We spoke with Mike L., a former Otto the Orange, back in June about his memories and thoughts on being the face and fruit of Syracuse University. Based on the unique perspective into some of SU's most famous sports moments, I was excited to get in touch with another former Otto the Orange, Mitch Messinger. The '92 grad was Otto for three years ('90 - '92) and the official captian his senior year (there were multiple Ottos). Below Mitch answers some questions about what it was like, what he saw and his favorite memories from the gig. Enjoy.
Did you go to Syracuse knowing you wanted to be Otto or was it something that you decided on once you were a student?
I knew the moment I was accepted to SU that I wanted to be the Orange (the name Otto was not given to the costume until a couple years later and I was one of the students who gave him his current name). I had wanted to be the mascot at my high school but up until my senior year, most of our teams were terrible and there was no school spirit. So there was no real need for someone to be the Manalapan Brave. But once our football team had a winning record in the fall of my senior year, he just showed up on the sidelines one day… there was no official audition and/or process to become him and the "role" was literally given to some popular students. So I set my sights on college. One of the reasons I chose Syracuse was because of the sports teams and school spirit. Walking into the Carrier Dome during my campus tour was an amazing and life changing experience. So I can vividly remember the day after receiving my acceptance letter (in the mail… time have changed… lol!), I told my high school best friend in front of his locker that "I got into Syracuse, I am going to Syracuse and I’m going to be mascot once I get there." He thought I was crazy but was elated 2 years later when I told him of my news.
What was the process like to become Otto? A grueling test of wills or just a series of tumbles?
The process was long but fair… first, we had to send in an application. Then we had a formal sit-down interview with the cheerleading coach, band director, some of the current varsity cheerleaders and one of the associate athletic directors. Once completed, we attended a workshop where we learned everything about the costume… how to wear it, walk in it, cheer in it, etc. Then a week or two later, we had an official audition where we had to come up with a skit as well as cheer. Remember, rule number 1 of mascots is not to talk, so everything was done without words so I had to be bigger and better than everyone else to convey my love of Syracuse University.
What was your "Welcome to NCAA sports" moment? (i.e. - when the gravity of the situation became clear for the first time)
There were 2… my first year of cheerleading camp at East Tennessee State University where I met and later worked with many of the mascots from major colleges, including those in the Big 10, ACC, SEC and Pac 10. And later that same year, my first game at the Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands (NJ) where we played the University of Southern California. We didn’t win, but it was a close game and the excitement of the Syracuse (and even USC) fans in Giants Stadium was so memorable as I performed in front of thousands of fans for the first time.
What was your worst moment as Otto?
Probably an away basketball game at St. John’s…. at Madison Square Garden. Despite being born and growing up in the area (Manhattan and later the New Jersey shore), I was so appalled at the fans… they were so rude to me (or I should say Otto) and our cheerleaders, I couldn’t believe how they were heckling us… the players are one thing, but not us.
What was your favorite moment as Otto?
So many to choose from…. Hard to pick just one. Hall of Fame Bowl game in Florida, Big East and NCAA Tournaments, away games at Penn State, Army, Tulane, Pittsburgh and Georgetown, opening Carousel Center, special events for the Chancellor’s office, etc.
Any advice for anyone who might want to give it a try as Otto in the future?
Go for it… if SUccessful, you have the unique opportunity to show your love to our alma mater as well as portray one of the most recognizable mascots in college athletics (Otto is definitely a celebrity!).
Photo via archives.syr.edu