Cosmo the Cougar has brought smiles to thousands of fans worldwide, from his beginning as a cub to meeting BYU’s most famous figures.
The legend of Cosmo began with the naming of the cougar as the school mascot in the 1920s, when BYU’s administration was looking for something to help bolster a then-unsuccessful athletics program.
The idea was embraced, and in 1924, the administration bought two baby cougars for 50 cents each to be used at events to bolster the crowds and teams. The university was forced, however, to send the cougars to the zoo in 1929 after they broke out of their cage and attacked several dogs.
The university would then borrow cougars from local zoos for athletic events.
“Cosmo” was born in 1953, when Daniel T. Gallego became the first man to don the cougar suit. He was named Cosmo because the athletic administration felt BYU was an international and cosmopolitan school.
Both the suit and the men in the suit have changed over the decades, but the icon has remained BYU’s mascot. For decades, Cosmo has represented the values of BYU, energized crowds and served in schools and charities.
Cosmo has upped his game over the past 15 years. The Cosmobile — his van, decked out with speakers, sirens, fog machines and a basketball hoop — was donated by Brick Oven Pizza in 2001, and thanks to a series of videos made by the BYU athletic program, Cosmo was invited to the Capital One Mascot Bowl in 2007.
Today, he pulls off stunts and tricks that previous generations never saw.
To an outsider, Cosmo never ceases to party and joke. The mascot’s role, however, is no catnap.
Tryouts for the prowling crowd-pleaser are held semi-annually and begin with a vigorous fitness and conditioning test. Candidates are then judged on how well they can dance, tumble and act.
An average of 20 candidates try out each semester, and often none of them are selected, said Richard Wirthlin, Cosmo’s event coordinator.
There’s more to the role than just physical ability.
“You need to bleed blue … if you show up to tryouts with a red shirt on, we’re probably going to ask you to change before you try out,” Wirthlin said. “You can’t just be an amazing breakdancer and think that you’re going to be Cosmo.”
Cosmo devotes 11 hours to practice each week, refining skills and creating new stunts. That’s not even counting actual events he attends, from BYU games to elementary school visits and corporate parties.
“On a weekly basis, Cosmo will do anywhere from five to 20 events, so it’s a full-time job,” Wirthlin said. “As the Cosmo coordinator, I schedule all these events, and it’s kind of sad sometimes because I have to turn people down because the schedule is full.”
The backup team
Cosmo does not operate alone. He has a seven-man crew, called C-squared, that helps him with props, crowd control and stunt performance. In February, for example, C-squared helped Cosmo perform a 3-point dunk by throwing him from the 3-point line.
“We are always working just to make Cosmo better,” said Nathan Hansen, a C-squared member and BYU student. “Cosmo is the center of attention, and we just try to make him the very best he can be.”
They follow the same practice regimen as Cosmo and work to do tricks at Cosmo’s level. They also have acts of their own, including trampoline slam dunking, for which they have been recognized as one of the best dunk teams in the state.
“C-squared is an interactive squad that engages fans, and instead of just throwing out t-shirts, they get people riled up and do tricks like Cosmo,” said David Eberhard, Cosmo’s coach and the BYU Athletics marketing coordinator. “They’re not meant to replace Cosmo but to add to the atmosphere Cosmo brings.”
With much of the same training as Cosmo, but much less attention in the spotlight, it seems as though C-squared members would feel shorted. This, however, is not the case.
“We don’t get all the attention like Cosmo does, but it’s a team effort,” Hansen said. “It needs to stay that way, and I love my opportunity to perform, help Cosmo and rile up the crowd.”
BYU puts a lot into Cosmo in the way of time, funding and talent, but athletic administrators know it all pays off.
“Cosmo is an attention grabber and a crowd pleaser,” Eberhard said. “He is a great way for people to interact with the school’s athletic departments and teams.”
Cosmo’s participation in programs like Cosmo’s Kids Club, Team Cosmo and Cosmo’s Corner allows him to interact with kids and members of the community and help them see BYU in a positive way. When people see Cosmo and how great he his, they automatically associate those feelings with the school, Eberhard said.
“He’s the celebrity of Happy Valley,” Wirthlin said. “When I’m with Cosmo, it’s amazing how many people take pictures of him or ask for autographs.”
Cosmo does have a large influence over his audiences, which allows him to share the values of the university. He also provides the university with a tradition that will always remain at BYU; although presidents, students and athletes move on, Cosmo will forever bleed blue.
Find more facts at byucougars.com/athletics/cosmo.
Read our Universe exclusive interview with Cosmo here.