Cover Story: In the Clutch (Web Extra Video & Photos)
In the tunnel next to the lounge under the expensive seats at the Toyota Center this past March, Robert Boudwin ripped the head off of his costume and collapsed to the floor in exhaustion. Boudwin, the man behind the Clutch the Bear mascot costume for the last 17 years, had just performed the final part of a bit with Memphis Grizzlies mascot Grizz that took hours to plan and required perfect execution. The last time Boudwin performed it was 2007, except that time he collapsed in the tunnel for a different reason: he was hurt...badly.
For this week's cover story, I went behind the mask to talk with Boudwin and some of his fellow mascots and find out just what it is like to work as a professional mascot. In short, it ain't easy. From the outside, it looks like a bunch of clowning around, and at times it is. But, what some think is only a part-time job is, in actuality, a brutally physical, time-consuming gig.
The day of the aforementioned gag, Boudwin performed at MacGregor Elementary in Galena Park, encouraging kids to stay in school. He and his righthand man, Dominic Davila, do more than 80 such school shows every year in addition to Rockets games and another 100 or so events. After the Friday night game, Boudwin prepared for a charity boxing match against Eric McMahon, a.k.a. Grizz from Memphis. It was boxing, in fact, that helped Boudwin get into the kind of shape that allowed him to run the Houston Marathon followed by a 5K Rockets fun run the following week...in costume.
Photos by Jeff Balke The kids at MacGregor Elementary love Clutch.
In just about eight months, Boudwin dropped 75 pounds at Slava Boxing Gym on Houston's near north side. He runs about four miles every day in addition to the physically taxing efforts inside the suit. He has boundless energy and a playful personality that translates perfectly to his persona as Clutch.