u As 2000 tryouts approach, mascot reflects on past year and wearing the green
By ERIN PIROUTEK
Associate News Editor
He's Mr. Notre Dame. The green suit fits like a glove. Everything about Mike Brown screams leprechaun.
While one would guess that Brown has always dreamed of the Golden Dome, Notre Dame only became his future during his senior year in high school. Brown, a Wisconsin native, thought he'd attend Marquette or the University of Wisconsin.
But destiny stepped in. A Notre Dame alum realized that Brown was a football player pulling a 3.8 G.P.A and encouraged him to consider Notre Dame.
"I went with my heart, it was ND," said Brown.
His heart was on the mark.
"I made the right decision," he said.
He also made the right decision when he decided to try out for Notre Dame's mascot, the varsity leprechaun.
"My roommates were the main influence," said Brown. They'd noticed Brown's enthusiasm at football games was a little above the averaged crazed Irish fan.
"I went nuts," he admits.
He was usually too busy watching the games to notice the leprechaun, but his friends were convincing and when spring tryouts came around, he was among the candidates.
"I said why not give it a shot," he said.
Brown paused a moment when asked what it's like to be the leprechaun. He sat back in his chair and his easy grin crept across his face.
"It's a humbling experience," he said, noting the responsibility that goes with wearing the green suit and representing Notre Dame.
The leprechaun has two jobs, said Brown. First, to cheer on the team and second to keep the crowd entertained.
He makes the Energizer bunny look lazy, running around the sidelines, leading cheers, doing pushups, lifting cheerleaders and brawling with an occasional opposing mascot.
Some days it's more difficult than others, especially considering several less-than-stellar Notre Dame performances last fall.
But Brown has experience with adversity – he spent two years as tailback on an O'Neill football team that has yet to win a game.
O'Neill played far superior teams, and more often than not, Brown was pummeled the second he touched the ball. But he'd spring back up, with his unflappable grin, and get ready for the next play.
"You go into every game thinking this could be our game," he said. That effort is apparent in each appearance as the leprechaun.
The youngest generation of Notre Dame fans makes his role especially rewarding.
"The kids, they're fun. I see myself in their shoes," he said. "I try to treat them like I'd want to be treated."
He means what he says. It's not unusual to see a cluster of children crowded around Brown, talking, laughing and just wanting to be part of the leprechaun magic.
During one football game, Mike climbed into the stands near a little boy wearing a green suit identical to his own. In minutes, Brown had the "junior leprechaun" leading the crowd in a "go Irish" chant.
Brown smiled, remembering the incident.
"The thing about it is that you touch so many people's lives," he said.
Leprechaun is a 24 hour-a-day job. Brown never goes through a day without hearing "leprechaun" at least 10 or 12 times.
"Everywhere, it's `There's Mike, There's the leprechaun,'" he said.
His fame doesn't disappear when he leaves campus. Anywhere in his Milwaukee hometown, from the bank to the grocery store, odds are that someone will recognize him as the leprechaun.
"I wish I could introduce myself to someone, and they'd really not know my name," he said.
Still, he never regrets his decision. No one seems to be having more fun at games than Brown.
"I'm just enjoying my time," he said.
His family is proud of Brown's identity as a leprechaun. Suddenly they found themselves planning their lives around Notre Dame sporting events.
"They went from not knowing anything to being some of the biggest Notre Dame fans," he said.
His entire family, from the oldest to the youngest, is involved.
"My grandmother, she glues herself to the television when the game is on," he said. And his cousin, not even two years old, knows the cheer "Go Irish" and says "Notre Dame" when she sees any football game.
The NIT championship was his family's last chance to see him in action this year, but he's not ready to take off the green suit just yet.
He plans to try out again today, with slightly unusual circumstances. Before the tryouts Brown had a workshop to prepare all the would-be leprechauns.
"I gotta show some of the candidates the ropes, then compete against them," he said.
Brown remembers being in their shoes. He was nervous at first, but it disappeared once he appeared in front of the crowd. His calm attitude is not surprising, since Brown seems most at home leading screaming Irish fans.
"Once I was out there it was so natural – out there having fun with the crowd," he said.
No matter what the future holds for Brown as a Management Information Systems major hoping to go into consulting, his experience here has changed him forever.
"I'll be a leprechaun for life," said Brown.
All News Stories for Friday, April 14, 2000