Many of us have lost special pets before.
Now, we have all lost one together.
RIP, Blue II, Butler’s iconic bulldog, who lost a battle with a heart condition this week.
The English bulldog was more than a mascot, he was a symbol of the men’s basketball program’s rise to national prominence. The low-to-the-ground canine carrying a giant bone across the court seemed an apt analogy for the well-grounded teams.
He wasn’t just some guy in a mascot costume, he was a part of the team. Who can doubt Blue II’s mojo didn’t play a part in those magical 2010 and 2011 NCAA championship game runs? As each player bent down to rub his ears or pat his head during introductions, the canine karma was clear.
Blue’s post-huddle dash down the court, bone-in-slobbering-mouth into the waiting arms of the Dawg Pound student section, remains one of the best traditions in sports.
“Blue epitomized The Butler Way,” school President James M. Danko said. “Without saying a word, Blue demonstrated perfect loyalty, team spirit and steadfast pride in representing the university to the world. And he always made people smile.”
Yes, he did. In times covering the Dawgs, Blue II’s pregame climb past the media tables up to the Hinkle walkway always drew a pat from even the most grizzled newspaper veterans.
Of course, Blue II was more than a basketball fixture, he was a Butler icon. A simple dog elevated to an almost cult-like status, he developed a persona under owner Michael Kaltenmark.
His passing at 9 years old drew note from CBS Sports, USA Today and TMZ, among other media outlets.
“Blue II never felt like a mascot,” ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan wrote. “He felt like a pet, like Butler’s pet, like college basketball’s pet, only with a tiny Nike sweater and a courtside seat. He wasn’t a symbol. He was a real dog.”
Blue II was a real dog, but he had quite a human following. He had a blog, a Twitter account (13,000 followers) and a car sponsorship deal. Not bad for a bulldog.
His unabashed loyalty to Butler and biting wit showed through to the end.
“But really guys, can you believe I spent two nights at Purdue University?! I feel so dirty,” he tweeted last month after a visit to a specialist in West Lafayette.
But the canine was a more than capable showman without human help.
Who else could one-up Charles Barkley, as Blue famously did in a Final Four interview?
Alas, his heart condition — congestive heart failure complicated by Cushing’s disease — proved too much.
Blue II got his chance to say goodbye, though, turning over his duties to a new bulldog mascot last spring and parading across the stage at Butler’s 2013 commencement.
His last days were spent enjoying things any dog or human would love — a special steak dinner, compliments of St. Elmo’s, frozen yogurt from Huddles and nonstop love and pampering from the Kaltenmarks, who took in Blue II when he was given to the university as a puppy.
“Blue had an uncanny ability to rise to the occasion,” Kaltenmark said. “Whether it was live TV, a visit with elementary school kids or just a photo shoot, he was a professional. I think it afforded him the respect and envy of a lot of other schools and fans.”
He may have been the most recognizable “Bulldog” outside former basketball coach Brad Stevens. Now, both have moved on in different ways. Stevens is running the Celtics, and Blue II is running in celestial pastures.
Even in his passing, though, Blue got in one word to those he leaves behind.
“How do I know that all dogs go to heaven?” he tweeted. “Because I’m there now. It’s been a great ride. Thank you all, God bless @butleru, and #GoDawgs.”
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.