Right now I’m sitting in a distant corner of the Rat, which is short for Rathskeller, an on-campus place to buy cheap beer at the University of Miami. It being Thursday after work, students and employees have formed a long line to the counter, where the majority are taking advantage of today’s special, namely, a pitcher of Rolling Rock or Grolsch for $4.99.
I have a pitcher of Grolsch already at the dregs. I’m drinking out of a plastic cup and I’m wearing a neon green paper bracelet, which I like to think of as something I’ve earned, having passed the prestigious age – at least in this country – of twenty-one.
On the wall behind me is a framed life-size photograph of the UM mascot, Sebastian the Ibis. I look into the orange beak, try to discern a human face somewhere inside the costume, see what looks like two eyes, and then read the plaque that captions the photo.
I learn that the yearbook committee chose an ibis as the unofficial school mascot circa 1926, just one year after The University of Miami was founded. Even though they chose the ibis, the first official mascot was selected in 1950. Hurricane I was a sixty-five pound brown and white boxer.
If anyone can find an image of this mascot, I’d be much obliged, since I have a hard time believing that this pre-Sebastian-the-Ibis canine ever existed.
My doubt cast aside, it took some serendipity for the bird to replace the dog.
The magic happened in August 1957, when the ibis came into the world as an entry in that year’s Homecoming competition. I’m given to understand that until then it had only been a drawing used by the yearbook committee.
But in August 1957, a none-too-small miracle happened when the ibis seemingly flew off the shelves of forgotten yearbooks in the library stacks and emerged as if from out of a cannonball onto the Homecoming stage.
If only one of the people present for this ceremony could step forward from the hits counter and dare to become more than a number. Please, you who witnessed the ibis standing tall in real life for the first time since its birth circa 1926, leave a comment and describe the experience, which I cannot imagine falling short of sensational.
Was a John Stormont present at the Homecoming competition August 1957? Could it be that Stormont was standing in the crowd, moving with the crowd, becoming one with the crowd, closing his eyes and absorbing the collective effervescence of the crowd until he became, like Frank Eliscu and his Heisman Trophy, the creator of an icon?
I’m guessing he was since for the duration of the Miami Hurricane’s 1958 season, John Stormont could be seen dressed in a makeshift ibis costume, busting moves and rallying the crowd into their famous post-touchdown chant: “ooooooohhhhhhh… C-A-N-E-S Canes!”
The genius of Stormont was realizing the difference between going to the wildly popular football games dressed as John Stormont, the student, versus going dressed as an orange-beaked, White Ibis.
As the student, John could dance with as much enthusiasm and retro-coolness as Napolean Dynamite, but he would still only be another overly enthused student in the crowd.
On the other hand, as the orange-beaked, White Ibis, John Stormont could yoke the collective effervescence of the crowd with his Dynamite dancing skills. As an ibis, he could work the crowd; mold, tickle, transform, and transcend them into becoming another of his followers, and, in turn, a follower of his beloved football team.
I am proposing that Sebastian the Ibis literally transforms the body of Hurricane fans into a pump that can then be used at his will to inflate their team to victory.
Quick flashback: Why, in 1927, did the yearbook committee choose an ibis in the first place, why not another bird?
Well, the answer is ornithological in nature, for it is common knowledge to any bird lover that the ibis is the last bit of wildlife to leave at the approach of a hurricane, and the first to return after its departure. In this way, the ibis is a bird of leadership and courage, as well as speed, confidence, and strength.
John Stormont – I’m tempted to call him John Stork – was proud to become the ibis. He was a Golden God at those games. Wonder if he knew each of the football players by their names, or, more importantly, if they knew his?