Rockets Mascot Gets in the Ring

The man behind Clutch takes up the fight game on the side.

When he reached college, it never occurred to him to try out for the mascot job until he met a bunch of cheerleaders — a recurring theme — at a dorm party who encouraged him to try out the very next day. When he showed up, his only competitor was the two-year incumbent, who was universally hated. An hour and one flying desk heaved across the classroom during his tryout later, he had the gig.

Boudwin admits that cheerleaders have been a common thread in his choice to roam the sidelines in costume. "I dated the captain of the cheerleaders in high school," he said. "I dated the captain of the cheerleaders in college." His ex-wife was a member of the Rockets Power Dancers when he met her, and she went on to run the squad.

His flirtatiousness is evident as Clutch, as he often pretends to hit on women while in character. At a recent game, he followed one particularly attractive woman from the floor, up the stairs and onto the concourse, walking behind her like a zombie to the delight of onlookers. "I figured, most guys would follow her," he said.

Boudwin (right) spars with Eric "Grizz" McMahon as part of a charity boxing match in March.
photo by Jeff Balke
Boudwin (right) spars with Eric "Grizz" McMahon as part of a charity boxing match in March.
Boudwin's boxing got him in the best shape of his life and allowed him to do even wilder stunts in costume.
photo by Jeff Balke
Boudwin's boxing got him in the best shape of his life and allowed him to do even wilder stunts in costume.

Back at Delaware, what seemed like a fun part-time job and a way to hang out with cheerleaders quickly turned into a serious passion. When he took over the job his sophomore year, then-university president Dr. David Roselle was attempting to rebrand the university right down to the mascot. Boudwin helped craft the look and personality of the now-famous Delaware mascot, YoUDee.

"He sure did get our mascot program off to a very good beginning," Roselle said. "He greatly increased the attractiveness of wearing a costume." One local newspaper went so far as to claim that YoUDee was the most popular resident of Delaware, besting the governor and even Vice President Joe Biden. "Everybody knows who YoUDee is and Robert is the guy who got that going," Roselle said.

That success ultimately led to his tryout with the Rockets. Working as an instructor for the Universal Cheerleader Association in California in the summer of 1995 — a summer he called the "best ever" because he was surrounded by "beautiful California girl cheerleaders" — he was recommended to the Rockets as a possible candidate for their new mascot that would fit the "teddy bear" concept team owner Leslie Alexander wanted.

His interview with the team was unorthodox, to say the least. The four finalists were taken to Memorial City Mall, where they took turns clowning around the food court. "They didn't have a bear costume yet, so they rented a gorilla costume from Frankel's," Boudwin said. The candidates drew straws to see who would get the honor of wearing the sweaty gorilla costume last. Boudwin was third. With the league in a lockout, Boudwin had returned to Delaware to begin his senior season when he got a phone call from the Rockets. He was in Houston a week later, and began crafting a uniform and personality for the bear that would ultimately be named Clutch.

While his popularity in costume didn't at first carry over from Delaware, there were moments that helped convince Boudwin to stick it out. One particular instance involved the rival Seattle Sonics, a coach's son, a security guard and, as usual, silly string.

Coach George Karl's freckle-faced young son was notorious for screaming for his dad's team in opponents' arenas. A fan suggested to Clutch that he do something about the kid, which he did by spraying him with silly string, to the delight of fans in that section. But when an overzealous security guard who was unfamiliar with the new mascot tried to usher him off the floor, Boudwin had his first real moment of pushing the envelope in Houston. He showered the guard with a barrage of silly string and it was caught on camera. "I had never heard 16,000 people laugh at something I had done before," he said.
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It's 7 p.m. on a Saturday in late March and about 100 friends and family members of Boudwin have gathered at the Slava Boxing Gym to watch the main event, a charity sparring match between Boudwin and Eric "Grizz" McMahon, the mascot for the Memphis Grizzlies. Decked out in black with a rainbow-colored mohawk, Boudwin is warming up on a speed bag before a quick three rounds against his sparring partner, a large Russian man aptly named Ivan, before facing McMahon.

It is about 10 degrees warmer and about 20 percentage points more humid inside the dingy, well-worn gym than it is outside. Tucked inside a corrugated aluminum warehouse complex just north of downtown, it looks like the set of a boxing-movie workout montage, complete with a pair of sparring rings, an assortment of heavily taped punching bags and rusty exercise equipment. The dressing room consists of dime-store sofas and a shower that hasn't been safe to use in years — a conspicuous warning sign alerts visitors to the obvious.

"You go there to work out, sweat, inflict pain on yourself and then leave," Boudwin said, "It's smelly, dirty and everything a boxing gym should be."

Before 2006, Boudwin had never been in the ring. In fact, he had never really been in fights; well, almost never. "[My younger brother and I] actually used to fight so much, we got kicked out of a hockey league and we played on the same team," he said. "The refs didn't know what to do because they'd never seen two kids on the same team fight."

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5 comments
deadmanshand
deadmanshand

played on a hockey team or 3 with Robert in Clear lake a few years back,He was a blast to hang out with.Glad to see everythings going your way Robert!

Craig Hlavaty
Craig Hlavaty

Robert is a great man, and a fun guy to hang with. I went through Clutch camp with some mascots from around the country for the Press, and it was one of the most magical Saturdays in my life.

Chad Bellah
Chad Bellah

Your favorite mascot Bobby Lee and Todd Bazin.

Sir Sting..
Sir Sting..

I'm Sir Sting-A-Lot, mascot for the RGV Killerbees. I am a 4X Best Mascot of the Year from 2009-2012. And I owe it to my mentor, Clutch, he has been an inspiration to us minor league mascots. We have learned a lot from this man. This is a great story. Love you Clutch..

 
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