Cover Story: In the Clutch (Web Extra Video & Photos)

In the tunnel next to the lounge under the expensive seats at the Toyota Center this past March, Robert Boudwin ripped the head off of his costume and collapsed to the floor in exhaustion. Boudwin, the man behind the Clutch the Bear mascot costume for the last 17 years, had just performed the final part of a bit with Memphis Grizzlies mascot Grizz that took hours to plan and required perfect execution. The last time Boudwin performed it was 2007, except that time he collapsed in the tunnel for a different reason: he was hurt...badly.

For this week's cover story, I went behind the mask to talk with Boudwin and some of his fellow mascots and find out just what it is like to work as a professional mascot. In short, it ain't easy. From the outside, it looks like a bunch of clowning around, and at times it is. But, what some think is only a part-time job is, in actuality, a brutally physical, time-consuming gig.

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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke