New team, new game, and likely the same mascot.
The most legendary bird to ever hit the hardwood was Larry Bird with the Boston Celtics, but that could soon change if Buddy inks a deal with the St. John’s Edge.
But the St. John’s Edge say talk of the famous bird’s return is only half-baked. On Tuesday, a Buddy the Puffin unofficial fan-run Twitter account announced Buddy was back, but it was a matter of putting the puffin before the egg. The deal, say team officials, has not been hatched.
Buddy the Puffin has been entertaining sports fans in the city of legends since 1992. He reached legendary status during his time with the St. John’s Maple Leafs at Memorial Stadium by hyping fans and messing with them. After seven seasons with the St. John’s IceCaps at Mile One Centre, Buddy was out of a job.
As Newfoundlanders go, tradition is everything. Having another mascot replace Buddy the Puffin as part of the St. John’s Edge would be like plucking feathers.
For almost two decades, Chris Abbott, 47, has worn the suit. Abbott started his long journey working in St. John’s professional sports at 13 years old as an ice cream vendor, or hustler as he called it, at Memorial Stadium. Since then he found himself working a full-time gig as a rink attendant at Mile One Centre on top of his mascot duties. Abbott says there is nothing else he would rather be doing.
“Straight up, I love my job,” Abbott said. “I’ve worked here my whole life.”
But whether Buddy gets paid in dollars or capelin, Abbott will only say that it’s the fans that keep him in the suit.
“I tell people it’s what I get back from everybody else. I’ve been doing this now since 1994, last season was my seventeenth season (as Buddy) and I wish I had more.”
And with an opening for a mascot with the Edge, Buddy may fly again.
Technically speaking, the seven-foot-tall capelin connoisseur is still owned by the now defunct St. John’s IceCaps, a hockey team fronted by former premier Danny Williams.
St. John’s Edge spokesman Ken O’Leary says it would mean a lot to local sports fans if Buddy were to flap his wings once again.
“I’ve seen grown men with tears in their eyes,” O’Leary said. “There is a love for Buddy the Puffin in this province from St. John’s to the west coast to Labrador. People have taken him aside, wanted autographs, wanted pictures, and it’s not just kids. He really is a local celebrity.”
Buddy, says O’Leary, is a gifted bird.
“He has that ability to just make people smile,” O’Leary said.
Abbott says fan connection is the one thing he loves most about the job. He shares stories from his career about spooking unsuspecting fans during games, taking pictures with kids and razzing opposing teams, but one memory stands out among the rest. It’s perhaps the real reason why fans love Buddy, and in turn, why they love Abbott.
“This young one, her name is Kennedy and she has special needs, her mother went on Facebook asking if anybody knew who Buddy the Puffin was for Kennedy’s thirteenth birthday,” Abbott said. “So they got in contact with me and I went up and did an appearance.”
When he found out the little girl was at a game, he sought her out.
“So we developed a really close relationship, just through Buddy. She’s a doll, she’s an absolute sweetheart. If you were to call her now and you were to say ‘Kennedy, what are you to Buddy?’ she would say ‘I’m Buddy’s girl.’”