Mascot Memoirs: Sebastian the Ibis, Miami

As Miami's mascot for eight years, John Routh faced fire, smoke, police and even bullets. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Who knew being a college mascot could be a paying job that wasn’t reserved just for a student?

John Routh does. He earned a paycheck as the University of Miami’s Sebastian the Ibis -- an ibis is a type of wading bird, for those wondering -- from 1984 to 1992. Routh's mascoting career began in 1981, when he performed as Cocky, the mascot for South Carolina. When legendary Miami baseball coach Ron Fraser discovered him at the College World Series one year, Routh followed him to Miami.

This Saturday, the fifth-ranked Hurricanes will face the third-ranked Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium, so we thought it would be perfect timing to hear Routh’s most memorable moments, which contain a shocking amount of fire, smoke, police activity ... and even an AK-47 bullet.

• Date: Jan. 1, 1988

• Where: Miami

• Event: The Canes defeat Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl and win the 1987 national championship.

Routh says: "Oklahoma has their Sooner Schooner. I went to a toy store and bought a little wagon and took a pillowcase and made a little schooner.

"We ended up winning 20-14. Oklahoma had the ball with about 35 seconds left, fumbled and we recovered. I had some towels in the wagon and lit them on fire and I had a scooter and had the wagon tied behind me.

"I came pulling up in the end zone with the play at the other end of the field. One kneel-down and the game was over. Little pieces of the flames were falling out the back of the schooner and making a little trail across the end zone. I was told by one of the referees later that one of the guys was about to throw a flag and thought, 'Forget it, the game is over with, they only have to kneel down.'"

• Date: Sept. 17, 1988

• Where: Ann Arbor, Mich.

• Event: Miami pulls off an incredible comeback against the Michigan Wolverines for a 31-30 win.

Routh says: "We were trailing 30-14. I was in the locker room, listening to the local Michigan broadcast. The stadium was rocking, it just looked like the game was over.

"The [Miami] sports information director of the time was Rich Dalrymple, who now works for the Dallas Cowboys. Rich goes, 'John, you might as well pack up, the game is over.' I said, 'It ain’t over.'

"So I put the costume back on and even when I got back to the sidelines, our team priest Father Leo came up to me and said, 'What are you doing? This game’s over.' I said, 'Leo, you’re the first one I’m going to hug when we take the lead.' Oh ye of little faith.

"We score [and it’s] 30-22. We score again -- 30-28. We get the onside kick and go down and kicked the field goal to go up 31-30. I was underneath the goalpost, so when I signaled the field goal was good, I was running across the field toward the Miami bench and Father Leo came out and met me. I’ve never heard 100,000 people be quieter in my life. That was probably the most exciting come-from-behind game."

• Date: Oct. 28, 1989

• Where: Tallahassee, Fla.

• Event: Florida State deals the Hurricanes their only loss of the season with a 24-10 victory.

Routh says: "Florida State had Chief Osceola and his flaming spear. I was sitting around with some friends a couple of nights before the game and said, 'He’s got his flame, why don’t we put it out?'

"One of the guys worked for the police department, so he got a fireman’s hat and jacket and one of those water-squirting fire extinguishers. I obviously wasn’t going to put the flame out because I knew I wouldn’t make it out of Tallahassee alive. I was going to walk out on the field, squirt the crowd, maybe squirt towards Osceola.

"As I’m standing in the tunnel, I hear Coach [Dennis] Erickson go, 'OK, let’s go!' As I start to run out in front of the team, I was grabbed by someone who spun me around and started cussing at me: 'Give me the extinguisher!' I jerked away from him and squeezed the trigger on the fire extinguisher and splattered the chest of a Leon County sheriff’s deputy, not realizing who it was. I was two more steps away from the tunnel, where they had five of them slam me up against the fence. They’re screaming at me, they’ve got one of my arms pinned against my back. One guy is trying to get the face off.

"It was a really ugly thing because it was in front of the Miami student section -- people started throwing cups of ice. They literally had handcuffs out. Our cheerleading coach said, 'Excuse me, gentlemen, what are you doing to our bird?' And I guess they felt [like], 'Wait a minute, this doesn’t look good.' There are classic photos of them slamming me against the fence."

• Date: Jan. 1, 1992

• Where: Miami

• Event: Miami defeats Nebraska at the Orange Bowl and clinches the national championship.

Routh says: "The national championship game was being played in the Orange Bowl. Because Nebraska was officially the host, even though Miami was playing in their home stadium, we weren’t allowed to do smoke that year ... or so we thought.

"My job as the mascot was to uphold our traditions. I went to the same friend of mine and he helped me acquire a fire extinguisher and threw smoke in it. As soon as the guys from the TV network were standing there, I pulled it out as the team came charging out. I don’t think I heard the Orange Bowl louder -- the crowd wasn’t expecting smoke.

"To this day, guys like Lamar Thomas come up and tell me, 'I was pumped up. We didn’t think we were going to have [smoke].' The funny thing, too, is the NBC guys as they were announcing, said, 'Miami is getting ready to come out and they’re not allowed to do their smoke and ... Whoa, wait a minute they did it anyway!'"

• Date: Sept. 5, 1992

• Where: Iowa City, Iowa

• Event: The Canes defeat Iowa on the road, 24-7.

Routh says: "I think the score was 14-3 and we’re getting ready to go to halftime. We’ve got a first down on the 3-yard line and we missed three runs up the middle. I felt something hit me on my hip and I look down and there’s a guy lying on the ground. This guy charged out of the stands and tried to tackle Sebastian. Our cheerleaders jumped on top of him, the cops came and hauled him off.

"Later that week, [actor] Tom Arnold was on 'Arsenio Hall.' Arsenio said, 'So I understand you’re a big Iowa Hawkeyes fan.' And he said, 'Yeah, I’m such a big fan, I got the Miami mascot beat up last week. This drunk guy was sitting with me.' I guess Arnold had gone to the game with the manager of his big farm he has in Iowa. He said, 'Me and the manager are sitting there. There are two guys in front of us just as drunk as can be, being obnoxious. I bet the kid $800 he wouldn’t beat up the Miami mascot.' Sure enough, the guy charged out and did it.

"After [Arnold] admitted this, it turns out the kid stayed in [jail] overnight -- Arnold and his buddies didn’t go bail him out. Apparently, the kid had to bail himself out."

• Date: Dec. 31, 1992

• Where: New Orleans

• Event: Routh has an unexpected incident before the Hurricanes eventually lose in the Sugar Bowl.

Routh says: "Before we lost to Alabama, [I was] walking down Bourbon Street on New Year’s Eve. Something burned in my head and a police officer was literally 16 feet away. I thought maybe I got hit by a rock or a bottle or something. He comes over and saw me bend over and he yells, 'Hey, we got our first one!' I said, 'First what?' He says, 'First gunshot victim.' There was a Woolworths where the window was kind of mirrored. He said, 'Look: entrance wound, exit wound.'

"What happened was I turned my head to the side and the bullet entered next to my left temple, kind of hugged the bone underneath the skin and exited in the middle of my cheek. Of course, I had to go to the hospital and get stitches. The next night, I was standing on the sidelines for the game. Some of the reporters came up and said, 'You’re not going to work tonight’s game, are you?' I had the quote of the week: 'It’s gonna take a lot more than a bullet hole to the head to keep me out of this game.'

"What I found out later from the people in the emergency room is they get anywhere from 15 to 20 gunshot victims every year because people stand on the ninth floor and shoot AK-47s towards the French Quarter. They found an AK-47 bullet right next to where I felt something.

"I had a little bandage on the side of my head. But it was kind of funny: For the game, I put a bandage on the outside of the Ibis costume. After the first few plays, they showed Sebastian on the sidelines and [Bob] Griese said [on television], 'The young man inside got shot on Bourbon Street last night ... but he’s working through the game.' My family got calls from dozens of people because no one knew I had gotten shot."