Rub the rock, say hello to everyone you pass, and sing the alma mater as loud as you can. These classic traditions are still embraced by the SRU community, other traditions have since fallen out of popularity. Perhaps most notably, the original Rocky mascot has disappeared without a trace.
Throughout the ’50s and ’60s SRU sports teams were known as the Slippery Rock Rockets, Vice President of Student Affairs Bob Watson explained. For about 15 years, the Rockets were personified as a mascot known as Rocket Man. Eventually Rocket Man faded away.
In the late ’60s, Slippery Rock sports ditched the name “the Rockets” and replaced it with “the Rock.” SRU student Bob Jones asked his mother, Francesse Jones, to sew him a costume so that he could become a new mascot.
She created large cotton round ball with mesh eyes, and a knit hat with the name ‘Rocky” on it. When Jones put on the costume, he would wear socks on his hands, and sneakers on his feet. Watson stated that people commonly referred to Rocky as being an old sweat sock.
“He really didn’t look like a rock,” Watson said. “The great thing about it was that it was amorphous. Its character was the lack of shape and character.”
Part of what made Rocky so exciting is that nobody knew about him until he began to go to sporting events.
“I don’t think students said ‘hey we need a mascot,’” Watson explained. “He just kind of showed up. It was in the borderline between great, ridiculous, and pathetic, but it so much fun.”
Watson said Rocky showed up at the right place at the right time. Students embraced their new mascot, partially because Jones portrayed him so well.
“If you asked someone visiting campus what that is, no one would have any idea,” Watson said. “Everybody on campus knew that it was Rocky the Rock.”
When Jones graduated in 1983, the Rocky costume stayed on campus and was passed on to another student. The tradition of passing the Rocky costume continued until the late ’90s. That was when then Vice President of Student Government Association, Brad Kovaleski helped lead the search for new mascot.
“At the time there was no mascot on campus, He didn’t come to games,” Kovaleski said “So although people talked about how much they love this mascot, I had been on campus for three years at this point and I had never once seen this supposed mascot because it was basically retired.”
Koveleski stated that SGA’s original idea was to replace Rocky with a character from the movie “Galaxy Quest” who was a boulder that transformed into a person. The costume was shot down because it would have cost $15,000.
According to Koveleski, SGA’s backup plan was to replace Rocky with a Weimaraner dog.
“I don’t know if it was my idea [to replace the rock], or if it was because I was an impressionable young 20 year old at the time,” Koveleski said.
Watson objected to the idea of having a dog as the mascot and suggested a lion.
At the time, the phrase ‘Rock Pride’ was embraced by the Slippery Rock students and sports teams.
“We kept talking about our students as the pride of Slippery Rock University,” Watson said. “They had coined this phrase ‘Rock Pride’ and we referred to the students as the pride of Slippery Rock. We then, in conversations with students, focused of the term ‘pride’. A pride is a group or community of lions.”
An election was held, and Rocky the Lion was chosen.
“It was actually announced at the homecoming pep rally,” Koveleski said. “There was a big box in the middle of the quad, the four sides fell down and the lion came out with smoke. It was dramatic.”
The Rocky that was revealed that day was very different looking than the friendly looking Rocky the Lion that is around today.
“Before the Rocky that we have today, we had a different Rocky outfit, but with a very viscious looking face. A go-to-battle kind of lion,” Watson said. “An ‘I’m about to eat you and the other 30 in the room too’ kind of lion.”
The ferocity of the lion caused problems, according to Watson.
“It wasn’t working with little children,” Watson said. “They were intimidated and frightened by it. So when the mascot at homecoming or sporting events would come waltzing around, every time he approached little children, most of them would scream and turn and run for their parents.”
The old Rocky the Lion costume was replaced with the most recent Rocky within the last five or seven years.
The decision to replace Rocky the Rock with Rocky the Lion wasn’t accepted with open arms.
Watson said that when the Rocky the Lion was announced, the university was contacted by alumni who were angry and wanted to know where the old Rocky went.
When it was around, the old Rocky was so revered that there was a plaque created in order honor each person who wore the costume.
Dr. Watson stated that the plaque was going to be destroyed before he saved it.
The question remains, what happened to Rocky the Rock?
“The question is where did he go and what happened to the outfit?” asked Watson. “I don’t know. I truly don’t know.”