A Primer on NC State’s Mascots
Our winter issue of NC State magazine — which will hit mailboxes any day now and is a benefit of membership in the Alumni Association — includes a feature on the university’s newest member of the family: Tuffy, a 2-year-old wolflike dog. The Athletics Department worked with Student Government to introduce Tuffy as NC State’s new live mascot, and they plan to work him in slowly so he can eventually make appearances at events beyond football games. Our winter issue includes more information about Tuffy and an illustration by Greg Blackwell ’92. But as you wait for your issue, check out some of the university’s past mascots in the slideshow below.
One photo you won’t see, unfortunately, is of a robotic wolf that Ira Helms Jr. ’48 built when he was a mechanical engineering student at NC State. With size 16 shoes, it stood 7 feet tall and had a 120-inch chest. It debuted in 1946 with the cheerleaders during the football season opener against Wake Forest. Helms sat inside the contraption and controlled its movements, leading students to call his creation “Hell,” “The Wolf Monster,” “The Trojan Horse,” and “Helms’ Monster.” “With a body similar to Frankenstein’s monster and the ferocious head of a wolf,” Technician wrote on Oct. 18, 1946, “it is expected to create a sensation in the game and spur the team on to another victory.” Helms said he got too hot inside his creation, so the cheerleaders and band members operated it the rest of the season. It was considered a good luck charm as the team finished the regular season 8-2 and earned the school its first bowl bid (a 34-13 loss to Oklahoma in the Gator Bowl). Though the mechanical wolf was retired after the season, it helped solidify the Wolfpack name.
NC State magazine spoke to Helms about his creation in 2004. Read his first-person account of it after the jump.
Editor’s note: The following piece originally appeared in NC State magazine’s Summer 2004 issue.
In his own words: The first Mr. Wuf
As a professional engineer and contractor, Ira Helms ’48 spent more than 70 years building homes and constructing office complexes. But he was still a junior at NC State when he tackled one of his most memorable projects: building the first “Mr. Wuf” mascot in the dead of night with the assistance of a few friends. Their effort helped save the “Wolfpack” mascot that NC State fans love today.
It was October 1946. The campus was in an uproar about Chancellor J.W. Harrelson’s attempts to do away with the team name “Wolfpack”—a term he detested. The university mascot, a live wolf named State, was sold, and the chancellor and Athletics Council introduced a contest to rename the sports teams. The person who suggested the winning name would receive six season football tickets.
But Helms and his friends had different plans. Intent on remaining the Wolfpack, they aimed to replace the live wolf mascot with a “mechanical wolf-man” before the administration could find a new name. Word of the project leaked to the student press, and anticipation was great. “With a robot’s body similar to the Frankenstein monster and the ferocious head of a wolf, it is expected to create a sensation in the game and spur the team on to another victory,” a Technician article proclaimed.
Now retired, Helms relates how he became the first student to suit up as NC State’s mascot.
In 1946 or thereabouts, there had been some bad things happening to live animal mascots in our area. We had an actual live, wild wolf. [Carolina] had a ram. Well, as might be expected, the NC State boys had purloined the ram and dyed its coat in the Textile School’s facilities. Well, Col. [J.W.] Harrelson [who then headed the university as Dean of Administration], decided that we should get rid of not only the live wolf, probably because of the risks involved, but also the name of “Wolfpack.”
Some of us thought it was not within the colonel’s prerogatives to unilaterally do all of that. [As far as I know], he had not made a move to consult with students or others.
So, I decided to end-run him, so to speak, and make a mascot by the next game. I really had in mind a mechanical one, but there was just not enough time. So, we gathered all the materials together in the [mechanical engineering] shop, with the connivance of the shop professor, Mr. Hyde. We made a frame with brazed copper pipe, covered it with canvas and mounted a papier-mâche wolf’s head atop it. Then, we mounted some [front legs] … made some rear legs, boots and shoes, and then sprayed the body with silver-white paint. We built it all in the dark of night, barely completing it just hours before kickoff. I had not even thought about who would be inside to walk it around and wave at the crowd.
There was just not enough time to brief anyone. So guess who was in it the first time it was used? Me, of course. I was just about asphyxiated from the wet-paint fumes. A young freshman, whose name I forget, walked behind and pretended to operate the “wolf” from a box with knobs and antennae, which he had made for the occasion. He must have been convincing because … only one person peeked under the mascot and looked.
I never saw or heard the chancellor say or write anything more about not having a wolf as a mascot, nor about changing the name of our teams.
The mascot lasted for a while, but did go down to defeat at the Gator Bowl [NC State lost the 1947 Gator Bowl to the University of Oklahoma, 13-34] and was ceremonially retired. — Carie Windham ’05