In 1978 the Philadelphia Phillies introduced what would become the world’s greatest mascot— the Phillie Phanatic. The man inside the suit? Dave Raymond.
Forty years later, Dave is one of the world’s leading experts on mascot entertainment. His company, Raymond Entertainment, specializes in creating characters from scratch and improving existing mascot programs.
When I first saw Gritty, I knew immediately that Dave was involved in his creation. This weekend, I had the honor of talking with Dave about his process and how Philadelphia’s newest character came into this world.
The inspiration was really the Philadelphia Flyers. Dave’s process doesn’t start with a design and a name, it starts with a background story. Once a story is created, they progress into a visual character and after much refinement, the character comes together.
So Gritty’s story—he’s a life-long Flyers fan who’s been living in the underbelly of the Wells Fargo Center for years and has just now been discovered thanks to the construction going on—is the true inspiration.
In Dave’s opinion, nothing else matters. The look and the name aren’t important. What does matter is the story. Who is Gritty? How did he become part of the Flyers organization? The Flyers answered those questions and that’s how Gritty was born.
As far as his looks, though—because I know that’s what everyone wants to know—Gritty is a hockey-playing monster! He’s got the beard. He’s got the helmet. He’s got the gloves. He’s got the size. Most importantly, he’s all Flyers orange and black.
And apparently, he’s a lot less scary looking than the original designs.
When discussing Gritty’s physical build, the player Dave compared him to is Eric Lindros. Lindros was a big, physically intimidating player who skated with such grace and skill. That’s something they tried to emulate. On the ice, Gritty will knock you out. But off it, Gritty just wants to give you a big hug and be your friend.
I also asked Dave about the similarities between Gritty and his new best friend across the street. Dave said they actually wanted him to be very different from the Phanatic. The only thing that they designed that makes them similar is the rounded belly, which was included to give the actor something fun to work with. But even that, when you see them together, is different between them. The Phanatic is much larger in girth, where Gritty simply has a bit of pudge in the middle.
How long has Gritty been in the works?
About four months, which is actually quick for a mascot to be created. Typically it takes about six months, but the Flyers were very quick and dedicated with their decisions.
Dave gives a lot of credit for the quickness of Gritty’s creation to the Flyers organization for being so decisive. They jumped on board with Gritty and, when they made a decision, they stuck with it.
There were a few other concepts that were explored, including a bull design that would have paid homage to the Broad Street Bullies. But the Flyers decided they really wanted to go with a “Lovable Monster” character, instead. Gritty’s name was chosen at the end of the process, which is very common. Many terms and phrases were thrown out, but “Gritty” was chosen because of its place in Flyers history.
Grit is defined as “firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.”
Not only have the Flyers historically played with grit on the ice, but it’s a quality they have exemplified off it as well. For example, Ed Snider telling the Red Army they weren’t going to get paid unless they played the whole game in 1976 showed courage that no other person had until that point.
Were the Flyers expecting the amount of national attention Gritty has gotten in his first week of existence? Absolutely not. This is actually one of the most successful mascot roll-outs that Dave has ever experienced. That all stems from the way that the Flyers organization has rolled with the initial negativity and adopted it.
It’s also indicative of the social media era, which has created a way for news to travel faster than it ever has before. So many people tweeted about Gritty that he started trending all over the country. Since news outlets and shows want to be up to date on every story, that opened the door for things like his Good Morning America and Jimmy Fallon appearances.
Dave takes absolutely no credit in Gritty’s success, he says that the true success comes from how the Flyers organization has handled the reaction to him.
It’s very easy in situations like this to fold under the negative feedback and take back a mascot. That’s happened many times, like with the Sixers’ previous mascot before Franklin. But the Flyers expected the negative backlash and have said from the very beginning that Gritty is their guy and they’re going to stick by him no matter what. Instead of fighting the negativity, they’ve embraced it. They’ve ignored the hate and instead turned the goofy suggestions, like the meme that indicated that Gritty is the love child between the Abominable Snowman and Yukon Cornelius, into their own jokes.
One of the things that Dave preaches is “the power of fun.” This doesn’t just mean go out and have a drink with your friends or go on a cool vacation. “Fun” should be something that you inject in every aspect of your life. Take this past week, for example. What’s been two of the top stories in the media? The Kavanaugh hearings and the introduction of Gritty. Which story makes you smile?
The Flyers are having fun with the orange dude and that’s what’s made him a success.
We know he blows smoke out of his ears, his hands squeak, and he has a bellybutton that also squeaks. I asked Dave if he has any other tricks up his sleeve we don’t know about yet. Dave’s exact response was: “You’d have to ask Gritty that question.”
Personally, I’m really hoping his beard grows longer during the playoffs. I guess we’ll have to wait until April to find out about that one.
So… Can Gritty play goalie?
According to some of Dave’s hockey-playing friends, anyone can play goalie. NHL goalies may not like to hear that, but…
I asked Dave if he has anything to say to the fans who aren’t sure if they like him or not. Dave said it’s more than okay to not like Gritty. Not everyone is going to love him, and not everyone has to. That’s totally fine.
While many adults will love Gritty, the reality is that he was designed for the younger fan base. Like all mascots, Gritty is for the kids. So parents: Take your kids to the games. And while you’re there, introduce them to Gritty. You never know, he might become your child’s favorite thing about the Philadelphia Flyers.
To Dave: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about Gritty! You have a wealth of knowledge and an outlook on life that I truly appreciate you sharing with me.
To Gritty: Keep being you, dude. You rock.
To Flyers Fans: Have fun with our new friend, guys. He’s going to be around for a very long time.