TUCSON, Ariz. -— The 53-year-old model had just undergone a face-lift — and a believable one, too, unlike Kenny Rogers or Bruce Jenner or other cautionary tales of middle-age hubris.
The model sported a new tan, too, and was shaking some tail at a photo shoot Thursday when the photographer called for a timeout.
“Wilbur,” a voice said, “let me fluff your ears.”
The Arizona Wildcats’ mascot since 1959, Wilbur the Wildcat, was showing off his new coat — and head, and tail, and fuzzy mittens — after a UA redesign that began in May 2011.
The Wildcats paid Street Characters, a Canadian firm, about $25,000 to help update Wilbur — and Wilma, the wife half his age — for the new sports season.
The UA will officially unveil the mascot uniforms, after a few last-minute alterations, at Aug. 19’s “Meet the Team” football gathering at McKale Center.
The athletic staff gave me a sneak peek Thursday because I’m cuckoo for mascots — with the fervor of a 5-year-old. And because, quite frankly, I’ve been bugging them about it since last year.
These new mascots look about the same as the previous ones – but darker. Like they spent the summer on the Marriott Starr Pass lazy river.
I like ’em. An actual wildcat – specifically a bobcat, which was the UA’s original live mascot, in 1915 — is closer to the new costume color than the last couple of iterations, which bore the shade of Gap khakis.
The fur is “a little darker,” said Roberta Quiroz, the UA’s director of community relations and adviser to the spirit program. But like my favorite Wheeling Jesuit Lacrosse T-shirt, it will fade over time from use and washing.
The UA typically replaces costumes two or three times a decade. When it switched makers this time, the university explored a new look.
The Wildcats thought they’d have new uniforms ready a year ago, but they didn’t like the suits Street Characters first sent over. Wilma had human eyes, which were creepy. Wilbur’s head was too big, and sat at an odd angle when the wearer tried to look out of the mouth. He had jack-‘o-lantern teeth.
Quiroz, who attended Salpointe Catholic High School and the UA, knows Wilbur when she sees him.
“And that,” she said of that first reinvention, “was not Wilbur.”
So the UA sent them back, and Street Characters worked with the athletic department on a new design. Deputy Athletic Director Rocky LaRose determined one Wilbur head “had an overbite” — and she was right. It was corrected.
The Wildcats had four full costumes made, one for each student who plays the mascots. (There are two Wilburs and two Wilmas, don’t cha know, and they rotate during hot football games.)
Wilbur and Wilma have plastic eyes now that reflect like glass, and noses that won’t get dented like the previous ones.
Wilbur’s cowboy hat is bigger and more structured, so he won’t look like Wilson from “Home Improvement” anymore.
They have interchangeable hats and bows, too, that they can tailor to “Whiteouts” and “Red-outs” and, I presume, “whatever-wacky-basketball-uniform-color-Nike-makes-us-wear-outs.”
The suits are long overdue.
The old ones – which Quiroz said were at least 5 years old – had holes in them. UA fans complained, in person and on Facebook, that they looked ratty.
By last year, the costume was so beat up that The Two Guys Who Play Wilbur had to dig a 12-year-old head out of mothballs and share it, sweat and all. Seriously.
“It’s going to be nice to have fur that isn’t matted,” said One of the Two Guys Who Play Wilbur, whose identity the UA keeps secret. (And, yes, the mascots brush their own fur).
The new heads are about half the weight of the old ones and are lined with comfortable mesh. Both Wilbur and Wilma will be able to see out of the eyes and mouth.
The old outfits had to be carried in clunky band equipment cases that couldn’t fit in most cars (or, as the mascots discovered one frustrating night in downtown Los Angeles, cabs).
The new ones fit into soft bags that can be tossed in the back seat.
That’s style — and substance.
“I think we still have some alterations,” said One of the Girls Who Play Wilma.
“There needs to be more fabric taken in for Wilma to have that feminine feel. Right now, I have a few rolls.”
Ah, the price of beauty.
Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.