The year was 1978. Bob Jones, a freshman English major at Slippery Rock State College (SRSC), noticed that his school did not have a mascot to represent the institution. Upon the suggestion from his father, Jones created a design for “Rocky” and then had his mother, Frances, sew a costume based off of the design, said Slippery Rock University Archives Technician Kevin McLatchy.
Rocky, known today as “Rocky I,” made his debut at the SRSC football at California State College during that year’s football season. Jones remained as an anonymous Rocky for five football seasons, before revealing his identity during a home football game against Millersville University.
In a 1982 article published by The Rocket, Jones said he wished to remain anonymous simply to separate his life as a student from his “life” as a mascot.
Upon graduation, Jones took the original Rocky I costume with him, the article said. Jones did give permission for Slippery Rock State College, soon becoming Slippery Rock University about a year later, to use his design/copyright for the development of other mascots to represent the institution.
Rocky I remained as the official mascot of SRU for a number of years. However, as years passed, the mascot became a sort of joke to the student body of SRU, McLatchy said. A 1997 article from The Rocket referred to the mascot as, “…that hideous thing we call Rocky.”
“Alas, the Slippery Rock athletic department has finally answered our prayers and has decided to hold a contest to change the mascot,” the article said.
After years of frustration, a majority of the student body got what it had been asking for. A contest allowed for students and faculty to give input on what they thought the new mascot should be, the article said.
Slippery Rock University Athletic Director Paul Lueken said the University as a whole felt that the mascot that represented the school was in need of a change.
“There was a committee formed that consisted of myself, members of SGA, several coaches of SRU sports, a number of alumni, and of course the University President,” Lueken said.
The University introduced “Rocky II” in 2000. The costume was purchased from a company that already owned the costume, Lueken said.
“We decided to use a lion because of the two male African Lions guarding the gates of West Gym,” he said. “So, we chose to model the mascot after a male African Lion.”
Rocky II lasted seven years before the administration again decided to change the mascot. The decision was made for a number reasons, the main being that the costume was simply worn out, Lueken said. McLatchy said he believes another contributing factor behind the change was possibly because the costume was a bit “terrifying” for children.
“Rocky III,” the current mascot for SRU, was introduced at the men’s and women’s basketball games on February 21, 2007, against California University (Pa.). The changes included a different color scheme, as well as a number of different aesthetics that Lueken wanted to include.
“We had a rough sketch of what we wanted the new Rocky to look like,” Lueken said. “I told the developers that I wanted Rocky to have a green mane and gray fur. We also decided to make Rocky not as scary looking, but to be honest with you, kids still get scared at the Rocky we have now.”
According to Rocky’s bio, Rocky is a lion because it symbolizes SRU’s “rich tradition of pride.”
“Rocky’s green highlights, gray colors and the overall appearance are derived from all of the Rocky mascots and truly represent the pride shared by all at Slippery Rock University,” the bio said.
McLatchy said that most people do not realize that Bob Jones’ Rocky was technically the second mascot of the school. Back in 1949, a mascot by the name of “Rocketman” paraded around the then Slippery Rock State Normal School, he said. This mascot was short-lived, however, and quickly forgotten, McLatchy explained. Bob Jones’ Rocky I is considered by the University as the first official mascot to represent the school, McLatchy said.
Fans of Rocky can expect to see him walking around at Saturday afternoon’s homecoming football game against Edinboro University. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.