In the fall of 1964, an article in The Reflector had the scoop on “Mississippi State University’s newest rage,” which had been spotted at recent football games.
“Human bulldog is really Tom Lilly,” the headline on an inside page read, revealing the true identity of one of the university’s mascot pioneers. The satirical article said a recent lab analysis revealed the head to be a football helmet covered with chicken wire and paper-mache, molded into something resembling a bulldog. Add white pants and an MSU sweater, and the bipedal Bulldog was born.
“I’m a lot easier to take care of than a real bulldog,” Lilly said at the end of the article.
Since Lilly’s iteration of the bulldog, Mississippi State’s “Bully” mascot has made gradual changes and morphed into a mascot that is now one of the most recognizable faces associated with the university.
By the time former football player Mickey “Mick” Breazeale was roaming the sidelines as the human bulldog in 1966, a suit was created that made him look more like his canine counterpart.
“If I can’t help the Bulldogs right on the field, I’ll do my best to help them on the sidelines,” Breazeale told the student newspaper, echoing a mindset of Bully that has carried on for generations.
In those days, becoming Bully was a political endeavor. Cheerleaders were elected every year and the mascot was an extension of the squad. That’s how Jim Pepper got his start on the sideline. His neighbor in Duggar Hall told him that with a name like Pepper, he really should run for something. So he went for cheerleader and was elected to the squad, spending two years cheering before taking on the mascot role as a senior in the 1968-69 school year.
“We made our own uniforms back then,” Pepper said. “The one Mick and I inherited was torn up, so a seamstress in Jackson made a suit for me. It was made out of faux fur and mighty hot.”
In 1971, Bully could be found in an upgraded suit, posing with U.S. Senator John C. Stennis. It featured a dark spot around an eye on the headpiece to better reflect the fawn and white coloring of his four-legged namesake.
Later in the 1970s, Bully’s suit became darker and his facial expression took on more character, which is shown in multiple photos of him interacting with Alabama football coaching legend Paul “Bear” Bryant. In 1980, Bully regularly wore a “Bully for Bellard” shirt in honor of then Mississippi State head football coach Emory Bellard.
Over the next two decades, Bully gradually began to look like a larger-than-life version of the players he cheered on. In 1985, he wore gym shorts. By 1990, he added a tank top, which made him appear ready for a workout, if not a pregame warm-up. Within a few years, Bully began sporting a uniform like those of the Bulldogs about to take the field.
“The Bully you know now was introduced in 1999. Each suit costs just under $3,500,” said current MSU Spirit Groups coordinator Melissa Nichols, adding that the group’s travel and equipment costs are largely supported by donations.
Although Bully has undergone many changes over the decades since he was first introduced, there are some aspects of the job that have remained constant.
Almost all former mascots recall how much weight they lost in the suit, most of it due to sweat. The fur-laden uniform stays hot, especially during those sunny September afternoons at Davis Wade Stadium, which is why the humans inside the Bully suit now take shifts during football games.
“It’s a different type of being in shape,” said Cooper Leggett, MSU mascot from 2000-2004. “I was tall and skinny, but others at the time were shorter and heavier. We may not have been considered athletic by Division I standards, but we did have a tremendous heat tolerance. Once you can take on the Rambo mentality and ignore the heat, you can go for a long time.”
Leggett learned early in his mascot tenure just how demanding the job can be. As a freshman, his first home football game in the suit saw the Bulldogs dominate No. 3 Florida to upset the Steve Spurrier-led Gators.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around and it was time for Leggett’s turn in the suit, the stadium was rocking. As part of the celebration, Bully was doing pushups with MSU’s ROTC cadets after every Bulldog score—and they had plenty of scoring left to do that warm afternoon.
Mississippi State tallied 23 points in those final 15 minutes, which meant Leggett had to perform 156 pushups in a 35-pound suit, in addition to the mascot duties of greeting fans and encouraging excitement from the crowd.
“Thankfully I had the adrenaline pumping and was able to do all of those pushups,” Leggett recalled. “Bully can’t fall while he’s doing those. That was a gut check moment for me.”
Following the gut check moments inside the suit, the mascots are left with another gut-churning challenge: dealing with a suit that has soaked in sweat for hours.
“My roommate could not stand the smell of the suit,” said Daniel Roberson, who served as Bully from 1996-97 and 1998-99. “He kept wanting me to take the suit to my car, but I didn’t want the smell in my car. I should have bought stock in Febreze.”
Roberson was relieved of the smelly suit’s burden on the Monday following every football game when Bully’s “fur” was dropped off for much-needed grooming at the MSU Laundry.
For Bully, not every interaction is as adrenaline-packed as riding onto Scott Field on top of a doghouse while tens of thousands of cowbells ring and “Bad to the Bone” blares from the speakers. For all the moments witnessed by thousands, there are thousands of moments witnessed by an only few that are equally important.
In addition to football, baseball, and men’s and women’s basketball games, the university’s mascot is regularly booked for appearances at weddings, local schools and campus events, among other gatherings.
“Whether there are 3,000 fans in line or three fans, you’re taking the picture,” said Trevon Allen, a current biological engineering major and mascot. “You never know who’s watching. If someone sees that Bully is late, they don’t think about the fact that you had a class and might be late getting there. They think, ‘this university can’t manage time well. The mascot can’t get here on time.’ You don’t want to ever make the university look bad. It means something because you are the face of the university.”
A handler now follows Bully at every game to help the mascot successfully navigate the crowds, which can be overwhelming at times. Allen and Mississippi State’s seven other current mascots earn $1,000 a semester for their many hours of work. They are selected during annual auditions, with some finalists getting the chance to perform at the spring football game. But no matter how many fill out their ranks, there’s only one Bully.
“Bully is just one person,” Nichols said. “We only let one go out at a time.”
Because of the effort required to travel and get in costume, even a 15 to 20-minute outing as Bully can take an hour and a half to complete.
Despite the long hours, most Bullies can remember a time when they used some high jinks to liven things up. Roberson convinced former head coach Jackie Sherrill to let him ride a motorcycle onto the field for Bully’s entrance before the Arkansas game in 1998. Some days, he dressed up as Bully and went to class.
At the 2001 Egg Bowl, one Bully wanted to make his mark before graduating the next spring.
“They had both the Ole Miss and MSU bands on the field,” Leggett said. “My friend decided to just bust through the Ole Miss band and run through it. He was bumping into people, running them over. The student section loved it, but MSU’s event personnel and others were about to lose their minds. My friend wasn’t Bully after that.”
Each Bully puts his own spin on the performance. Some are known for their dance moves, others for the quirks they use to get a crowd excited. Allen said he enters into a different mindset each time he puts on the mascot uniform.
“Bully is at the game, but he doesn’t realize he’s a superstar,” Allen said. “He sees himself as everyone’s friend. There’s a very serious game going on, but the whole time, all Bully wants to do is have fun with the fans, take pictures. He’s still trying to earn his spot on the team. He’s wearing a jersey because he wants to be on the team so bad.”
Regardless of how each individual carries out the job of mascot, each Bully over the decades has had an overwhelming amount of passion for the university, Roberson said.
“It was the best experience I ever had,” Roberson said. “The second you put on that suit, you realize you bleed Maroon at that point.”
Not every person who suits-up as Bully is lucky enough to witness historic moments in Mississippi State athletic history, like winning the SEC West in football in 1998, rising to No. 1 in 2014 or the women’s basketball team ending UConn’s 111-game win streak at the Final Four.
“The three years I cheered, we only won three football games,” said Jim Pepper, a cheerleader and mascot in the late 1960s. “But we still got the crowd going.”
Howard Summers served as Bully during the 2013-14 academic year, falling into the gap between MSU’s 2013 College World Series run and the ascent to the top of college football.
“I may have just missed it all, but I think it was my performance as Bully that prepared us to go to No. 1,” Summers joked.
However, few have seen bigger moments from the Bully suit than Trevon Allen. The current MSU student was in the suit when the Bulldogs beat Auburn at Davis Wade Stadium in 2014. The Hoover native was also in uniform when fellow Birmingham-area Bulldog Morgan William hit the buzzer-beating shot to beat UConn at the Final Four.
“You’re just as much of a fan when you’re in the suit as when you’re not in the suit, but it’s more intense,” Allen said. “ There’s a fear and that’s a natural experience if you’re playing a team like UConn.
“They’ve won 111 games, but Bully doesn’t know stats. To him, everybody is a rival because they’re going against his favorite team,” he continued.
After MSU beat Baylor to win the Oklahoma City Regional and advance to the Final Four, Allen jumped at the chance to go to Dallas.
“I knew without a doubt that we were going to beat UConn,” Allen said. “Everyone was like, ‘Trey, that’s gonna be a short trip for you. They beat us by 60 last year.’ And I was like, ‘That was last year. Last year, I was really bad at chemistry. This year, I’m a lot better. Things happen.’”
The trip to Dallas was much more than the two games for Allen. In total, he spent 17 hours in the suit, shooting promos for ESPN, attending pep rallies and greeting fans wherever Bully was needed. If he was tired, he made sure he did not show it until he was out of the Bully suit and in his hotel room.
“Bully had the time of his life,” Allen said. “Bully is larger than life, but there he was somewhere where everything is larger than life. Everything is bigger in Texas.
“Bully understood that people did not expect us to make it to the Final Four. So Bully was like, ‘you think this is our peak? Wait until you see what’s next.’”