If you caught a glimpse of Butler's lineup introductions before Saturday's matchup with Michigan State, you may have noticed each Bulldog starter made sure to take a quick detour to pet the school's mascot, Butler Blue II.
It's a tradition that Butler began at home games a few years ago, one which the Bulldogs insist has brought them good luck during this charmed run to the school's first national title game appearance.
"Basketball is our crown jewel and if you're going to invest in a live mascot, you want to show him off on the biggest stage," said owner Michael Kaltenmark, Butler's director of development. "I started bringing Blue onto the court and the players got to know him and liked him. It only took one guy and the rest started following suit."
Blue has always been somewhat of a campus celebrity at Butler, but the 6-year-old English bulldog's fame has mushroomed with every upset the school's basketball program has pulled off this spring. He has more than 1,500 twitter followers. His blog and YouTube clips are getting hits at a record-setting pace. He has been featured by local and national media all week, from the Indianapolis Star to CBS' Early Show to the pregame show for Saturday's national semifinal.
Kaltenmark had to send a barrage of emails to get permission for Blue to make his first live on-court appearance at an NCAA tournament game on Saturday, but the Bulldogs players were ready with a contingency plan had it not worked out. Guard Ronald Nored told Kaltenmark that even if he could get Blue behind the bench or on the sideline, the starters would make sure to include him in pregame introductions.
"That's what we do at every home game," Nored said. "When we run out during starting lineups, we touch 'Old Blue' on the head. Sometimes he barks, sometimes he bites. You have to play through it."
Since Blue became a staple of Butler's pre-game introductions, only one Bulldog didn't take a liking to the mascot. Former star guard A.J. Graves was so afraid of dogs that he wouldn't come near Blue, only acquiescing on senior night two years ago after taking grief about it from fans and teammates all season.
"He finally did it on senior night and he played terribly," Kaltenmark said. "Nobody ever gave him grief again."
As a Butler grad with a public relations background, Kaltenmark saw an opportunity to promote his alma mater when he agreed to provide a home for the school's new mascot six years ago, but he never envisioned weeks like this.
"It's one media appearance after another, and this is all for a dog," Kaltenmark said. "It's been life-consuming, especially this week, but it's been a lot of fun."