UNC community mourns death of mascot's keeper
Posted October 9, 2010 7:16 p.m. EDT
Updated October 9, 2010 10:10 p.m. EDT
Chapel Hill, N.C. — The joy for the University of North Carolina's victory over Clemson University on Saturday was tempered somewhat by a death in the Tar Heels family.
Rob Hogan, a Carrboro farmer whose family has cared generations of rams that have been mascots UNC athletic teams, died Friday, a few weeks after he was injured in a fall from his tractor.
"His birthday was Tuesday. He was 54, so it was a shocker," said Jenny Wrenn, owner of The Shrunken Head Boutique, on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.
Hogan fell Sept. 15 as he stepped off his tractor. He woke the next morning unable to move his left leg, according to his family. He developed a condition in which damaged muscle tissue released toxins to his kidneys as it died.
In 1924, Hogan's grandfather started the tradition of painting the horns of a male Dorset sheep in UNC's school color to serve as a mascot, named Rameses, at athletic games. Hogan and Rameses XVIII were fixtures on the sidelines at UNC games.
"It's tradition for the ram to be here," Wrenn said. "I told people the reason we lost to Georgia Tech (on Sept. 18) is because he was not at the game."
Rameses didn't make it to UNC's first two home games. Members of the Hogan family had been planning to bring the ram to the Clemson game, but Hogan's death changed those plans.
It's unclear when Rameses will return to the sidelines.
The shepherd and the sheep will be missed, Wrenn said.
"He stepped out in front of fans," she said of Rameses. "Everybody would be petting him, taking pictures of him. He loved being around people."
She has hung a sign outside her store that said, "Our thoughts and prayers are for the Hogan family."
Hogan might not have been a household name, but UNC fans said he was part of the school's tradition. A memorial website for him has had more than 73,000 visits from well-wishers.
"Seeing him trot out on the field with the cheerleaders, it's just part of the tradition, and we'll miss seeing him," UNC fan Debbie Flynn said.
"Even though he wasn't in the spotlight, he was part of something that's an icon," fan Debbie Rieger said.