From Clutch to Coog: Former Rockets mascot boosts University of Houston's football program

From Clutch to Coog: Former Rockets mascot boosts University of Houston's football program
After 21 years of suiting up as the Rockets mascot, Boudwin has a new clutch Houston role. Photo by Owen Conflenti

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Robert Boudwin, the man behind (and inside) Clutch the Bear for 21 years at Houston Rockets games, has a new role. He is now the assistant athletic director for marketing and events presentation at the University of Houston.

I'll translate that job title for you — Boudwin is in charge of putting butts in seats at UH football games.

He's got his work cut out for him.

Geographically, colleges located in NFL cities, like Houston, don't draw huge crowds to their football games. The NFL is simply the bigger draw and dominates sports media. The Houston Texans sell every seat to every game at 72,220-capacity NRG Stadium, and has a waiting list for season's tickets a mile long. 

Even when the University of Miami was racking up national titles in the '80s, the Hurricanes failed to sell out most of its games in the Orange Bowl. Georgia Tech (Atlanta), Arizona State (near Phoenix), Boston College (Boston), and SMU (Dallas) don't pack their football stadiums.

Historically, colleges located near recreational water in warm climates don't fill their football stadiums, either. There's just too many other things to do on sunny Saturdays. And sadly, colleges that belong to secondary, non-Power 5 conferences, like UH in the American Athletic Conference, aren't making scalpers rich on StubHub.

Last year, UH averaged 32,000 fans last year in the 40,000-capacity TDECU Stadium. So far this year, attendance has been about the same — 32,000 against Arizona on September 8 and 30,000 against Texas Southern on September 22. Rice struggles even more, averaging fewer than 20,000 fans in a stadium that holds 47,000.

From Clutch to Coog
Boudwin, a first-ballot inductee into Mascot Hall of Fame in 2006, says UH has a few things going for it, plus he's got a few tricks up his sleeve.

"Engaging fans and providing the best game experience for them is a new priority at UH. This position was created specifically for me. They're giving me all the tools I need to make UH games a fun and memorable time," Boudwin says.

Some are nuts-and-bolts ideas, like free face-painting and hair-spraying stations at the stadium — and the biggest spirit flag in U.S. sports. One burly cheerleader will wave a 22-foot flag reading "Eat 'em up Coogs" as the team takes the field. The previous biggest flag? The 21-foot banner that Clutch unfurled at Rockets games when Boudwin ran the show at Toyota Center. There will be a DJ with two turntables at top of the student section.

A new tradition: Before each game, a Houston celebrity will lead the crowd in the H-Town Declaration: "This is our house, this is our city, you are now in the cage!"

Boudwin doesn't accept the notion that college football can't thrive in an NFL town. For several factors, like Houston's climate and thriving economy, and UH having a large commuter student base, UH students tend to stick around here after they graduate.

"I don't believe that UH football is secondary in a lot of people's minds," he says. "UH has 270,000 alumnae within the Houston area. They have an affinity for the place where they went to school. They do have tons of passion for this school. My job is to show them a good time at games."

Of course there are some things that even a two-time NBA "Mascot of the Year" can't control: "I would consider it a personal favor if it didn't rain Thursday night," when Tulsa visits the Coogs at TDECU Stadium on October 4.

Ken's cuts
CBS is bringing back Murphy Brown, the '90s sitcom starring Candice Bergen. One week in, the ratings are a dud, nothing near what Roseanne pulled last year. Murphy Brown, wasn't funny then ...

The thing is, bringing back shows is tricky. I've got a bad feeling about Magnum P.I., which I once liked. Seinfeld may be my favorite show ever, but I would be horrified at the thought of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer doing it again. 

Tasty trivia
I ate at a famous restaurant recently. Sign on the wall said "World's Leading Server of T-Bone Steaks." Can you name the restaurant?
(Answer: Waffle House. I ordered pancakes.)

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