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AUTHOR SUNDAY – The day the Birmingham police helped the University of Alabama football mascot retrieve his paws

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Big Al at Football Stadium

by Jean Butterworth

Big Al

Big Al (Mascot of University of Alabama) and the Lost Paws

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the South. The Alabama and LSU game at Legion Field Stadium in Birmingham was about to begin. This was 1985 or 1986. The usual fanfare was expected. Big Al and the Crimson Tide Cheerleaders would run out ahead of the Alabama football team and crash through the paper banner. The crowd would roar!

There was a big problem. Big Al, The University of Alabama’s Mascot, alias Danny Butterworth had left his Big Al “paws” (or whatever you would call an elephant’s appendices) at home, drying on the clothes rack in the basement. What was he going to do? First, Danny talked to he cheerleader sponsor, and it was a no deal to appear not in full costume, (well, he knew that).

The policeman asked his address

Danny always changed into his Big Al suit in the Birmingham Police station at the stadium. A policeman standing near bye overheard his dilemma and asked him, “Where do you live?” Danny replied, “Hoover”. The policeman then asked Danny for his address and then proceeded to called the Hoover Police. The arrangement that was worked out was that Hoover Police would come to my house and pick up the “paws”.

Standing in the tunnel by the stadium phone Danny called home, “Mom, I left my ‘Paws’ at home”. My response was, “ I can’t get there in time with all the traffic.” Danny replied, “The Hoover Police is on the way to get them.”

I bet you haven’t done this before

I ran downstairs and snatched the two “Paws” off the clothes rack in the basement and in almost no time the doorbell was ringing. There stood a handsome Hoover Policeman on my porch. I handed him the “Paws” and said, “I bet you haven’t done this before”. With a big smile and without a word he turned and walked to his patrol car. Standing there I watch him back out of the driveway and I was startled to hear the patrol car siren as he drove off headed for Legion Field.

big al long

The Hoover policeman met the Birmingham policeman at some point and the “Paws” were handed over. In no time at all Danny heard the siren as the Birmingham police car pulled into the stadium. The “Paws” were given to Danny and he dressed into the Big Al suit and Big Al was able to make his appearance on the sidelines at the end of the first quarter.

The suit was made at the Walt Disney Studios

I forgot to mention that the Big Al suit comes in six pieces; the two paws, two feet, the body and the head/trunk which had a bicycle helmet attached to secure the wearer’s head. Danny would always loose at least 20 pounds each season due to the fact that he got so hot wearing the costume. The previous Friday night he had attended a pep rally in Tuscaloosa and arrived at home in Hoover bringing the suit, which was wet with sweat. This was the reason he hung the suit in the basement to air out.

The Big Al costume was made at the Walt Disney Studios in Florida, and saw a lot of wear and tear. I found myself mending the suit frequently. The year after Danny graduated from Alabama his friend, Joe Sims tried out and was selected as Big Al. Joe’s mom, Brenda found the suit in such disrepair that she made a new Big Al suit. You can see the Big Al’s head/trunk that Danny wore in the late 1980s in the Bear Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa. It is perched on the shoulders of the Big Al suit that Brenda Sims made.

Danny had such a great time the three years he was the Big Al mascot. Big Al is a member of the cheer-leading Squad and he had to try out for the position using an original skit and before a panel of judges.

He enjoyed associating with Coach Ray Perkins and his staff, the Alabama football team, the cheer leading squad and the fans. Danny was fortunate to attend as Big Al at the Kick Off Classic in New York, the Aloha Bowl in Hawaii, the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, and the Richo Japan Bowl in Tokyo, Japan. Some of the great football players during that time were Mike Shula, Bobby Humphrey, Van Tiffin, and Cornelius Bennett.

So much for “Lost Paws”. Roll Tide!

Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama by Jean Butterworth


Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama



  1. […] son, Danny was the mascot, Big Al at the University of Alabama from 1985-87. On November 9, 1985, Bama was to play LSU, Louisiana […]

  2. I remember this story from the museum it is cute.

  3. […] University of Alabama Grads of 1914 & beginning of future of Bryant-Denny Stadium  What is the true source for the University of Alabama elephant mascot known as Big Al? The day the Birmingham police helped the University of Alabama football mascot retrieve his paws […]

  4. […] Big Al is the University of Alabama’s mascot and has been associated with the U of A since the 1930’s. […]

  5. The late Melford Espey was as a student the first elephant mascot of the University of Alabama . . Later Mel was a key figure as an administrator within Student Affairs at the University . .At some point the mascot went on hiatus . . In the late 1970’s or early 1980’s , Mel and student Craig Cantrell went to Coach Bryant and made a pitch to restore Alabama’s elephant mascot . .Coach Bryant signed off on the return of the elephant , and there was a campus wide effort to name him . . . Big Al was born of that . . .

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