People dumped ice on their heads this summer to help save the lives of others. Thirty-five years ago, during Auburn’s season opener against Kansas State, Barry Mask pretty much did it to save his own.
That was the day Barry Mask became the first Aubie.
Others had worn the suit before, sure. When it arrived from New York in February 1979, SGA Spirit Director James Lloyd, who pretty much spearheaded the whole Auburn-needs-one-of-those-kind-of-mascots deal, took the $1,390 costume out of the box and put it on for a Plainsman photographer, and even for a brief appearance at the SEC Basketball Tournament in Birmingham in February. Mask and the other 17 people auditioning to be Aubie a few weeks later had also worn it for their four and half minute skits.
The first time Mask donned the stripes after that was at A-Day (which also happened to be Auburn’s first Founder’s Day–he was there for that, too), just four days after Lloyd and Co. announced at Toomer’s Corner that Mask had been selected as the first official Aubie. But that was mostly just posing for photos with kids and waving at everyone.
“This,” Mask says of the Kansas State game, “was the big debut.”
It was also almost the last hurrah.
“Buddy Davidson (Auburn’s former Sports Information Director) said ‘you gotta come up with a good idea for a good intro.'”
Inspiration came at the Phi Tau house. Barry was a brother. They had just bought a new refrigerator, and the box was still just sitting there.
“I said ‘that’s what I’m going to do.'”
As the season progressed, Aubie got a little more creative (you know, like dressing up as Bear Bryant). But that first game, it was just a boy in a box.
Mask got it, painted it orange, put a crate in the bottom, took it to the field, in the end zone, and got the cheerleaders to help him in.
“The players came out there warming up and I could hear them talking saying ‘man, what’s in that box?'” Mask says. “And then right before kickoff, the cheerleaders had a cue to pick it up and take it to the middle of the field.”
When stadium announcer Carl Stephens said “introducing a new Auburn tradition, Aubie”, Mask burst out of the box… on the verge of heat stroke.
“I actually got in the box an hour before kickoff,” Masks says. “When you’re 19 and stupid you can do that. The idea was to get the crowd’s curiosity up.”
It also got Mask’s temperature up. Late summer? One o’clock kickoff? In a faux fur suit? Inside a refrigerator box? There’s only so much a 19-year-old can do to stay cool.
“I had two big ol’ Slurpee cups full of water with me,” Mask says. “I had the Aubie hat off while I was in there, but I was baking.”
Fortunately, he had devised a failsafe: a friend waiting on the sideline with a bucket of ice water.
“I told him ‘if I come out of this thing and after finishing with the band”—there was a short dance routine planned after the box act—”and you see me slashing my throat, then help me get this hat off and dump that water on me.'”
Aubie started dancing. Mask started seeing spots.
“I started seeing little bubbles in my eyes while I’m doing the dance,” Mask says. “That’s one of the first signs of heat exhaustion.”
Mask says he just sucked it up.
“You have to keep your big motions going.”
His final motion? The throat slash, then a dash for the Auburn sideline. These days, taking Aubie’s head off is a no-no. That day, it was kind of a life saver.
“Joey (his friend) got that helmet off and dumped the ice on me,” Mask says.
It may have saved Mask’s life, but it ruined equipment manager Frank “Temperature Conscious” Cox’s experiment, or at least he thought it had.
“Frank thought I was crazy, so he taped a thermometer to my chest out of curiosity,” Mask says.
According to WebMD.com, “the hallmark symptom of heat stroke is a core body temperature above 105 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Mask says the highest temperature the thermometer on him could measure was 114 degrees. Mask didn’t wait to take it off.
“He (Cox) came over, and said ‘aw, man you dumped the ice water in there.'”
They took a look at it anyway.
“It was still above 114 even after the ice water.”
Photos: Barry Mask, Glomerata
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