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I want to be a talented mascot that makes people laugh while in costume, but also a role model in the community that makes an impact outside of the costume.
Mascot Program Manager
Running a mascot program is a lot like running a business. There is a lot more to my job than running around like an idiot in a costume. I break my job down into three different areas:
TORO is a marketing asset for the team.
The Texans use TORO along with the players, former players and cheerleaders as team ambassadors that promote the team and make an impact on the Houston community. On top of the ten home games at NRG Stadium, TORO attends 350 to 400 events a year. 100 of these events are school visits where students are taught about bullying, living healthy lifestyles or preparing for their standardized test. Another 100 TORO appearances are at internal events for the Texans, while the remaining events are paid appearances such as grand openings, parties, weddings and more!
Gameday is the most visible part of my job. I work all year long to create memoraBULL moments during Texans home games through big aerial stunts such as ziplines and swings, to ignite the crowd and create the homefield advantage.
The last piece to my job is generating revenue, which is where my business background comes into play. My goal is to make sure that at the end of the year we generate more money than we spend. I want my program to make a profit so the team sees TORO as a department that produces value. TORO generates revenue for the team through merchandise and private appearances as mentioned earlier, but the biggest asset is sponsorship. I help create inventory sold to corporate partnerships. All of our school assemblies are sponsored so the sponsor pays for each of our shows so the schools aren’t charged.
There is a fan experience on gameday called the Ford Ride Out with TORO where fans register to win the opportunity to ride in the passenger seat of my vehicle as we lead the team onto the field before the game. These are just a few examples of sponsorship inventory that the TORO department has created.
In the beginning, our department was one full-time person (myself) and an intern that did our school program bookings and made appearances, which later became a full-time role.
Now we have a Mascot Program Coordinator! Ryan Records is the Mascot Program Coordinator and he books all of TORO’s appearances, hosts the school programs, handler at all appearances, helps post to TORO’s social media accounts and handles a lot of the logistics behind gameday. He has been a reason why we have been so successful over the last few years.
My favorite part of this job is that no two days ever look the same. I have always been someone that can’t stand still, and this job keeps me on the move at all times.
Part of my day is usually spent at my desk responding to emails, posting to TORO’s social media accounts and working on projects, but then we also drive all over the city of Houston for appearances. While out and about I get to meet a lot of really cool people and see new parts of the city.
A typical home game starts at noon, which means I roll in around 5 am. A few members from my team arrive around the same time to help set up our locker room and prepare for the day. By 8 am, the rest of the team arrives so we can discuss the plan for the game. Around 9:30 am, I get in costume and head out for visits all around the complex including fan tailgates, pep rallies and VIP experiences. After, I take a quick break and grab a bite to eat before it’s showtime!
20 minutes prior to kickoff is my on-field skit and shortly after I lead the team out of the tunnel and onto the field. Once the game kicks off, I’m running around greeting guests on the sideline, trying to engage the crowd, preparing bits and celebrating with the team in the endzone. I usually don’t leave the stadium until 2 to 3 hours after the game as the paramedics come to my room to pump me with fluids to help my recovery and we clean up the locker room. Gameday is a long day, but a lot of fun!
My journey to becoming a professional mascot started when I was young. I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and my parents were always pushing me to play sports. They tried signing me up for almost every sport, but instead of doing much playing on the field most of my playing involved practical jokes and goofing around with my friends on the bench. I never would have imagined that my role as a benchwarmer would lead to a job in the National Football League!
Fast forward to when I was in the 5th grade, the mascot for the Kansas City Chiefs came to visit my elementary school to host an assembly program. As I and the rest of my classmates funnelled into the gymnasium, KC Wolf, the Chiefs mascot, was running around keeping us entertained with his googly eyes and 85” hips. Underneath the costume was a man by the name of Dan Meers who has been the mascot for the Chiefs for almost 30 years. He began the presentation by talking about his cool job and life and transitioned into an educational message. I don’t remember anything about the topic of the show, but I thought he had the coolest job in the world.
At the end of the hour-long talk, he asked for a volunteer to try the costume on. I raised my hand and was selected as the student that got to wear the KC Wolf costume. It was at that moment that I was inspired. You can probably imagine the expression on my parents face when I raced home from school that day and told them what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
My first opportunity came when I was attending Lee’s Summit West High School. The cheer coach hung posters all over the school to promote Mascot Auditions. Once I saw the posting, I ran to pick up my audition packet and get all of the information. I prepared myself for the audition, but when I showed up I was surprised to see that no one else was interested in the job. I became the Titan by default. Towards the end of my high school career, my cheer coach told me that I should try to get a scholarship to be a mascot in college. I had never really thought about the fact that I could help pay my way through school wearing a sweaty costume.
While I was going to college in Kansas City, I was working with almost every professional sports team in town. I was a backup mascot for the Kansas City Chiefs, which means that I helped cover about 100 events a year for Dan whenever he was unavailable. I worked as a Mascot Assistant for the Kansas City Royals by ensuring no one was pulling on Sluggerrr’s tail, taking a lot of pictures for fans with their favorite MLB mascot and ensuring he was in position for promotions around the ballpark.
I also worked as the Mascot Coordinator for the Missouri Mavericks hockey team, which means I portrayed their mascot MAC at 200+ events a year and all home games and creating videos/skits for home games. I worked as Sporting Kansas City’s mascot BLUE at all home games. Going to school in a big city allowed me to jump-start my ability to network with industry professionals and build a solid resume way before I graduated.
Upon graduating from UMKC’s Bloch School, my parents told me that it was time to find a real job. Luckily I’ve continued to avoid a real job to this date. A friend of mine that I interned with at the Kansas City Chiefs was hired as an Event Coordinator by the Houston Texans. He called me one afternoon to inform me that I would be moving to Houston soon. I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but he then told me that the gentleman that had portrayed their mascot for the last 14 years was retiring and that I was the perfect candidate for the job. I can remember thinking that I wasn’t qualified to take over the Mascot Program for a team in the National Football League and that going down for the interview would just be good networking, but I’m sure glad that I applied because they offered me the job. The Texans are a great organization to work for and moving here was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.
At the end of the day, my ultimate goal is to be a character with character meaning and I want to be a talented mascot that makes people laugh while in costume, but also a role model in the community that makes an impact outside of the costume. Being TORO has given me a great platform and I don’t take that lightly whether in costume or out. I hope to inspire the youth to dream big and work hard to accomplish those goals as well as to know Christ and his love for them.
Working in the NFL, most people only see what we do during our home games, but there is a lot more to my job than just those 10 days that you see on TV! I talked about the 350+ appearances that we do throughout Houston, all over the US and even across the globe, which take place year-round.
A lot of people think we sit around eating bonbons during the offseason, but we are working just as hard this time of the year as we do during the season.
The offseason is when all of the planning takes place that prepares us for the season. When the schedule comes out I host a brainstorming meeting with people all across our organization to come up with all of the silly videos and skits that we do on game day.
When I interviewed with the Houston Texans I was 50 pounds heavier than I am now. I previously worked with a hockey team in Dallas and that costume had a large shape to it. The costume basically had hula hoops in it to give it a big round belly. For me, that meant I could eat as much frozen pizza as I wanted to since it didn’t impact what I looked like while wearing the costume. Unfortunately, the Texans mascot, TORO, is much more form-fitting.
TORO wears a football uniform and a bull head, which meant I needed to eat a lot less frozen pizza and exercise. The Texans told me that I was the right guy for the job, however, I knew I didn’t look good in the costume. From the time I got hired to my first appearance I dropped about 25 pounds, but the work didn’t end there. I started working with a personal trainer who helped get me to my ideal weight and taught me how to adjust my lifestyle so I could maintain my weight over time. I’m very grateful for the challenge this job has provided as it has led me to a much healthier lifestyle. There is no greater accountability than knowing I have to put that costume on. During the season we are so busy with school programs and appearances that it’s hard to put weight on!
During my interview with the Texans, my now boss told me that TORO has always been known for big aerial stunts inside NRG Stadium. She then asked me if that was something I was comfortable with. My head immediately went to a situation back when I worked for the Kansas City Chiefs when KC Wolf was a part of a stunt practice gone wrong, which left the performer with some very serious injuries. Because of this experience, I told my boss that stunts were not something I was comfortable with. Fast forward a few weeks when they offered me the job, my boss told me that I was the right guy for this position and that we could either hire someone to do the stunts moving forward or eliminate the stunt work altogether.
My predecessor, Jonathan Frost, and I overlapped for a 5 week period so that he could help get me acclimated to the position. During this time we had two preseason games and his last day was the 2015 season home opener. He performed the first preseason game, I performed the second preseason game and then he did the home opener. Jonathan wanted to do something extra special for his last game so he called the stunt crew to set up a swing stunt for his introduction before the game.
I held on tight to the handrails as I walked out on the catwalk. The catwalk floor is made of steel bar grading, meaning you can see the seats below you as you walk. I wanted to see how the stunt crew rigged everything and asked a lot of questions. After a few hours of rigging the crew was ready to test the stunt. They attached 200 pounds of weight to the end of the rope and then sent it off. The weight safely reached the ground after a successful test. After this was done, Jonathan put his harness on and did the stunt without the costume on. He did this a few times to make sure he was comfortable and ready for the game the next day. Once he was done all of the eyes turned to me as if it was my turn. I explained to everyone that I didn’t feel comfortable with the stunts, but then it hit me. Since this wasn’t something we were going to be doing in the future, this was going to be my one opportunity to try a stadium stunt. After all, the stunt had just been tested multiple times, which is one of the reasons the stunt practice in KC had failed.
I decided that I wanted to do it so that I could say I had done it. I put the harness on, walked out to the stunt site, the stunt crew rigged me up and then told me I was good to go whenever I was ready. I sat there for several minutes contemplating if I should still do it and everything that could go wrong. Eventually, a member of the stunt crew asked if it would help if he counted me down. I told him I had counted down in my head MULTIPLE TIMES and it didn’t work, but he could try. He counted down from 10 and at one I pushed off the edge and swung across the stadium. When I touched the ground my heart was still beating through my chest and I couldn’t believe I actually did it. I not only overcame my fear, but wanted to do it again!
TORO is still known for his aerial stunts at NRG Stadium as they have continued the last five seasons.
I attribute this to a stunt crew that is extremely knowledgable and takes their time to rig and test the stunts thoroughly.
Everyone knows that covering themselves from head to toe in a thick fur material can be warm, but now think about covering yourself in thick fur material in Houston Texans during the month of August where temperatures can be close to 100 degrees with almost 100% humidity… and that’s at 8 am.
One of the most exciting appearances of the year is Houston Texans Training Camp. Training Camp is held at the Texans outdoor practice facility across the street from NRG Stadium. Thousands of Texans fans line up very early in the morning in hopes of getting a good seat to see their favorite stars up close. TORO’s job is to interact with fans and generate excitement while the players walk over the bridge and onto the practice field and then TORO will walk around the field greeting fans. Due to the heat, I can only be in costume for 20 minutes or so before I need to work my way back to our break spot to cool down and replenish with water and electrolytes.
Sometimes it’s hard to get back to the break space after twenty minutes and I always know I’ve been out too long when sweat starts running down my arms and puddling in my gloves. Water starts to fling out my gloves with any kind of arm or hand movement. This is a warning for Texans fans that if they see TORO after 30 minutes at Training Camp, you should probably stay outside of a 10-foot radius or else you’re in the splash zone. The paramedics will usually want to use an IV after each open Training Camp practice and home game to pump my system with the necessary fluids.
I love history and would love the opportunity to go back in time to see what it would have been like during different eras.
My first opportunity to be a mascot came when I was a sophomore at Lee’s Summit West High School as their mascot Mr Titan. We had a really good football team and made several good playoff runs, but never made it to the State Championship. Finally, my junior year of high school we won the game to send us to the Championship game, which was played at the home of the St. Louis Rams. I didn’t sleep for the entire week leading up to the game as I couldn’t stop thinking about performing in an NFL facility.
I remember the bus pulling up and my eyes getting big at the sight of such a massive stadium. Walking out onto the field for the first time gave me goosebumps. I had created an oversized ring for the mascot to wear if we won. There was no changing space for the mascot so I changed in the hall right outside of the tunnel to enter the field. The game wasn’t very exciting as the Titans crushed their opponent. I was excited to wear the championship ring and celebrate with the team after the win, but above all I still couldn’t believe that I had just performed in that stadium. Today, there are many high school football playoff games at NRG Stadium and I try to make my way on the sidelines to introduce myself to the high school mascots and encourage them to pursue their dreams!
Dominic is a teenage boy who is a huge Texans fan that comes to a lot of our events. He was born with a chromosomal abnormality that has caused cerebral palsy and chronic lung disease. Due to his precarious condition, he is not eligible to receive a lung transplant, making his ailments essentially uncurable. He is also nonverbal… just like TORO, which I think is part of the reason why he usually lights up at the sight of TORO.
At an event called TORO’s Kids Club Combine, I went up to Dom, kneeled down next to him like I always do and hugged him. While we were interacting I felt something weigh down the front of the mascot head and quickly realized it was Dom’s hand. About that time, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that his mom was crying. I went over to her to see what was going on and she told me that Dom just told me that he loved me. Dom’s mom and dad taught him to rub the nose of the people that he loves, which he would do with his mom every night, but he had never done it without being prompted.
Towards the end of my first season with the Texans, I received an email from the NFL inviting me to attend the Pro Bowl. Every year the league selects 10 mascots that entertain football fans during a weeks’ worth of events in Hawaii along with the big game. I had never been to Hawaii and was honored to be selected. It was cool to rub elbows with some of the biggest stars in football that l had been watching all of my life, but the coolest dream was doing it with my mentor with the Chiefs. KC Wolf was also selected for the Pro Bowl this year and was my roommate. This felt like my journey had come full circle when the guy that inspired my journey to become an NFL mascot was now a league counterpart that I was performing with on one of the biggest stages!
Andrew Johnson’s journey to becoming the Mascot Program Manager for the Houston Texans is both inspiring and eye-opening. It’s not every day that you get a glimpse as detailed as the one we just got about what happens behind the scenes of a MASCOT. In fact, this is the first time we’ve had one since we chatted with the person behind Edmonton Oilers mascot Hunter and famous Hulu star Chad Spencer. On top of being an incredible mascot, Andrew Johnson is an wonderful storyteller with a business savvy. On top of providing mascot insider tips, Andrew Johnson proves that being a mascot is complex and requires outstanding energy, passion, business sense, management skills, and never-ending glee!