As Dan Meers can tell you, it’s not all fun and frivolity being an NFL mascot.
Meers, who plays KC Wolf for the Kansas City Chiefs, nearly lost his life on the job.
It happened Nov. 23, 2013, when Meers was practicing a stunt at Arrowhead Stadium for a game against the San Diego Chargers the next day. He was going to jump out of the lights at the top of the stadium on a bungee cord that would transition to a zip line carrying him safely down to the field. He was not in costume at the time.
There was a malfunction, however, and instead of falling 25 feet, he tumbled 75 feet into the seats on the top deck of the stadium. He landed with such force, he broke two of the seats and uprooted them from the concrete.
Astoundingly, Meers survived, although his injuries were severe: seven broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a fractured tailbone, a crushed sacrum and a broken T-12 vertebrae. He spent nine days in the hospital, six months on disability, and still has titanium rods in his back that stabilize his spine.
Yet Meers, 56, who is in his 33rd year suiting up for the Chiefs, feels only a deep sense of gratitude as he prepares for his third Super Bowl.
“I once heard that if your eyes don’t water your head will swell, so my eyes tend to water a lot more now than they used to before my accident,” he said. “But the tears that run down my face are tears of gratitude. Keeps me from getting a big head.”
In costume, he has an enormous head, a pear-shaped gray wolf with googly eyes, a red Chiefs jersey and matching flower-print pants. In human form, he’s 6 feet 3 — taller than most mascots — wiry and athletic.
He was mostly a bench-warmer in baseball, basketball and football in high school but hoped when he got to the University of Missouri that he could stay involved in sports somehow. He tried out for the role of Truman the Tiger, the school’s mascot, and landed the job. He had a lot of success and was named the nation’s best or second-best college mascot three years in a row.
“When I graduated from college I kind of had a human resume and a mascot resume,” he said. “And apparently the mascot resume looked a little better than the human one.”
That launched him on his curious career path, first working as Redbird for the St. Louis Cardinals, then across the state to the Chiefs, where for three decades he’s been a furry fixture in the franchise.
What do the Chiefs have to do with Wolves? KC Wolf is a reference to the “Wolfpack,” a group of boisterous fans who sat in the bleachers at the old Municipal Stadium.
A devout Christian, Meers doesn’t just entertain fans and work as a club ambassador. He’s also been known to tackle drunks who hop the wall and bolt onto the field, and has participated in more marriage proposals than he can count.
“I’ll show up with a sign that has the girl’s name on one side, and then when I get to the seats she think she’s won a contest and will get a free T-shirt or something,” he said. “But when I get to her seat I’ll flip that sign around and it says `Will you marry me?’ and has the guy’s name. He proposes, then everybody in the section’s cheering for them for their special occasion.”
He estimates he has pulled that stunt at least 150 times.
“Sometimes I’ll help the guy who proposed to his girlfriend at the game,” he said, “then about a year later he’ll call me back and say, `Hey, can you come to our wedding reception?’ Because they get married about a year later.
“Then about two years after that they’re calling to ask me help them with the gender reveal because his wife’s now pregnant.”
He doesn’t speak while in costume, but he gives motivational speeches from coast to coast — particularly after the accident — and often talks to students.
A common question he fields from kids: What do you do if nature calls?
“I tell kids that it’s just like going on vacation, what’s the last thing your parents tell you to do before you get in the family van? ‘Go to the bathroom,’ ” he said. “Same way you are as a mascot. Last thing I do when I put on my costume is go to the bathroom.
“But I sweat so much when I’m in costume that I usually don’t have to worry about using the restroom.”
Some questions are less predictable.
“My favorite question, at a school last year, a kid in the second grade,” he said. “The kid asked, ‘Hey, those foot-long hot dogs, are they really a foot long?’ ”
Meers is friends with most of the mascots around the NFL, especially Toro of the Houston Texans — his old backup in Kansas City — Blitz of the Seattle Seahawks and Blue of the Indianapolis Colts.
“Even Swoop is a pretty good guy,” Meers said, referring to his Super Bowl counterpart, Philadelphia’s eagle character. “We’ve known each other a long time.”
Then, he caught himself, adding: “Doesn’t mean I’m rooting for him.”