Dawgs watching out for Ralphie

ATHENS – Danny Verdun Wheeler is very excited about it. Tra Battle wants no part of it. And Tony Ball already is making plans to avoid it.

"It" is a rare road appearance by Colorado's live mascot, Ralphie the buffalo. Ralphie hasn't appeared at a regular season road game outside the state since the 1978 Oklahoma State game, but he'll be in Athens for the Buffaloes game against No. 9 Georgia in Sanford Stadium.

Colorado officials contacted Georgia by letter in May about bringing Ralphie along, said Matt Brachowski, the school's assistant athletic director for event management. After Waldo Terrell, Georgia's chief groundskeeper, investigated the risk to Sanford Stadium's turf, athletic director Damon Evans signed off on the trip, Brachowski said.

"Why did we do that?" Coach Mark Richt asked. "Is he going to get to run all over the field? That doesn't seem right. I wonder why we're letting him do that. I will say, no one asked me about that one."

Ralphie, a 9-year-old female who is the fourth in the mascot line, is expected to leave Boulder, Colo., today and arrive in Athens on Thursday night. She'll be kept at an undisclosed location and then lead her team onto the field before the game and at the start of the second half.

Verdun Wheeler, a senior linebacker, hopes to get a chance to visit the buffalo Friday, he said. Battle, a senior safety, has no such desire.

"I don't think buffaloes are at petting zoos, and if it's not an animal that's at a petting zoo, I don't wan t to touch it," the 176-pound Mary Persons graduate said. "I don't mind goingagainst 300-pound linemen, but 1,100 pounds is out of my range. I kind of back down once it gets to the thousands."

Ball, Georgia's running backs coach, leads his group through pre-game warm-ups near the tunnel from which Ralphie will run onto the field.

"He asked last night, ‘Where's Ralphie going to be hanging out?' He doesn't want to be near that thing," Richt said. "I really was kind of stunned when I found out Ralphie was coming. I was thinking surely they want let him stomp all over the field."

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, a Dallas native, grew up in Big 12 country but never has come across Ralphie, he said. He did suggest defensive linemen Kade Weston or Charles Johnson would be the best candidates to protect him in event of a stampede.

"I've got to go with myself, too," said Weston, a 310-pound freshman.

It probably won't come to that. The buffalo, a gift to Colorado from Atlanta media mogul Ted Turner, will be accompanied by nine handlers during her charge onto the field. Several will be holding ropes attached to the animal.

Still, "I'm going to make sure he's not going to come toward us," Verdun Wheeler said.

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