Has anyone seen Phil Kessel lately?
From the moment the Flyers unveiled their new mascot “Gritty”, there was the existential, time honored debate regarding whether he was a fun, excessively happy, muppet or the harbinger of death, come to haunt your dreams. With a face that looked like he was either really happy to see you or a stone-cold lunatic who picked a lock and escaped from a maximum security prison, it was impossible to tell exactly which way this was headed.
Initially, the fan base had mixed reviews and I suppose by “mixed” I mean more terrible than good. Philadelphia has always been a proud, traditional, organization that prided itself on, quite frankly, beating the snot out of other NHL teams and taking themselves very seriously. There isn’t a lot of room for 300lbs of orange fuzz on the same band wagon that loved guys like Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Todd Fedoruk, Bobby Clarke and Eric Lindros. In fact, no one would have been surprised if the Flyers had announced their new mascot was an inanimate Craftsman Hammer, laying on a work bench, because it’s exactly the type of toughness Flyers have promoted for years. No frills, no fun, fists-in-your-eyes hockey. So, when we got our first look at Gritty, it seemed Flyers fans were a bit befuddled.
Gritty’s back story, which was teased in a number of short videos prior to his reveal, seemed to be a little questionable as well. As Flyers and Wells Fargo Center employees searched for the hot dog eating free loader who had become an in arena squatter it seemed destined to be the kind of cheesy promotional character that kids love, but serious hockey people do not. Virtually everything pointed towards a loathsome, likely short-lived mascot, that would go down in the pantheon of failed mascots such as Chief Noc-a-Homa (I wish that wasn’t a real name, but it definitely is) and the San Francisco Giants’ Crazy Crab, who, according to the San Francisco Giants 1984 history report on mlb.com, reportedly once looked up into the stands and said, “I hope there’s nobody up there with a gun”.
Then, suddenly, as the hockey world was largely, already prepared to shun him, things took a turn and Gritty took to twitter….
Making fun of himself as a mascot, who looks (and falls) sort of like Scott Hartnell #GrittyDown
Why didn’t anybody tell me the ice is this slippery? https://t.co/wZciPPzIgQ
— Gritty (@GrittyNHL) September 25, 2018
Mocking a famous Khardashian photo shoot
Terrifying new “friends”
And trolling baseball players
I always assumed you were a Craigslist missed connections kind of guy.. https://t.co/stG3K7CsP4
— Gritty (@GrittyNHL) September 27, 2018
That probably would have been enough to turn a few fans around and maybe even attract one or two casual fans, but that wasn’t enough for Gritty. Things got serious. Just 3 days after his reveal, Gritty started appearing everywhere and I mean, everywhere. He toured the late night shows, dancing with Jimmy Fallon and Ricky Gervais, before a minor dust up.
He did some serious acting on Last Week Tonight, as an orange beer-chugging Supreme Court Justice, after John Oliver suggested he was the product of McDonald’s mascot inbreeding:
He even unmasked himself on Conan, revealing he’s pretty much exactly what we thought he was, a dude who used to work for Uber, who can’t stop shaking his belly. Side note, I would love it if Gritty was my Uber driver, but I’m guessing those days are over:
By the time the Flyers had their home opener, on October 9th, 2018, Gritty had gone from a potentially loathsome, cartoonish, nightmare-generating fuzzball to a lovable, snarky, social media expert, with over 100,000 followers on Twitter. As if that wasn’t enough, Gritty then received a heartfelt cheer, as he was lowered from the ceiling of the Wells Fargo Center on a wrecking ball, as the song Wrecking Ball blared from a new stereo system.
Here’s his incredible entrance into his first home regular season game. pic.twitter.com/WpqsY7HAy3
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) October 9, 2018
As Gritty hung from the ceiling, with no net, it was just about then that I decided, a mere frayed cable away from being nothing more than a tragic pile of orange fur and hair on center ice, whoever was in that suit wasn’t being paid nearly enough. I imagined an interview process that probably never happened, in which an individual agreed to wear a suit and become a mascot for a team in a city where a tired “they threw batteries at Santa” story lines echo from the voices of the national media. I suspected that interview process, although strenuous, probably never addressed how this individual felt about dangling from the ceiling in a hot costume, tethered to a wrecking ball. I know I’ve never seen that question on an application, have you? After visualizing these things, with Gritty dangling from the ceiling, I could only imagine he or she mumbling the words “I need a better agent”, as the phrase “hazard pay” danced through his or her head. All of these thoughts left me thinking, what’s next?
What’s next for Gritty? Where do things go from here? How does he expand his empire? If Gritty can go from total anonymity to this in just a couple of weeks, is any suggestion truly ridiculous?
It’s hard to say what’s next, but on the night Gritty was lowered from the ceiling the team had a night to forget, losing 8-2. It wouldn’t take many more of those types of nights to start filing the paperwork to get Gritty into the role he was clearly destined to play, the official emotional support “thing” of Philadelphia fans and Flyers alike. Tell me you can’t see Gritty holding Brian Elliott after he was the victim of a very suspect defensive effort, having just given up 8 goals? Sure, Gritty has a little bit of a sadistic smile and I doubt anyone makes a vest big enough for a 300lb, orange “thing”, but at his core, Gritty is a fun loving cuddle monster, who also moonlights as a regular Philly dude, who just wants to punch the Penguins mascot right in the beak. Gritty is the therapeutic fuzzball, we all need from time to time, because mental health is important and so is hating the Penguins.
It’s August 14th and two-time Stanley Cup Champion Phil Kessel is eating hot dogs out of the Stanley Cup. pic.twitter.com/39FAF1MPjH
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) August 14, 2017
Another move I can eventually see happening is an Ancestry.com DNA test (hey, we’re always looking for sponsors). I have a strong suspicion that if that test ever takes place, it will no doubt reveal Gritty has some relation to Penguins forward, Phil Kessel. It’s only natural that people are going to begin to get suspicious that he might be related to Kessel. Loves hotdogs? Check. Thick around the middle? Check. Relatively bad hair days? Check. Similar smile? Check. Furthermore, there are only 2 individuals on this planet that can handle that level of nitrates and live to tell the tale and they are definitely Phil Kessel and Gritty. Ancestry, we’ll be standing by, waiting for your call.
In all seriousness, it is impossible to predict what’s next for Gritty and while not everyone loves the orange and black mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s clear that anyone who underestimated the media savvy of the Flyers was mistaken. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect 2-week period for a new mascot, as evidenced by the exposure he brought to the Flyers and the NHL. Gritty proved he wasn’t the ill-conceived, comic book, cartoonish joke that we all feared he might be, but instead, something of a laughable, lovable, goofball that’s more suited for 2018 than most other long established mascots. He engages, makes fun of himself and uses social media like a pro user. He’s approachable and happy go lucky. In short, he’s whimsical in a world that’s otherwise prone to taking itself much too seriously. Love him or hate him, I think we can all agree, the world needs a little bit more of that.