Jan. 10, 2005
By Brian W. Ferrie '98
Saint Joseph's University, founded in 1851, celebrated its 150th anniversary a few years ago. But a 50th anniversary is being marked this year for perhaps the school's most beloved and recognizable symbol- the Hawk. Jim Brennan '58 was the first person to ever don the Hawk costume, during the 1955-56 men's basketball season, and is also the man behind the original idea.
"I'm originally from Trenton," recollected Brennan, who now resides in Ludlow, MA. "And I used to go to Princeton football games, where they always had the Tiger mascot. Back then, basketball teams didn't have mascots, but I started to think, `why not us?'"
Brennan was president of his sophomore class at St. Joe's and came to an agreement with the other presidents that each class would put up $20 from its treasury toward the cost of a Hawk costume. After contacting Philadelphia-area costume shops, Brennan found one that would make a Hawk costume for $120. Needing an additional $40 to make up the difference, Brennan went to athletic director George Bertlesman, who agreed to donate the necessary funds from the athletic department. And with that, the Hawk was born.
But Brennan wanted the Hawk to be different from any other mascot.
"When I was in costume, I didn't want to be just a fan watching the game," he said. "So I started flapping."
And thus started the hallowed tradition of the Hawk flapping its wings the entire game from tip-off to buzzer, representing the indomitable spirit of the school.
Brennan remained the Hawk throughout his sophomore, junior and senior years at St. Joe's, attending all the home games and any road games within a few hours' driving distance such as New York and Washington, DC.
His tenure was filled with great memories and funny stories. He laughingly recalled one game against Villanova at the Palestra when his friend Jack Friel '57 rented a Wildcat costume. Back then, the Hawk was the only mascot in the Big 5, and it wouldn't appear on the court until the team captains were introduced.
"And our fans started yelling, `We want the Hawk!' Brennan related. "And the Villanova fans yelled back, `The Hawk is dead!' So then Jack came out on the court wearing this costume and the Villanova fans stated going wild, thinking they had a mascot now too. And our fans were booing him. Then I came out and started running around the court, flapping my wings. As I passed by Jack, I hit him in the head with the top of my wing, and he sprawled backward, pretending to be knocked out. Then our cheerleaders grabbed him by the foot and dragged him off the court. To this day, it was the greatest squelch I've ever been involved in. We really put one over on Villanova."
Now five decades removed from his days at Saint Joseph's, and looking back on a career as an international lecturer on healthcare issues, leadership and positive thinking, Brennan couldn't be happier with how the tradition of the Hawk has carried on and thrived.
"It's very gratifying," he said. "Of all the things I've ever done and all the awards I've ever won, my greatest satisfaction is the concept of the Hawk and knowing I started the tradition."
This year, the man donning the Hawk costume (which now costs $3,500) is Mike Tecce '05, a senior accounting major from Chalfont, PA, who attended Lansdale Catholic High School. The 28th student-athlete to serve as the Hawk, Tecce also feels a great sense of satisfaction.
"Being the Hawk is really the pinnacle of my involvement at Saint Joseph's," he said. "In my time here, I've served on the Student Union Board, with the campus ministry, as an R.A. and an orientation leader, and to me the Hawk encompasses all those things. I represent not only the basketball team, but the students, faculty and every person who is involved with St. Joe's. And to be looked at in that way is really amazing. To be honest with you, it didn't really sink in until my second or third game. It's by far the coolest thing I've ever done."
Informed last spring that he had been selected for the position, Tecce did not actually find out until the fall that this year would be the 50th anniversary of the mascot.
"It makes me think that I have an even greater responsibility and that the commitment is even more special," Tecce related. "It feels like I'll be remembered, that I'm representing all the prior Hawks and following in their footsteps, from Jim Brennan, the original Hawk, to Chris Bertolino [`04], who was the Hawk right before me."
And at St. Joe's, the Hawk will never die.