University of Pittsburgh

commons room

Panther Century

Written by Laura Powers

The panther slips into his Pitt jersey one paw at a time, suiting up like the other players in the locker room. Then he slinks through the hidden hallways of Heinz Field. At the end of a tunnel that leads to the football turf, he peers at the thousands of fans who have gathered for the first Pitt game of the 2009 season. Watching the crowd is difficult because he can only see through one eye of the costume at a time, but he sees enough to know that everyone is pumped for the opening match against Youngstown State.

The student inside the furry suit is an anonymous Pitt sophomore. But when the fuzzy face, whiskers, and tail are on, he is Roc, Pitt’s beloved mascot. By tradition, his identity must be kept secret, shrouding his character with mystery and appeal.

To start the game, the panther Roc leads the football players onto the field by charging forward with a Pitt flag between his claws. Fans cheer and hoot as rock music blares around the stadium and the panther’s flag ripples in the air. It’s tough to sprint 100 yards in a costume, but this panther makes it look easy. When Roc reaches the student section, he tugs at the sides of his jersey to show off his new uniform. This season, he’s wearing number 100 on his jersey to represent the number of years he has been the University’s mascot.

In fall 1909, students and alumni gathered to select a symbol for Pitt. Student George M.P. Baird made the winning suggestion—a panther—chosen, in part, because real panthers once prowled the Pittsburgh region. Today, at least one lively panther remains. Roc struts back and forth on the sidelines, keeping Pitt fans’ spirits up. Dozens of people in the stands sport pins—distributed by Pitt’s athletic department and the alumni association—that read: “Roc On: Our Beloved Panther Turns 100.” Every time Pitt scores, Roc jumps and dances in celebration.

When the game ends, Pitt tops the scoreboard, defeating Youngstown State 38-3. Roc, sweating underneath his pounds of faux fur, heads to the locker room where he’ll become, once more, an anonymous student. When he leaves Heinz Field, he blends in with the crowd.  But he knows, next game, he’ll be back as part of a century-long tradition of Panther Pride.  In time, others will follow. Roc On!