How Gritty became the NHL’s newest superstar
By Colin Macgillivray, Arts Editor
I’m sure we all remember the day of Sept. 24, 2018. Personally, I was nonchalantly scrolling through my Twitter feed, half-paying attention to the nonsensical content that l long for on a daily basis. Surely, I thought, there has to be one good tweet out there today; something to satiate my never-ending lust for dumb jokes.
But then. I saw it.
A beastly, orange apparition occupied my phone’s screen, eclipsing the world around me. Clad in hideous Philadelphia Flyers regalia, I admired this furry creature as it’s dead googly-eyes stared into the nooks and crannies of my very being.
The beast was frightening, yet captivating, in the same way a child yearns to see a tarantula with their own eyes. The monstrous, orange creature taunted me with its toothless grin, as arguably the greatest caption I’ve ever read sat neatly above this orange ghoul’s glamour shot.
“It me, Gritty.”
I might be being facetious, but Gritty — a seven-foot tall, furry orange creature with googly-eyes, who also happens to be the Philadelphia Flyers new mascot — is a genuinely fascinating sports icon. Within two months of its debut, Gritty has become the NHL’s biggest star, re-appropriated as a socialist icon and been officially honoured by the City of Philadelphia. Not bad for a big ugly beast.
But why is Gritty so gosh darn popular?
Not only has Gritty’s presence shed some light on how the NHL seriously lacks interesting personalities in an age where sports and entertainment have become one in the same, but it is also an example of an expertly crafted sports marketing strategy that was so risky, it worked.
The mass appeal of personality
Like droves of other casual sports fans, I’m generally attracted to athletes that have a certain level of charisma that bolster their supreme talent. The NBA, for example, is littered with star players that shine on and off the court. Whether you’re a LeBron James fanatic or proclaim that Stephen Curry is basketball’s Albert Einstein, there is no denying that these players have unique personalities that make them all the more appealing.
The NBA is filled with these polarizing stars. So is the NFL. Either you love the way Tom Brady seems to blend his boring personality with his exceptional football skills or prefer Marshawn Lynch’s hyper-aggressive lifestyle on and off the field. Baseball has its fair share of personalities, too. Houston Astro Jose Altuve, for one, has made a name for himself as baseball’s best little man and no Blue Jays fan can deny Russell Martin’s cool demeanour on and off the field.
I can go on.
When it comes to the NHL, however, it feels as if there is a distinct lack of personality in the league. Young stars like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and even Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau are some of the league’s best players. But that’s about it. I’m sure they’re all great guys, but I wish they showed a little bit more bravado, if you will.
This orange beast has charisma in spades. From its goofy face, to its crazy attitude, Gritty is a one-monster tour-de-force when it comes to personality. Gritty’s enormous social media following and his late-night talk show presence prove this. Sure, McDavid is a probably the best hockey player in the world, but Gritty is two months old and nearly has as many Twitter followers.
What I’m trying to say is in a world where personalities make sports all the more entertaining, maybe some NHL players should embrace their own personal ‘Gritty’ and make the game more exciting on and off the ice.
The brilliance of a beast
Before Gritty, Philadelphia already had one of the best mascots in sports with the Phillie Phanatic — a large, green creature who sports a long tube-like nose and a dubious disposition. The Phanatic is a recognizable character and is probably one of the few baseball mascots a lot of people know of, even if they aren’t baseball fans.
The San Francisco Giants on the other hand, is a seal named Lou Seal. Apparently, the seal was named the best mascot in sports nearly a decade ago, but I feel the Giants completely missed the opportunity to make their mascot some beastly, giant golem.
As ridiculous as that sounds, going off the rails and making your team’s mascot as unique as possible is clearly a winning formula that Philadelphia has mastered. Both the Phanatic and Gritty are in the conversation for best sports mascots, while the Edmonton Oilers’ Hunter, an ugly lynx, is so forgettable that I had to search it up just to make a point.
Nonetheless, the beastly entity that is Gritty exists to bridge the gap between casual fans and a sports team. Making a mascot so wild, crazy and entertaining gets people riled up and interested about your city’s team, because maybe your team is just as crazy and entertaining as the mascot.
In the end, it is too early to tell whether or not Gritty’s star power will last. Maybe the orange creature is just something we can all come together and love in these trying times? Maybe Gritty was created to purposefully distract us from more important happenings in the world? In the end, all that matters is that the NHL finally has a superstar that can carry it through the season. Here’s hoping we see more.