Game 076:(2) Northeastern 90, (7) Stony Brook 79 America East Quarterfinals Saturday, March 5, 2005 Events Center - Binghamton, NY
Jose Juan Barea of Northeastern scored 41 points on 17-for-32 shooting, and his Huskies prevailed over the Stony Brook Seawolves in an America East quarterfinal. That's what the AP wire will say about this game. Maybe they'll add something about the fact that it was the last game in the 27-year coaching career of Stony Brook's Nick Macarchuk.
What the beat writers and wire services and columnists won't include in their reports, however, is that this game included what may have been the most controversial moment in the America East conference's short history.
In the past, we have acknowledged J.J. Jumper, the "official mascot of NCAA Basketball." He's one of the more tragic figures in the mascot community - he doesn't have a home court, and spends the season wandering around Hoops Nation desperately looking for someone to please. The NCAA's website includes a series of reference letters, which attempt to sway any college administrators who might be skeptical about allowing a frog-looking thing with orange hair onto their campuses. It's not easy being green, but if you're J.J. Jumper, it's brutal.
During the fourth media timeout of the first half of this game, J.J. was out on the court, trying to make some new friends. As they are wont to do, the fans rose to their feet, stretched out their arms, and readied themselves to exchange temporary devotion for a free T-shirt. J.J. Jumper is alright with this type of transaction, the lonely lovelorn outsider that he is.
And then, Wolfie the Stony Brook mascot charged out onto the floor. He delivered a vicious WWE-style clothesline maneuver on the wide-eyed green Whatizit; as he attempted to rise, Wolfie finished him off with a fur-crushing tackle. In the grisliest possible fate for a mascot, J.J.'s head popped off, exposing the human being inside - the man quickly pulled the perpetually smiling frog-head back on, and lay there crumpled on the lacquered floor.
The crowd gasped, then applauded. "Wol-fie," the P.A. announcer clucked. "That's not nice!"
In the aftermath of the incident, the legal and PR wheels began to spin. Mary Beth Lennox, a senior advisor at host institution Binghamton University, pulled aside a Stony Brook representative in a red polo shirt and sternly lectured him about decency, manners, and the reputation of the America East Conference.
"It's his first time in the suit," the young bespectaled gentleman explained. "He didn't know... he didn't know any better."
It was soon revealed that the person playing Wolfie on this evening was a Stony Brook football player, perhaps taking out his frustration from the gridiron Seawolves' 3-7 record on the official mascot of NCAA hoops. But it certainly did explain Wolfie's superb tackling skill.
Word spread like wildfire through the arena: Wolfie's been tossed from the game! the whispers began. Wolfie's been suspended by the league!
"He's innocent!" one Stony Brook fan yelled. "Free Wolfie!"
In the bowels of the Events Center, underneath the bleachers, I asked the Stony Brook mascot if it was all true. Say it ain't so, Wolfie. "Nahh, man," he said. "I'm still in the game."
In the confusion that followed, the grey and blue wolf mascot made two laps around the arena, raising his arms in victory. As he passed by the opposing fans, the Northeastern contingent gave Wolfie a standing ovation. Just like that, the lid on a virulent and long-dormant strain of anti-J.J. Jumper sentiment had been ripped away. It was perfectly acceptable to cheer his conqueror, no matter what one's rooting interest.
But this story isn't all just fun and games, because someone did actually get hurt. J.J. Jumper sustained a neck injury, one severe enough to warrant attention from the Events Center's emergency medical team. He would not return to the game, and the remainder of the two-game quarterfinal session would be 100% fur-free. A highly-placed America East source told me that J.J.'s condition was "critical but stable" - he asked not to be identified, and was probably just kidding anyway.
Making copies of people may still be a politically controversial subject, but humankind long ago mastered the art of mascot cloning. Because of the number of J.J. Jumper suits in circulation, he will appear at games on Sunday in both Buffalo and Greensboro, NC. In this story, that'll have to count as a happy ending.