This story appears in the Dec. 3, 2018, issue of Sports Illustrated. For more great storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine—and get up to 94% off the cover price. Click here for more.
Officially, Gritty is the mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers. But he’s quickly become much more than the representative of a hockey team; in the three months since his orange, fuzzy, googly-eyed self burst onto the internet and into the Wells Fargo Center, he’s transfixed a nation and become one of the most famous people Grits in America. This amorphous monster can’t go anywhere without being mobbed. He’s been chased down by TMZ after appearing on Jimmy Fallon. He’s been featured in almost every major news outlet both in and outside of the country. Twitter cannot get enough of him.
I recently caught up with Gritty to ask how he deals with his newfound fame. He was...very Gritty about it. So I just started asking him things I wanted to know, and as I reread this I’m realizing that it kind of turned into an informal dating profile. But hey, Gritty deserves love, too (lookin’ at you, Kim K).
Charlotte Wilder: What's it been like to be an overnight celebrity?
Gritty: It feels awfully similar to being a daytime celebrity, but I’m sleeping.
CW: When did you realize you were a star?
G: I’ve always been a star.
CW: How do you handle the fame and stay grounded?
G: Never been grounded, see above.
CW: Has it changed you?
G: Once a Grit, always a Grit.
CW: What's the craziest thing that's happened as a famous amorphous monster now?
G: First off, I’m a Gritty. Secondly, can you believe they let me into the Flyers games for free??!
CW: How do you feel about everyone photoshopping your face onto pictures, like of a Thanksgiving table or movie posters?
G: I can’t be everywhere, so if this makes the people happy, I’m all for it.
CW: Any big plans for the winter holidays?
G: Of course. Such a busy time of year, but I think the best laid plans are to slip into some wool socks and flannel pajamas with a roaring fire crackling in the fireplace, I even put the Yule log channel on for extra coziness. I’ll pour myself a tall glass of virgin-Nog with extra, extra nutmeg and admire the twinkling icicles that hang outside. I heard John Legend’s Christmas album is amazing, so I might invite some friends over for Christmas Karaoke once I’ve memorized the tunes. But mostly, I’ll just take in the magic of the season.
CW: What is the best tweet you've ever sent?
G: How do you pick just one?
CW: Who's your best friend?
G: CLAUDE. thank u, next.
CW: Favorite dance song?
G: “All or Nothing” by O-Town
CW: Best vacation spot?
G: Boogie Wonderland
CW: What's next for you?
G: ...Swimsuit Edition?
CW: Wow, so what’s your workout and diet regimen?
G: Pork chops and push-ups.
CW: What mascot, beside yourself, do you admire most?
G: Wacky, waving inflatable tube man, purple. Last seen at Allen’s Used Car Depot.
CW: Dream dinner date?
G: Sept. 15. It’s JUST before hockey season and my birthday. Weather’s usually still nice, and I’m all about dining al fresco.
CW: Speaking of, if you could have dinner with any other celebrity on Sept. 15, who would it be and why?
G: Easy, The Ms. Kardashian (West).
CW: Soooo, should Kim K give you a call?
G: Available by cell, tweet, carrier pigeon, smoke signal, telegraph, Morse code. I would TRULY love that.
He’s perfect. He lights the internet on fire. Of course he does. How could anyone resist Gritty? Watching this guy live his life is a high better than drugs, because he makes you feel like you’re on them without the health risks. He’s gone completely off the rails (well, he was probably born off them), with a list of achievements that includes, but is not limited to: posing as Kim Kardashian and then tweeting “Can’t wait!” at her when she said she’d post Halloween pictures soon, nominating himself for TIME’s person of the year, ransacking a gift shop before a Flyers–Sharks game, ranting about how everyone who dressed up as Gritty for Halloween was not a real Gritty, playing in the snow with the wonder of a child…the list goes on.
I fell in love with Gritty the minute his feet slipped out from under him and put him flat on his back in a Flyers preseason game. He is whacked-out, surprising, harmless, and seems to take true joy in being alive and in delighting us all. He recently showed up at the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day parade and expressed his true joy at the many ‘loons (his word for balloons) and tubas. I viewed his Instagram story from that day—which showed him joining the parade and marching with the band—at least 15 times in a row, and binge-watched the workout video he starred in the day after that. I couldn’t stop laughing. Gritty #content is just so good.
It’s stayed good because this overgrown Muppet (I say that with love!) is authentic. For so many people to remain so obsessed with something, let alone something relating to Philadelphia sports, for longer than a few days in 2018 is very rare. But Gritty is authentic, and in an age of fast-twitch attention spans, that’s the main thing people connect to. This isn’t necessarily always good. A lot of people are authentically cruel and rotten inside. But authenticity is good when you’re being true to yourself and it makes other people happy. The “I’m not trying too hard or faking it, I’m just like this” way is a great approach for getting people to stick around.
Gritty has done this, and it’s allowed him to transcend his team, his city and hockey. He represents the mischievous side of humanity that I want to believe exists, no matter how deeply buried, in all of us. He’s funny without crossing the fine line into mean, wild without making you feel unsafe. He is pure Id. If Freud were to get ahold of him, there would be nothing to psychoanalyze, because what you see—those googly eyes, that tummy that rolls around his hips like a hula hoop, the hands with squeakers in them like a dog’s chew toy, that luxurious orange head of hair that morphs into a beard—is what you get.