Standing in front of the Saturn V rocket at the NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, it’s impossible not to be awed by the size . One hundred yards in length–the size of a football field. Close enough to reach out and touch it–the history of the Space Program is brought to life–and names like Lovell, Aldren, Grissom, and Armstrong come to mind. All those history makers and their feats displayed on the walls of the hangar that houses the rocket.
But on this particular Friday, the visitors marveled less at the wonders of space than the unexpected appearance of a sweater-clad bulldog named Blue.With an entourage that included his handler, Michael Kaltenmark, Michael’s wife and infant son, Butler alum , a t-v crew (myself and a photographer) and our tour guide–a NASA flight surgeon–Butler Blue arrived at the Rocket Center at Johnson Space Center like a rock star–or better yet, an astronaut. And getting the star treatment every four-legged step of the way.
This was his first stop in Houston–but the latest in an exhausting schedule as what is arguably the most recognizeable mascot in the NCAA Men’s Tourney.
The Butler Men’s basketball story–becoming the first Indiana team to earn back to back appearances in the Final Four–is one of movie lore. Last year’s last second heartbreaking loss to Duke emblazoned the Butler brand in the minds of basketball fans. This year’s surprising appearance as one of the four teams remaining sealed their place as a force to be reckoned with. And the popularity of Butler–as the team people can’t help but root for–is largely due to the dog who can move a basketball and hearts with the swipe of a paw.
So perhaps it isn’t surprising that heads turned from the massive rocket–to the stout, but loveable pooch. A man with a UCONN shirt asked if he could get a photo with Blue. “I love Bulldogs”, he said. Then, “not Butler Bulldogs” but the breed. However, he also admittedd he wanted to buy a Butler banner–because he wanted a picture of a Bulldog.
A Texan said he enjoyed following Blue 2 on twitter (@ButlerBlue2) .
And on the way out–a gentleman in a University of West Virginia shirt stopped to give Blue a pat on the head –all the while raving about the Butler program, the players, its coach. Then he paused for a photo op with the famous bulldog. Turns out he was the president of the university.
The flight surgeon, Dr Richard Scheuring, says he’s worked with the top astronauts. And he’s “seen a lot of things”. But he’s never seen anything like the popularity of this stocky school mascot..
Lovell, Armstrong, Aldren, …and Blue 2?
Let’s face it. As cute as he is, he’s no rocket scientist.
But Blue 2’s charm and popularity has launched him among the stars of college basketball …and beyond.