Mids not a bit sheepish as goat mascot

The Baltimore Sun

Someday, they may wear the gold braid and dashing blue uniform of a Navy admiral.

But, for now, they're goats.

Before you start feeling sorry for these seven Naval Academy midshipmen, know this: Slipping on the costume and assuming the identity of Bill the Goat might be the best job on campus.

"You get to put yourself out there. You can pretty much make a fool of yourself unabashedly," says John Arnold, class of 2009, with a wide grin.

Children love Bill. Women slip him notes. Congressmen and powerful people want to be photographed with him. Academy brass can't help but boogie down in his presence.

"You can't get in trouble," says Tom Flanagan, class of '09. "You're Bill."

"I'd mess with the president in the goat suit," says Arnold, at 6 feet 1 the tallest goat.

As Bill, you get to go to bowl games, Pentagon events and fancy parties. It's not a pep rally unless Bill is crowd-surfing.

But don't try to hire him for your next office party. This goat, filled with one of the nation's future warriors, isn't for rent.

With apologies to the Marx Brothers, "Why a goat?"

Short version of the legend: When a pet goat aboard a Navy vessel died at sea in the late 1800s, officers decided to enshrine, rather than deep-six, the carcass. Two junior officers were given the skin and the address of a taxidermist, but got sidetracked at a Navy football game. One of them draped himself in the goat's earthly remains and entertained the troops. Navy won, and the goat became a fixture. No word on whether the ship's officers got their goat.

Though a live, four-legged version of Bill has been part of academy tradition since the 1893 Army-Navy football game, the present incarnation of the two-legged version didn't make an appearance until fall 1984.

Before then, the suit looked more like the real thing, "generic goat, with sissy-pink lips," recalls Capt. Conrad Chan, class of 1986.

Academy lore has it that in his final days as commandant, Leon "Bud" Edney, now a retired four-star admiral, demanded something more swashbuckling and in keeping with a school that had David Robinson on the basketball team and Napoleon McCallum running the football.

Originally, goat selection was steeped in secrecy. Applicants - about 20 the first year - had to put the goat head on before entering the room in Smoke Hall to be interviewed by a panel of midshipmen and officers who included the commandant.

Chan got the job and learned how to pick his way across football end zones and basketball courts while trying to peer through Bill's mouth. Now with the U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., he says being the first goat of the modern era was an honor.

"I learned a lot about people skills, even though as Bill, you can't talk," he says.

The latest members of the fraternity Capra hircus aren't sworn to secrecy, but they take their responsibilities seriously and help select the next generation.

In interviews, candidates must be outgoing, exhibit a crazy side or tell a zany story.

"Then they put on the suit," says Daniel Hanley, class of 2010 and the shortest goat, a wicked grin turning up the corners of his mouth.

"That's really telling," continues Arnold. "Sometimes they just stand there. They don't know what to do. There's nothing called Bill practice."

One or two midshipmen are invited to join the herd in Mascot Camp, where they hone their attitude and antics.

"I honestly don't know what goes on. They don't tell me," says Lt. John Augusto, head shepherd. "It's a big secret."

But being Bill isn't all green pastures and tasty cud.

People try to yank his head off or engage in head butts. Other mascots get a little frisky and have to be put in their place. Small children roaming beyond Bill's limited peripheral vision can send him sprawling.

And, in Jarrod Larson's case, showing off while standing on the goal post meant a spectacular splat and a free ride to the emergency room.

Then there's the summer, when the suit becomes a portable blast furnace and the midshipmen roast. They eschew a gel-pack cooling vest because "it makes you look fat," says Matt Boehm, class of 2008.

Larson says despite frequent cleanings, the suit never loses its funk.

Vice Admiral Rodney Rempt, the superintendent who turned over command June 8, found that out when he took a turn as Bill last season. He immediately ordered a new goat suit, which the class of 1971 donated.

"The good thing about Bill is he's like wearing your pajamas," Arnold says.

"Yeah," Boehm says. "Really sweaty ones."


In Saturday's sports section, the name of the midshipman who wore the costume of Naval Academy mascot Bill the Goat during the 1984-1985 season was misspelled. His name is Capt. Conrad Chun.THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR
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