What happens when you put a tiger and two buffalo together in a photo studio? When the trio is Sabretooth, Buster Bison, and Billy Buffalo, three of Buffalo’s most beloved and animated mascots, the answer is no bloodshed or stampedes, and plenty of camaraderie. Sabretooth was ready for his close-up, edgy Billy Buffalo struck a Heisman pose, and Buster Bison hit a home run with his signature, Zoolander-like "Blue Steel" poses. What could have been a battle for the spotlight between legendary mascots ended up being a party in front of the camera.
Tell us a bit about where you came from.
Sabretooth: First off, thank you for taking the time out for this nice interview and the fun photo shoot in your un-air-conditioned studio on a hot July day. It’s been great to get together with my friends Billy Buffalo and Buster Bison. As for your question, I was originally discovered under the ice at the Aud before the 1988–89 season. At the time, they did not have an official mascot, so—since I was so passionate about hockey and the Sabres—they hired me on. It has been a dream job for me for the past twenty-two seasons.
Buster: I was born in the Buffalo Zoo in 1983 and have always been a huge fan of baseball. Those first few years at War Memorial Stadium were fun, but being a mascot really became my career when the Bisons opened up Coca-Cola Field in 1988. It’s such a beautiful ballpark, and it’s great to hang out with fans and children and cheer for the Bisons.
Billy: I’ve always called Buffalo my home, though I went away for a spell, to receive my degree in mascotting from Bovine University. I came on as the official mascot of the Buffalo Bills in 2000, and have been having a blast ever since.
Any other careers, premascot?
Sabretooth: My only other job as a professional mascot was from 1992 to 1998, when I volunteered my services to be the mascot for the Buffalo Bandits. I was lucky enough to be a part of three championships, and I still wear my rings to special events. In 1999, Rax took over my duties as the Bandits’ mascot, and we have been best buds ever since. … Although this is my only job, I do events that take me all over North America. I’ve lost count over the years, but I’ve been to well over 3,000 local events in Western New York. But nothing compares to visiting children in the hospital and seeing their faces light up.
What’s your favorite stadium food?
Buster: There’s so much to choose from, but you can never go wrong with a hot dog. Hot dogs and an afternoon at Coca-Cola Field just go hand-in-hand. As Humphrey Bogart once said, "A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz."
Billy: My perfect stadium snack would probably be a nice soft pretzel—with cheese sauce, of course—and an ice-cold Gatorade.
Sabretooth: It’s tough to choose just one. The menus have changed over the years, and I have to try every kind of food we sell here to make sure the food is tasty for all of our fans. I guess this explains my curvaceous, muscular physique. If I had to choose, I would go with the chicken wings or roast beef.
Any pet peeves about fan/mascot interactions?
Billy: No way! I love greeting and taking photos with fans.
Sabretooth: Our fans are the most passionate fans in the world and I love it. Once in a while I have to remind a fan or two to be polite, and to remember there are kids around … When the other team’s fans come in, it’s fun to give them a hard time or joke around, but we’re all here to have fun and watch a great game, and nobody should ever be disrespected. Not even Leafs fans.
Buster: I love all the great fans of Western New York. But there is one thing that is tough for me. I can never win at the Buster Base Race. My cousin Chip always has a trick up his sleeve, and the kid I’m racing against always beats me. One of these days I’ll pull out a W!
Do you get along with your fellow mascots?
Buster: I get along with all mascots, especially my wife, Belle "The Ballpark Diva." By nature, we’re a fun-loving group, so when we get together it’s always laughs and good times.
Billy: Sabretooth, Buster, and I go way back. They even came out to Ralph Wilson Stadium last year to help celebrate my tenth season with a flag football game against a youth team. A bunch of the other local mascots came, too.
Sabretooth: In Buffalo we have a close-knit mascot group. Any given weekend we can usually all be found attending the same charity event or fundraiser. As for the other pro mascots, just as the NHL players sometimes are friends with opposing players, mascots have the same camaraderie. However, when we are playing another mascot’s team, there is usually some serious trash-talking on our Twitter and Facebook pages. But it’s all in fun.
Who is your mascot hero?
Buster: It’s hard to pick anyone other than the Famous Chicken. He is such an innovator.
Sabretooth: Just like our players grew up watching the greats like Gretzky and Lemieux, I was always a fan of the Phillie Phanatic and the Famous Chicken. They both really paved the way for mascots like myself.
What’s your favorite thing about Buffalo?
Billy: That’s easy: the people!
Buster: Agree. The best thing about Buffalo is the people. Bisons fans are the best fans in the country, as proven by all the attendance records they hold. But more specifically, Buffalonians are all a team—or even better, a family.
Sabretooth: If you’ve ever had dinner with me you know I take full advantage of the great food Buffalo has to offer. I once ate over 124 wings at the Chicken Wing Festival. Number two is the hockey—this is truly hockey heaven. And, finally, I agree—the people. There is a reason so many of our players live here long after they stop playing hockey, and I will live here for the rest of my life.
Spree thanks Brad Bisbing, the Bisons’ director of public relations; Marcey Bryant, marketing manager for the Bills; and Chris Bandura, the Sabres’ coordinator of media relations, for their help in herding the mascots together. Spree summer intern Dennis Brinkworth, a junior at Northeastern University, wrote the intro for this piece.