Clutch set to be inducted into Mascot Hall of Fame
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HOUSTON - Robert Boudwin was traveling from New York to Philadelphia by train last week when a fellow passenger asked what he did for a living.
Boudwin, the man behind the most famous oversized teddy bear in the world, answered the question and prepared himself for a long interrogation.
He's never had a short conversation after telling a stranger that his job consists of putting on a bear costume and tormenting basketball players.
Since Feb. 1996, Boudwin has been portraying the Rockets' mascot, Clutch.
"People are always kind of intrigued when I tell them what I do," said Boudwin, who ended up talking with the passenger on the train for over an hour. I feel very fortunate that Rockets Owner Les Alexander and the entire organization have allowed me the opportunity to represent them both at games and around the Houston community. A great mascot program really begins with an owner who treasures adding value to the fan experience through game entertainment and inspiration."
Boudwin is just a bit more consistent than the typical weatherman.
Nearly 11 years after stuffing himself inside the bear costume for the first time, Boudwin's character, Clutch, will be inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame on Aug. 15 for his consistently good performances and outlandish pranks.
Clutch is one of six professional and collegiate mascots being inducted into the Hall and is one of the youngest characters to get a pass after being selected in his first year of eligibility. The Rockets' mascot was eligible for the first time this year because he didn't meet the requirement of being 10 years old last year.
Before getting the call from the Hall of Fame, Clutch was already regarded as the 5th most recognizable mascot in sports by USA Today and was tabbed the 2004-05 NBA Mascot of the Year.
The mascot has received a standing ovation in just about every arena that he has walked inside and has become one of the most recognizable faces of the Rockets' organization.
All of that is because of the man who has spent a decade building his character's reputation.
"Clutch's personality is an exaggeration of me," Boudwin said. "I wouldn't do some of things he does, but I'm more outgoing as Clutch. If I had to sum up Clutch in three words, it would be lovable, mischievous and electric. He's got a lot of curiosity."
Boudwin has portrayed Clutch in nearly 1,000 games and countless appearances away from Toyota Center. He was patrolling the sideline when Yao Ming put on a Rockets uniform for the first time and was in attendance when Hakeem Olajuwon had his number retired.
Rockets fans have watched him bow down to Jack Nicholson and act as the Secret Service agent for former President George Bush.
Along the way, he's bumped into fans who want to play 20 questions.
"People always ask the same questions when they meet me," Boudwin said. "Is it hot in there? Is it hard not to talk? Is that your real job? Can you get me Tracy McGrady's or Yao's autograph?"
One of the most legendary careers in the history of sports mascots began in high school.
Boudwin was the Trojan at Wissahickon High School in Ambler, Penn. and went on to become the University of Delaware's YoUDee. By the end of his junior year of college, he had gained enough respect as a mascot that he ended up teaching other mascots at the Universal Cheerleaders Association's summer camps in California.
During his stay in California, Boudwin heard the Rockets were looking for someone to become their new mascot. He caught a flight to Houston and tried out for the role.
"I ended up being one of the five finalists for the job," Boudwin said. "We ended up getting 20 minutes to show what we could do in the food court of Memorial City Mall. The Rockets didn't have costume for the mascot yet so we ended up wearing a generic gorilla costume. During my time, I ended up cutting someone's hair in a hair salon without them knowing and I started feeding people."
Just like that, Boudwin found his calling. He left school a year early to become Clutch and ended up finishing school when he could fit in around several NBA seasons.
"I guess you could say I left school early to enter the mascot business," Boudwin said.
The concept of Clutch was created before Boudwin signed on.
Leslie Alexander, the Rockets' owner, wanted the franchise to create a mascot that would entertain children.
Before developing Clutch, the franchise only had an acrobat in spandex named Turbo who dazzled crowds with his high-flying dunks. But there was never a furry creature roaming the sidelines of Rockets games that made fans laugh.
"Our owner wanted something that was huggable and funny," Boudwin said. "You don't really get that out of a guy in spandex and tights. What's more lovable than a teddy bear?"
Boudwin helped create the Clutch's costume and has been an integral part in developing the mascot's skits and pranks.
He introduced AIR or inflatable mascots to professional sports in 1997 with AIR Clutch. He also popularized mascot bowling -- a game in which the mascot serves as ball and is shot down the court at 5 foot tall pins by a giant sling shot operated by 3 people -- and mascot stilt boxing.
"I've always loved our Devil-and-Angel skit, where there is a Devil Clutch and Angel Clutch with Clutch," Boudwin said. "Clutch usually is perplexed by a situation and the Devil and Angel end up fighting over what he should do. He ends making a middle of the road decision that is usually pretty funny."
After spending 11 years in the bear outfit, Boudwin and the Rockets will put together a short highlight tape to be played at Clutch's Hall of Fame induction in Philadelphia.
The video already includes congratulatory remarks from Houston Mayor Bill White and Rockets forward Tracy McGrady. More kudos are on the way.
The man who made Clutch famous is honored by all of it. He will soon belong in the same category as San Diego's Famous Chicken and Philadelphia's Phillie Phanatic.
"Being honored is nice, but there is no better feeling than the euphoria of making an entire arena full of fans laugh and be entertained," Boudwin said "That's why I love my job."
For more information about the Mascot Hall of Fame, visit: mascothalloffame.com.