Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Illinois State alumni magazine in summer 2000. Find more recent magazine articles at IllinoisState.edu/Magazine.
The year 1981 was a big one for Illinois State University’s Redbird mascot. That year the University began competing in the Missouri Valley Conference, and in the fall the Bird got a new suit and the name “Reggie.”
The student who launched Reggie was Bob Goldstein ’83, at the time a junior accounting major with a minor in economics. Goldstein—now a certified public accountant and director of West Area Operations Services out of Los Angeles for the national accounting firm KPMG—ended up in the red suit because of his relentless ridicule of the previous Redbird, which he described as “really lame” with “a papier-mache head and a shag carpeting body.”
An avid Illinois State sports fan, Goldstein earned a reputation as one of the “loudmouth ringleaders” in criticizing the mascot. His behavior came home to roost, so to speak, one day in the spring of 1981 when he returned to his room in Watterson Towers and found hundreds of flyers taped to his door advertising Redbird tryouts. His friends were telling him to “put up or shut up.”
Goldstein chose to “put up,” auditioning with a handful of students who were given only minutes to show their school spirit. “I had been with Gamma Phi Circus,” he said, “so I decided I was going to juggle.” He did, using a football, basketball, and baseball.
“I had a grocery bag over my head with a beak drawn on it. I guess that’s what got it for me.”
The judges informed him he was the new Redbird “but here’s the catch: You’re not allowed to tell anybody.” The Athletics Department had decided to keep the name of the person inside the Bird a secret. Goldstein couldn’t even tell his best friends. That presented a small problem because they all had gone to games together.
“Suddenly I became a very studious person,” he said. “I always had to go study before the games.”
Inside the suit
The view from inside the suit was funny, occasionally scary, once in a while embarrassing, but mostly wonderful in a way that Goldstein believes helped prepare him for life and for his career in business. For years Goldstein had a picture in his office of himself as Reggie.
“When I went to Illinois State I was that classic case of being out on your own for the first time and discovering yourself at college,” he said. Being the mascot “proved something in me that I had never done before: the performance aspect.”
After college Goldstein moonlighted for about eight years as a member of the improvisational comedy company Los Angeles TheatreSports. He remains a member of its board of directors. Reggie also taught Goldstein that “you have to do something to stand out from the rest.” Now, he said, “That’s part of my personality. I like to be different.”
His most embarrassing mascot moment was in the summer of 1981 before the Bird was named and before the new suit had arrived. The suit’s delayed arrival was a problem. As the mascot, Goldstein was part of the cheerleading squad, so he went to Ames, Iowa, for cheerleading camp. “I was the only mascot at mascot camp without a mascot suit.” It was “so embarrassing” to be the only person in a group in which everyone else was wearing chicken suits and other outlandish creations.
Fortunately the $2,000 suit arrived one day before the long-planned unveiling of the new Bird at the September 5 football home opener against Western Illinois University. Goldstein, who had not had a chance to practice in it, was garbed in the approximately 50-pound suit with extremely limited visibility. “Sunlight basically blinds you,” he said.
First he put on a multilayered canvas body suit with rings for girth. He wore work boots with the toes cut off and Bird feet built up on top of them. The shaggy outer part was lined with thick foam rubber. The head—built around a helmet—latched on, but he couldn’t latch or unlatch it himself because the thick fabric in which his arms were encased limited his maneuverability. Normally 6-foot-1 tall, Goldstein was 6-foot-10 in the suit, which lacked ventilation. It was very hot, and he lost several pounds every time he performed. As for the smell of the suit after all that perspiring: “I discovered Lysol,” he said.
At the unveiling, Goldstein was placed inside a box with balloons on top of a flatbed trailer that was pulled onto the football field. The box was opened, the balloons flew out, and out popped the new Redbird.
The name “Reggie” was chosen by contest. The Bloomington McDonald’s Junior Redbird Club and the Illinois State Athletics Department sponsored the contest, and the winner was announced at halftime of a game against Eastern Michigan University. Six entrants suggested the name Reggie. The prize was a year’s supply of any McDonald’s chicken product.
The new Reggie was a big hit and was invited to many community events. He stood next to Ronald McDonald for the ribbon-cutting at the first McDonald’s restaurant in Normal, was grand marshal of a local corn festival parade, and had his picture taken with the Pork Queen. Goldstein’s picture wearing the suit hung for a time in the McDonald’s in Bone Student Center.
One frightening moment occurred at the end of a basketball game at Western Illinois when the rowdy student crowd decided to pass Reggie up the bleachers. Illinois State cheerleaders rescued Goldstein—helpless in the unwieldy suit—in the nick of time.
An unbelievable moment was when Reggie tackled a defensive lineman on the Illinois State team as he was leading the players onto the field before a game at Indiana State University. Reggie was facing the sun and couldn’t see a thing, and suddenly he and the player were on the ground.
Basketball was Goldstein’s favorite sport. Though Reggie wasn’t allowed to speak while in the suit, basketball in Horton Field House put him closer to the crowd and gave him many opportunities to interact with adult fans, children, and officials. He enjoyed seeing former National Basketball Association star Willis Reed, then coach of Creighton University, because Reed “was the only person I could walk up to who was actually taller than the entire Redbird suit.”
The best time for Goldstein was at halftime of the final home basketball game of the 1981–82 season when his identity was revealed to the crowd, including his incredulous friends. By then he had learned to unlatch the Bird head by himself. He walked out to center court and removed it. His memory of the moment has him standing there with matted hair, a little head sticking up from the, big costume, receiving a 10-minute standing ovation from the crowd.
A Peoria television sportscaster had come to Normal several days before to interview Goldstein, so he knew the revelation would be on the news. In the days before VCRs were common, Goldstein had gone into what he described as a high-end radio and television store in Normal and begged the clerks to set a VCR to record the newscast; they reluctantly agreed and charged him $20. He still has the videotape.
Goldstein continued as Reggie in the fall of 1982. Then he applied for an internship for the spring semester that led to a career.
“Reggie helped me get my job at KPMG,” he explained.
After filling out an information sheet, noting his mascot role, Goldstein was called out by an interviewer: “Reggie Redbird, you’re next!”
Read more Illinois State magazine stories at IllinoisState.edu/Magazine.