After being one of the only teams in the National Hockey League to not have a mascot, the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday unveiled their new ambassador — “Gritty.”
The fuzzy, orange monster looks a bit like the Phillie Phanatic, but without the long beak and with a long, bright orange beard, bushy eyebrows and googly eyes.
The man behind this new monster, is none other than Bellefonte-based illustrator and graphic design artist Brian Allen, who runs Flyland Designs, alongside his wife.
Allen, a Penn State alum, said a representative from the Flyers organization reached out to him over the summer after seeing the campaign he did for Chick-fil-A promoting the Georgia vs Auburn football game last season. The Flyers gave him a list of about 10 ideas, and he did a 30-minute sketch of each of those ideas, and about 20 mascots in total.
Other creatures Gritty could’ve been include a bat, a bull, a dragon — and even a groundhog.
“One of the hardest parts was coming up with animals that weren’t already taken,” Allen said. “That’s the disadvantage of being second to last, that you don’t have a lot to choose from.”
After being teased on social media, Gritty was unveiled at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, to a crowd of excited young fans. Gritty danced on a stage, rolling his belly while his eyes bounced back and forth.
“It’s pretty amazing to see it doing a dance. That’s not something I normally get to see,” Allen said.
He said they chose the monster character because it was similar to the Phanatic, which is famous for those belly rolls, and that mascot has been well received by the fan base.
Once the final design was chosen, Allen had to go back and add details, and draw the mascot from all different angles for the costume company, Character Translations, and in 10 different poses for marketing.
Working off the sketch, Allen said that despite a few small differences, the final costume very closely resembles his original drawing. The googly eyes, however, he says were not his idea.
“But I think they’re really cool,” he said.
Allen said that his original idea for Gritty was to make him more of a “tough guy” persona, complete with knocked out teeth. But the Flyers’ art director and ownership wanted a bit more of a “family-friendly design,” which Allen agreed with, knowing that Gritty would spend a lot of time interacting with children.
But Gritty does have a feisty side.
According to his profile on the Flyers’ homepage, Gritty is “talented but feisty, a fierce competitor, known for his agility and size. He’s loyal but mischievous; the ultimate Flyers fan who loves the Orange and Black, but is unwelcoming to anyone who opposes the team.”
His love of hotdogs has also been blamed for inflating the Flyers’ Dollar Dog Night consumption for years, as he hid out at the Wells Fargo Center until recent construction disturbed his secret lair and forced him to show his face publicly.
Reaction to the NHL’s newest mascot on social media was swift, and not all that flattering, with people comparing Gritty to the McDonald’s character Grimace after drinking too much orange juice, accusing him of being on drugs, and calling him “terrifying.”
Even the Pittsburgh Penguins took a stab at Gritty, tweeting “lol ok,” along with the original tweet announcing the mascot.
But Gritty shot back: “Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird.”
Allen was prepared for criticism, though. “The Flyers warned me,” he said.
Allen said he’s going to let a few weeks pass before indulging in the nationwide comments, but for now is enjoying the support and encouragement from his friends, family and fans who have reached out.
Overall, Allen said he enjoyed his experience working with the Flyers on such a large project.
“It was really exciting because I do this full time, but most of the businesses I work for are smaller businesses, so to be a part of something so big is definitely exciting,” he said. “But there’s a lot of pressure as well.”
Allen was first contacted about the project in August, then had only a few short weeks to come up with the sketches and get the finished product to Character Translations so Gritty could be ready for the home opener on Oct. 9.
He’ll get the chance to meet his creation later that month, as the Flyers gave Allen and his family tickets to a game.
“I hope all the fans grow to like the mascot and I can’t wait to see him in real life,” Allen said.