One of the most distinctive mascots in all of hockey – and all of sports, really – belongs to the Philadelphia Flyers, and its name is Gritty. However, this mascot isn’t just well-known among Flyer fans. Gritty is also well-known among hockey fans and almost anyone with a social media account. But how did the mascot get so popular?
The origins of Gritty
The idea of Gritty — or more precisely, the Flyers’ desire for a mascot — began when the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl during the 2017-2018 season. The Eagles’ celebration was the city of Philadelphia’s first championship since 2008, and it brought out all the city’s mascots, including the Phillie Phanatic.
According to Flyers’ vice president for strategy and creative content, this showed a glaring need on the part of the Flyers:
“I remember watching the Eagles’ bus come back with the team on it. The people leading the parade were the Phillie Phanatic, the Eagles’ Swoop and the 76ers’ Franklin. And I thought, ‘Of all the things that we can’t be part of … We have nobody to align with those three mascots.'”
To truly take part in major events like this in and around the greater Philadelphia area, the team needed representation that only a mascot could provide.
The team began developing a mascot and what they came up with was Gritty.
Gritty was a large orange creature with wild, long hair and big googly eyes. The team unveiled him at an event with media on September 13, 2018. Gritty’s first public appearance was at an event with 600 children present.
Fan reactions were at first negative. However, the team expected this. Heller reported that the creator of the Phillie Phanatic, Dave Raymond, warned the team that the initial reaction would be negative.
This was attributed to the mascot looking different than anything they’d seen before.
Among the Philly faithful, fan reactions began to turn positive when Pittsburgh Penguins mascot Iceburgh tweeted derisively at Gritty. The Pittsburgh mascot responded with a simple yet condescending tweet stating, “lol ok” at the Flyers’ tweet announcing Gritty.
Gritty’s response? “Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird.”
Needless to say, Philadelphia fans were overjoyed at their new mascot’s ability to stand up to the Penguins.
From a national perspective, Gritty went viral because…well, because it just looks plain weird.
Almost immediately after the Flyers announced their new mascot, the internet pounced, using Gritty’s image as a source for memes. NBC Sports Philadelphia personality Corey Seidman ventured a guess that Gritty’s parents were Steve Buscemi and a “rare orange porcupine.”
The future of Gritty
For all the laughs had at the expense of the odd-looking mascot, Gritty has served a valuable purpose: getting non-hockey fans involved with the sport.
Business Insider reported that “‘Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot was the most searched term on Google in the 24 hours following Gritty’s unveiling.”
Whether it was as a comedy punchline or as a legitimate symbol of the Flyers, it was clear that Gritty possessed the “It” factor needed to draw attention.
In the ESPN piece linked to above, Flyers’ executive had this to say about Gritty:
“Mascots are supposed to be fun, and everyone is having fun with this…I’ll be on the concourse before games and see these parents with their kid dragging them around looking for Gritty. They’re here from Canada, California. It’s unbelievable how many people have made special trips to games to see Gritty.”
Rival mascots notwithstanding, it seems like Flyers fans and the general public are having a ball with Gritty. He’s a lightning rod for laughs and enjoyment of the game, bringing in new fans who otherwise would never turn a game on.
Under any metric you’d use to define success for a sports mascot (though there aren’t really any concrete metrics for that), Gritty is an unmitigated success. Expect him to be hanging around Flyers’ games for years to come.