The NHL's biggest star will wear a Philadelphia Flyers jersey but won’t suit up against the Sharks on Tuesday.
That’s because it’s a mascot.
Yes, we’re talking about Gritty, the googly-eyed Flyers mascot that went viral almost immediately after being unveiled in a preseason press conference just over two weeks ago. The costumed character looked a bit like a cross between the Phillie Phanatic and Animal the Muppet -- one that’s really, really sleep-deprived -- and became an Internet darling.
Gritty fell before a preseason game, then channeled Kim Kardashian. Appearances on "Good Morning America" and "The Tonight Show" followed suit. So did bits featuring Gritty stand-ins on "Last Week Tonight" and "Conan."
Now, Gritty -- or, at least the people running its eponymous Twitter account -- has set its terrifying eyes on the Sharks’ mascot, S.J. Sharkie.
We’re not here to stoke up the #PleaseLikeMyMascot crowd. But with everyone talking about the Flyers mascot, we would be neglecting our Journalistic Duty if we didn’t remind you about two instances where Sharkie out-Gritty'd Gritty in a pre-social media age.
There was, of course, the time the Sharks mascot hung from the rafters at SAP Center.
Flashback to March 12, 1999. The Sharks had won three out of four, and were looking to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for just the second time in franchise history. San Jose was tied for seventh in the Western Conference, two points clear of missing the playoffs entirely, and the Detroit Red Wings were in town.
In an effort to hype up the crowd before the game, Sharkie started to repel from the rafters ... then stopped. Abruptly.
The mascot was stuck hanging over the ice for 20 minutes, according to a report from Ross McKeon in the San Francisco Examiner that night. Rubber mats were laid on the ice, but it didn’t reach that point: Sharkie was lifted to safety after the game was delayed for 12 minutes.
"It was nice he didn't fall," then-Sharks defenseman Mike Rathje told the paper that night, in what remains an understatement.
The death-defying incident even got the late-night treatment, as it was lampooned in a mock-investigative piece in an episode of “The Daily Show” later that summer.
Of course, that wasn’t be the only time Sharkie (reportedly) was in a perilous situation with an Original Six franchise in town.
Just over two-and-a-half years later, the Sharks hosted the New York Rangers on Dec. 28, 2001. With New York up 2-1, once-and-future San Jose antagonist Theoren Fleury was given an attempt-to-injure penalty for kneeing Sharks forward Mark Smith.
On his way back to the locker room, Fleury ran into San Jose’s mascot, and an altercation ensued. The New York Times wrote the following month that Fleury “allegedly punched Sharkie,” while other outlets reported Fleury broke the performer’s rib.
Fleury ultimately wrote a letter of apology, and in his return to San Jose exactly one year later with the Chicago Blackhawks, joked to reporters that he hoped the mascot had “been training” for a rematch. In an interview in 2008, the Saskatchewan native said he only “nudged” Sharkie, and later wrote in his 2009 memoir “Playing with Fire” that the incident was blown out of proportion:
“On my way down the tunnel, Sharkie … was standing in my way," Fleury wrote. "He could see me steaming, but he refused to move. He was doing his Sharkie thing, so I brushed past him. Seriously, I barely touched him. The next thing you know, it was reported in the Knight Ridder newspapers that I ‘broke S.J. Sharkie’s ribs in a scuffle after being ejected from a game.’ Typical American [b.s].”
Look, late-night television appearances are cool and all, but Defying Death and Beef With A Professional Athlete are the true rites of mascot passage.
Gritty might be well on the way toward surpassing Rocky Balboa as a Philadelphia icon, but the mascot pecking order is another matter entirely.