Bucky Bronco confidential
Who wears the costume today may be classified information. But here’s one secret revealed: how Bucky came to be.
Kick and buck: sports icon is born
Santa Clara wasn't always home of the Broncos. In the early years, the Mission School was home turf of the Missionites. But that changed in the autumn of 1923, report The Annals of Santa Clara, following on a brilliant proposal by Hubert Flynn, S.J., a beloved teacher at Santa Clara: "The bronco is a native western piece of dynamite," he said. "Not too large, it is true, but hard as nails, and always game to the core. The original bronco used to do his stuff regularly in the arena around the old Mission, and it is but fitting that his name and fame be perpetuated on those same fields of conquest, where lusty warriors of California heritage kick and buck their 'way to many a glorious triumph.'"
Our story begins in the fall of 1976. Mild-mannered sophomore Kim (Malley) Belotti ’79 cheered for sports like no other, even if she didn’t play them. But she sensed that the games needed some pepping up. So she decided to do something about it. When the next basketball game day rolled around, she donned a suit of brown and a papier-mâché horse's head, a costume she made at a theatre shop on San Carlos Street. Kim Malley assumed her new identity: Benny the Bronco—boundless enthusiast and booster of school pride and team spirit.
Santa Clara's athletic director at the time loved the new mascot, and not only because said director was Kim’s dad. Pat Malley ’53 lived for Santa Clara. He had been a guard on the 1950 Orange Bowl Champions and coached the football team from 1959 to 1984 when his son, former SCU quarterback Terry Malley ’76 took over. (Malleys were wearing Bronco red before that; Pat’s father, George Malley ’26, was a star athlete who played football. His “savage tackle” of a St. Mary’s punt returner in 1923 caused a fumble that resulted in SCU’s last victory in the Little Big Game that year.)
Half a century later, the annual St. Mary’s football game was one of Kim’s favorite events at which to rally her fellow Broncos. The rivalry always promised a lively crowd. Perhaps too much so at times. During one memorable game, a group of St. Mary’s undergrads tried getting the jump on Benny. Kim saw what they were up to, pulled off the head of the costume and shocked the would-be mascot assailants: Benny was a filly!
Kim hung up her horse’s head as a senior, but she didn’t stop rooting for SCU athletes. In fact, she married one: Jerry Bellotti ’75 was a basketball star who was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics before spending three years playing in Italy, Belgium, and Australia. And their daughter Caitlin Bellotti ’10 is a fourth-generation Bronco and helped cut the ribbon at the opening of the Pat Malley Fitness and Recreation Center in 1999.
As for the mascot, this embodiment of Bronco-ness went on hiatus for a spell—but when the men's basketball team made the NCAA tourney in 1995, a plucky Suzy (Pollack) Loftus '96 took the costume out of mothballs and acquired, along with a mane, a new name: Bucky. (Loftus is now special assistant attorney general to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.)
Many a Santa Clara grad has donned the costume over the years. Its look has changed with the times—most recently, to one fierce-looking critter. “Bucky the Bronco is buff now!” says Kim. “As Benny, I had a great time. Kids treated me like a rock star, I loved being right in the middle of school spirit during a lot of exciting games, and I got to act downright goofy."
But there’s another very public side to Bucky, easily locatable online (as so much is) in the form of a LinkedIn profile that the folks at the SCU Career Center point to as a model for how to leverage that particular social network for landing a job after college. From the looks of things, Bucky Bronco ’11 is doing pretty well.
Bronco flashback: See the evolution of a sports icon over 90 years.
He has 500+ connections, served as a resident assistant at SCU and an intern at LJB Space Systems, and earned high marks from Career Center Director Elspeth Rosetti '75, M.A. 96 and others for his role at a recent career fair. Persistence, enthusiasm, and a winning smile are a few attributes his recommenders list. It goes without saying that he has horse sense.
Bucky writes: “Despite perpetual hat head, excessive perspiration, and occasional abuse by opposing teams, I love my role and wouldn't trade places with anyone!”
It’s a good thing for SCU that he’s committed to his current position. According to the career center, Bucky has already received two job offers through LinkedIn from local companies.
Sean Lenehan and Clay Hamilton contributed to this report.
From the Bronco's Mouth
Santa Clara Magazine spoke with several Broncos who have walked in Bucky's hooves—on the condition of anonymity, of course. We at the mag would never break Rule No. 3.
The first rule of Bucky Club ...
"There are four main rules: 1. Never talk. 2. Never let anyone see you in partial costume. 3. Don't give away your identity. 4. And clean the costume when you're done."
About Rule No. 4 ...
"The worst part of being Bucky is the stink. Any clothes you wear under the costume will never smell the same again.
Some like it hot
"If you've ever done Bikram yoga, then you know what it feels like to be Bucky. Inside the costume it feels like 108, 110 degrees, plus you're carrying an additional 15 to 20 pounds. If I was at a game on Friday, I was wiped out the rest of the weekend."
"The best way I found to deal with dehydration was by wearing a CamelBak underneath the costume, so that I could drink water throughout games."
"Sometimes I managed to away with a few things—like walking behind the baseline during basketball games or getting closer to servers in volleyball. It's a rewarding feeling to look back after a game and think you may have been personally responsible for a few points."
Bucky's biggest fans
"Seeing kids' reactions to Bucky was my favorite part. They flock to Bucky. I had one girl follow me around for about an hour. But it's a two-edged sword—another kid wouldn't stop throwing a basketball at me."
"I was at a baseball game where kids started asking Bucky to sign foul balls. There wound up being this huge line, but the problem was those balls needed to go back into play later, ideally without a Bucky the Bronco signature. They had to make an announcement over the PA to, please, stop asking Bucky to sign baseballs because the number of unmarked balls was getting low."
"Kids are great. But I could do without the tail pulling."
A bad day at the office
"My worst experience was probably when I was hit in the groin by a ball at a baseball game. The worst part: It was thrown by one of the coaches."
“Being Bucky is kind of addicting. Not only can you get away with anything—that’s exactly the kind of behavior that’s expected of you. you can mess with your friends, flirt with the girl you never thought you had a chance with, or give your hardest professor a noogie.”
“It’s actually a lot of fun having a secret identity—although I had roommates in Sobrato who figured it out. They pieced it together after noticing that I always left for my job with a change of clothes and that all my shifts were during basketball games.”
Charles Barry (cover photo and portraits for “Bucky Bronco confidential” and “Evidence of things unseen,” not to mention work throughout these pages) has won national and regional awards for his work in this magazine. He has more than two decades’ experience as University Photographer at SCU.
Jeff Gire brings both writing chops and expertise on sports mascots from work with the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s to “Bucky Bronco confidential.” He is a writer/editor for SCU’s Office of Marketing and Communications.
Sam Scott ’96 found the beginnings of this story in reporting a piece on fourth-generation Santa Clara athletes. For the Winter 2012 issue he wrote the feature “Bronco Battalion.”