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The story behind sports’ greatest mascot, Philadelphia Flyers’ nightmare fuel creation

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The new Flyers mascot had just destroyed the set of the “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

Within seconds of being unleashed, he headed straight for Questlove’s drum set and started tossing his sticks across the room. As Fallon and Ricky Gervais attempted to dance to Boyz II Men, the bizarre, orange, bearded, googly eyed creature cut in and started an all-out brawl with the two comedians.

Later, as he left 30 Rock in full costume and headed to his chartered helicopter — yes, a mascot for a hockey team had his own helicopter waiting for him — the all-seeing eyes of TMZ had caught wind of his location. They chased him down the street, screaming his name:

“Gritty! Gritty!”

Within three days of his creation, Gritty had become a sensation. But where did he come from? And what the hell is he?

Before he was hockey’s most talked about personality since Wayne Gretzky, he was an idea that started in the Flyers’ marketing department. At the 2016 All-Star weekend festivities, the Flyers were one of two teams in the NHL — along with the Rangers — who didn’t have an official mascot. Every year, the weekend features the NHL Mascot Showdown, which pits each team’s mascot against each other in a friendly competition.

As one of the three teams that was unable to participate (Al the Octopus, the Red Wings’ mascot, is not costumed), the Flyers felt it was time to develop a mascot that could go toe-to-toe with their rivals’. But in regards to what he would look like, the answer wasn’t obvious. The Flyers were uninterested in exploring their flying theme. Nor did they want to channel their “Broad Street Bullies” nickname. They wanted to do something wildly different.

This is definitely wildly different. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek, File)Source: AP

“We wanted to be all-in with this mascot,” said Sarah Schwab, 31, the Flyers’ director of marketing and communications. “We wanted to make a statement.”

And make a statement they did. After commissioning more than 100 different artists and reviewing countless sketches, they landed on the prototype that became Gritty. Created by Pennsylvania artist Brian Allen, Gritty was concocted as an “amorphous monster creature,” according to Schwab.

“We had a safe version that was light and friendly and the typical kid-friendly mascot — not to say that Gritty isn’t kid-friendly, because he is — but we wanted something that was going to stand out from the crowd,” said Joe Heller, 35, the Flyers’ VP of marketing and communications.

“We want fans to high-five him. We don’t really want fans to hug him. His name is Gritty for a reason.”

The Flyers rolled him out Sept. 24, revealing him in a menacing photograph set against a pitch-black background. They also tweeted a now-viral 30-second video that saw Gritty skating out in front of flashing neon lights, shaking his belly and rolling his googly eyes over a jarringly intense electronic song.

The internet was frightened. Memes ensued. John Oliver, Stephen Colbert and “Good Morning America” all took notice. CBS Sports called Gritty “pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel.”

“None of us really thought that his look would be so much the focal point of the backlash,” Heller said. “We thought it would be, ‘We don’t need a mascot.’ Looking back, the black backdrop that he took the photo in front of, that probably wasn’t the greatest choice.”

“That was probably some of the nightmare fuel,” Schwab added.

But it quickly became apparent that he was more than that creepy photo. He had a personality that few mascots in the history of sports could match. Gritty’s personality exploded onto the worldwide stage on a whirlwind first day.

Those eyes stare directly into your soul. Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP

The antics started in his first hour of existence. In response to Gritty’s photo, the rival Pittsburgh Penguins lobbed up a “softball,” as Heller put it.

“Lol ok,” the Penguins wrote in response to his photo. Gritty fired back.

“Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird.” The post was retweeted over 4,600 times.

That same day, Gritty made his debut on home ice before the Flyers’ preseason game against the Boston Bruins. It did not go well.

“The first 50 feet on the ice, and he bit it,” Heller said. “I didn’t think it was scripted because it looked like he had a hard landing. Sure enough, it wasn’t. He just fell. After, he said, ‘Who knew ice was slippery?’”

Between the launch, the Penguins’ clapback and the tumble on the ice, Gritty had made more headlines in 12 hours than most mascots make in their entire existence. But he saved his best moment of the day for last. As the Flyers’ staff sat down for their press meal that night, digital media coordinator Lauren Robins, who runs Gritty’s Twitter account, had an idea.

“I was thinking to myself, he’s about to break Twitter, Twitter is going to break and it’s going to be all our fault,” Robins said. “Then I was like, oh my goodness. Kim Kardashian. Break the internet.”

The 25-year-old Robins, described by Schwab as “Gritty’s brain unleashed on the internet,” whipped up a Photoshop of Gritty’s face onto Kim Kardashian’s infamous nude Paper Magazine cover shoot.

Paired with the simple caption, “Goodnight, internet,” Robins tweeted out the photo. The image exploded overnight. As it did, Gritty completed his transformation from frightening orange oddity to full-on folk hero.

“The Kim Kardashian tweet was the turning point,” Schwab said.

Look out, he’s trying to take that man! Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP

By the next day, everyone knew who Gritty was. Fallon’s staff at the “Tonight Show” invited him to be on the show that Thursday, three days after he was born. The only problem? The Flyers had a preseason game the same night, and missing it was out of the question.

“Gritty is first and foremost for Flyers fans and the city of Philadelphia,” Schwab said. “There’s no way he can miss his own game because he’s gotten too big for his britches and gone out to New York.

“I walked into our COO’s office and said, ‘We’re not going to be able to get Gritty back to Philadelphia in time for the game.’ He asked if I had a solution. I said, ‘I do, but you might not like it.’”

The solution was to charter a helicopter, and the Flyers approved. Gritty escaped the TMZ reporters to a helipad in the city, where he flew from New York to Philadelphia. He got a police escort to the arena and ended up arriving early.

In the months since, the legend of Gritty has only continued to grow. Much of this can be attributed to Robins, who has turned him into the most followed mascot on Twitter. When WWE star Elias ripped the city of Philadelphia and called Gritty a “fat, ugly, googly-eyed slob,” Robins tweeted a photo of Gritty body-slamming Elias, with the caption, “Heard I got called out last night by some guy with a ponytail named Jeff.”

Gritty’s most popular tweet came two weeks ago, ahead of Time Magazine announcing its annual “Person of the Year.”

“I really wanted to Photoshop Gritty onto the cover of Time and be really forward about it, to say he should be Time’s Person of the Year,” Robins said. “Then it hit me like a train — if we switch the I and T in Time, it spells ‘It Me.’ ” (“It Me” was the caption the Flyers tweeted out with Gritty’s first official photo.) The image has been retweeted more than 21,000 times.

Gritty has even transcended the world of sports to other corners of the internet. When President Trump visited Philadelphia in October, a protester raised a banner saying, “GRITTY SAY G.T.F.O. OF PHILLY.” The image went viral, and now Antifa Gritty is all over the memesphere.

The Flyers, however, have no interest in conflating Gritty with politics.

“Gritty doesn’t know his right from his left,” Schwab says.

On Nov. 30, Gritty showed up at the Rutgers-Michigan State basketball game in New Jersey. Why an NHL mascot would be at a Big Ten college basketball game is a question in and of itself. But at halftime, there he was, fully costumed, lumbering out onto the floor with his big belly bobbing up and down.

Someone gave him a basketball at half court. He took a shot. He drained it. Because of course he did.

“So much of what happened with Gritty is completely organic,” Heller said. “There really is no script at this point.”

We know Gritty looks like a cross between the Dodgers’ Justin Turner and a misshapen carrot. We know he’s a wide-reaching internet force. We know there’s nothing he can’t do.

But the question still remains: What the hell is Gritty?

“He’s a Gritty,” Schwab says.

And that’s enough.

This article was originally published at the New York Post and was republished with permission.

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Ben Simmons Philadelphia 76ers, trade news, practice, Travis Kelce slams Simmons, NHL, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles,

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The Ben Simmons saga has become so bad that other sports are getting dragged into the fray. Now the Australian has received a brutal reality check from one of Philadelphia’s most beloved NFL stars on earning the respect of Philly fans.

Jason Kelce played a key role as the 2017 Eagles won that season’s Super Bowl – their first ever – then dressed up as a ‘Mummer’ (a participant of a unique Philadelphia parade) and gave an inspired speech during their trophy parade.

Now he’s taken aim at Simmons, explaining the fans who are notoriously tough on their own players are simply asking for accountability and hard work.

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“You write your own narrative,” Kelce said, per NBC Sports Philly. “What’s going on, I don’t want to crush any other players, but what’s going on with the 76ers, Ben Simmons, stuff like that. All that is because of a lack of accountability, a lack of owning up to mistakes and a lack of correcting things.

“If all that got corrected, you fix the free throws, if you’re getting better as a player, none of this is happening. Everybody can b***h and complain about how tough this city is to play in. Just play better, man. This city will love you.”

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He added: “This city really appreciates accountability, appreciates people being very honest, real, emotionally invested, caring.

“There’s a lot of people who say it’s a hard place to play. I think it’s pretty f***ing easy, to be honest with you. You just go out there, play hard. Want to be loved in this city as a baseball player? Run to first base. They’re going to f***ing loving you. I mean, that’s what it comes down to. If you go up and make a bunch of excuses, if you come up here and try to lie to them and act like they don’t know what they’re talking about — which, sometimes they don’t — when you act that way or when you aren’t accountable if you’re making mistakes, or when you’re not getting better or anything like that, they’re going to crush you.

“Everybody’s going to get crushed at some point. Everybody’s going to go through a downturn or struggle, right? At all times this city is going to keep you accountable to be doing your job and performing. But if you stick to it, if you fight through it and you get better and everything like that, they’ll respect the hell out of you.

“Even if you’re struggling and you’re fighting and really trying, they’re still going to respect you. That’s what I think most guys miss.”

A former New England Patriots assistant coach also slammed Simmons. Michael Lombardi, who also worked as an executive with four other NFL franchises, tweeted: “Ben Simmons is embarrassing himself now —not even his ardent defenders can support his behaviour. Believe what you see.”

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It’s not just NFL where Simmons’ situation is making a mark. In the NHL, “F**k you Simmons” chants rang out during the Philadelphia Flyers’ 6-3 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night (local).

TNT’s broadcasters at Wells Fargo Center even took digs at Simmons being booted from practice during the game.

As Flyers fans left the game, more “f**k Ben Simmons” chants were yelled.

But the biggest impact is still being felt by Simmons’ Sixers.

Despite Simmons missing the season opener, Philadelphia smashed New Orleans 117-97. But that didn’t stop the Pelicans fans from delighting in the Australian’s absence.

The crowd at Smoothie King centre repeatedly chanted “Where’s Ben Simmons?” during the game. And whenever a 76ers player took a free throw, those chants became louder – a reference to Simmons’ woeful 34.2 per cent shooting from the charity stripe in the 2021 playoffs.

On one occasion, Sixers star Joel Embiid was on the receiving end of sarcastic chants by fans declaring: “We want Simmons.”

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What made ‘The Great One’ great? Wayne Gretzky arrives in Sydney for USA v Canada Ice Hockey Classic, NHL

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WAYNE Gretzky was never the biggest, strongest or fastest guy on the ice. A lanky figure with a gentle smile, he didn’t look much like his NHL counterparts. But somehow Gretzky ascended to become a legend of the sport. So what is it that helped make ‘The Great One’ great?

In a career spanning twenty years Gretzky stacked 61 official NHL records, (60 of which he still holds), including the most goals (1,016) and most assists (2,223). He’s won the Stanley Cup four times with the Edmonton Oilers and won the Hart Trophy, the league MVP award, on a record nine occasions.

When it comes to ice hockey, there’s Wayne Gretzky — light years — and then everyone else.

The word ‘legacy’ is sometimes overused when reflecting upon the achievements of our sporting heroes, but few compare to the legacy left by Gretzky.

Wayne Gretzky in his infamous #99 jersey of the Edmonton Oilers.Source: Supplied

Looking back, it’s not his records or accolades he’s most proud of though. It’s the effort he put in.

“People ask me all the time, if someone said ‘How would you like to be remembered?’ I always say the same thing: I played a lot of bad games but I know in my heart that I played hard every single game,” Gretzky told Fox Sports Australia.

“People came up to me and they said ‘You worked hard out there,’ and to me, that’s the biggest compliment I can get.”

Canada’s favourite son had many great mentors throughout his playing career, like his father Walter, and ‘Mr Hockey’ Gordie Howe — who tragically passed away just this month.

However Gretzky credits his grandparents for instilling in him the grit and determination that would make him a legend.

“I probably got that from my grandparents,” Gretzky said.

“My grandfather [Tony] was from Belarus, part of the Soviet Union at the time. In 1920 he came over with my grandmother [Mary] who was from Warsaw, and they both went to North America.

“They both worked through to their early 80s. They had a farm, and they did all their own farming, so I think the work ethic that I had as a player was inherited from my grandparents.”

Wayne Gretzky touched down in Sydney on Thursday. Picture: Stephen CooperSource: News Corp Australia

That farm is where a young Gretzky would watch ice hockey on TV with his family. It’s also where he first pulled on the skates and picked up his stick.

Greatness would soon follow as he rocketed through the junior ranks and made his professional debut at the age of 17 in the WHA (now defunct), before joining the Oilers in the NHL the very next year and creating NHL history playing for Edmonton, the Los Angeles Kings, St Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

Even after his playing days, he continues to be an ambassador for the sport, currently visiting Australia for the USA vs Canada Ice Hockey Classic that bears his name.

“Hockey has been so good to me in my life and everything I have is because of hockey, so I think that we can help promote the game and get everyone to see how great of a sport it really is,” Gretzky said.

“The game fares well in colder climate places. Kids in Canada can skate on lakes and ponds in the winter and it doesn’t cost parents any money. But we’re getting much bigger now with San Jose, LA, Anaheim, more kids are playing, and the first pick in the NHL Draft this week will be from Phoenix, Arizona [Auston Matthews], which nobody ever thought would be possible.

“So it’s growing, it just takes time and hopefully twenty years from now, people over here are going to say ‘Wow, this is a fun sport’.”

Wayne Gretzky meets junior ice hockey players from the Canterbury Eagles. Picture: Stephen Cooper.Source: News Corp Australia

Gretzky said getting more kids to watch and play ice hockey is what will help it grow Down Under. He also praised Australia’s first (and only) NHL draftee Nathan Walker for helping that cause.

“I heard he plays hard and he has some great abilities, and had a strong season [with Washington Capitals affiliated AHL team Hershey Bears]. It only helps our sport,” Gretzky said.

Sydney fans will be in for a treat Saturday night when Gretzky takes to the ice in a four-on-four exhibition prior to the main event.

The five-stop Australian tour has already been a hit in Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide, with Sydney and Brisbane the final games left on the schedule.

Wayne Gretzky and his son Ty (then 14, now 25) in 2004.Source: Getty Images

Gretzky has also brought along his 25-year-old son Ty, a keen player himself who now works for his dad’s hockey camps and is expected to play in Sydney.

As for what ‘The Great One’ will get up to in his downtime while in town, just don’t expect golf to be on his itinerary, despite his son-in-law Dustin Johnson’s triumph at the US Open last week.

“I don’t get any golf tips,” Gretzky said.

“My golf upside is about as good as his hockey upside… which is not very good.”

Wayne Gretzky will be at the Qudos Bank Arena for the USA vs Canada Ice Hockey Classic.

Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne: Friday 17 June, 2016

Perth Arena, Perth: Saturday 18 June, 2016

Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide: Friday 24 June, 2016

Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney: Saturday 25 June, 2016

Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane: Saturday 2 July, 2016

Team USA line up for the national anthem before the match between Team USA and Team Canada at Rod Laver Arena on June 17, 2016 in Melbourne.Source: Getty Images

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Toronto Maple Leafs select Arizona-born Auston Matthews as no. 1 pick

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ON the heels of the NHL expanding into Las Vegas, the Toronto Maple Leafs are pinning their future on Arizona-born centre Auston Matthews.

Amid chants of “Go Leafs, Go!” the 18-year-old from Scottsdale was selected by Toronto with the first pick in the NHL draft Friday night. Though the Maple Leafs had kept their decision under wraps since winning the draft lottery in April, Matthews was the expected choice.

Auston Matthews reaches for his mother Ema Matthews after being selected first overall.Source: AFP

NHL Central Scouting ranked the 6-foot-2, 210-pound playmaker as its top draft-eligible project, and he’s also a natural centre, a top-line position that’s difficult to fill. Matthews already has pro experience after spending last season with Zurich in the Swiss Elite League.

WHAT MADE ‘THE GREAT ONE’ GREAT?

Finnish-born forwards Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi rounded out the three top prospects.

Matthews, who grew up a Coyotes fan, became the seventh American selected at No. 1, and first since the Chicago Blackhawks chose Patrick Kane with the top pick in 2007.

Auston Matthews puts on a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.Source: AFP

For Toronto, Matthews represents a significant piece in general manager Lou Lamoriello’s extensive rebuilding plans to restore relevance to one of the league’s most high-profile franchises. The Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs in 10 of the past 11 years, and spent last season purging high-priced contracts and veteran talent with a focus on rebuilding through youth.

Matthews arrives at a time when the Maple Leafs usher in the 100th year of professional hockey being played in Canada’s largest city.

Winnipeg was set to select second, followed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, whose general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he’s considering trading the pick depending upon which two players are taken ahead of him.

Auston Matthews celebrates after being picked first overall.Source: AFP

Two trades were announced by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before the second pick.

Montreal traded forward Lars Eller to Washington for the Capitals’ second-round draft picks in 2017 and ‘18.

Also, Chicago traded forward Andrew Shaw to Montreal for the Canadiens’ two second-round picks — No. 39 and 45 — in this year’s draft.

Numerous Maple Leafs fans made the two-hour drive to Buffalo to be on hand for their team selecting first for only the second time in the draft. Toronto selected Wendel Clark first in 1985. Each time Maple Leafs began cheering, their rival Sabres fans began booing.

Before the draft began, Bettman announced that the league’s annual pre-draft rookie combine will return to Buffalo for a third consecutive year.

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