify -- by smell -- which Alberta had it last. "Some of our sweat doesn't mesh."
The heat is another problem. They try to stay hydrated and take breaks. Some, like Alberta, are in shape. Some, like Albert, are not. He almost lost it in the second half of the Miami football game, moments before he had to sing We Are The Boys From Old Florida with the cheerleaders.
"I'm not going to make it," he told Alberta, leaning on her. "I have to go in."
"I was like you can't go in," she said. "You have to sing."
Rowdy kids. Drunk fans. Hostile cheerleaders.
Every mascot has scars to bear.
In Tallahassee once, two male FSU cheerleaders "bum-rushed" an Albert, knocking his head off and spraining his ankle. At Kentucky, two Wildcats mascots body-slammed an Albert, who injured his knee. Albert said an LSU fan asked for a photo, then took a swing at him.
But who would punch a female mascot?
At LSU once a fan and cheerleader took swings at Alberta's head and tried to grab her bow.
Don't mention FSU. At an Inverness Gator Club, she was asked to crash a nearby Seminoles meeting.
"But as soon as we got off the truck, two burly men came walking up and they punched me in the head," Alberta said. "They didn't even touch Albert. They went after me."
The mascot's natural enemy: police dogs.
The dogs are used for crowd control after games. But in K-9 school they're trained by attacking big ... green ... furry ... things.
"My first football game three years ago they were screaming to me, 'Get off the field, the dogs are coming,' " Alberta said, "and I was like, Why?
"They screamed 'You'll be a target!' "
So why do they do it? Because it is just so cool.
"It's like everything you want to do and don't get to do, we get to do," Alberta said.
Like appear in ESPN's SportsCenter commercials. Well, Albert will, recently filming with Purdue Pete, Brutus Buckeye and Bucky Badger. Alberta is bitter about it. "No one likes Alberta," she sighed about the SportsCenter slight. "It bothers me."
In the end, being Albert and Alberta is its own reward -- especially when the costumes come off.
"Basically when you're a mascot, you're famous," Albert said. "I was trying to describe it to one of my friends once. Imagine you're walking down the street or into a room and everyone knows your name and everyone wants to give you a hug. How cool is that?
"Every time you put on the suit, that's your life."
Added Alberta: "Then you can put it away and just be a regular person. You can turn it on and off whenever you want.