I sure hope they have touchdowns in doggie heaven.
On Sunday night, I found out that Diesel, the Siberian Husky known best for running during touchdowns during Northern Illinois football games, had passed away at the age of 13. He had lost his battle with lymphoma.
Diesel had long since retired when I finally took over duties covering the team, but the pain still hit me. There were photos plastered all over the Internet, showing the former mascot with a large smile – likely after a Huskie victory.
Fans likely will remember him high-fiving cheerleaders during games or running with his tongue out whenever somebody scored a touchdown. But for owner Tom Bonnevier, who rescued him from Free Spirit Husky Rescue in Harvard, he was more than just a breathing mascot of his favorite team.
He was a dog. He was companionship. He was family.
The photos I see of Diesel look like a retired dog. The hair on his face, once I’m sure a dark shade of black, had faded to white. Instead of working every Saturday – maybe he wanted to – he got to rest and enjoy the schmoozing of the tailgate. He had stepped down – as fans, we like to think it was his decision – at the end of the 2013 season, becoming the mascot emeritus and giving way to Mission, the younger husky.
The night before he passed, the Huskies did what they mostly did during his tenure – they won.
Sunday night showed the best and worst part about having a living, breathing animal as a team’s mascot. I’m sure fans, especially little kids, love Victor E. Huskie, but it’s not the same as a live dog running down the field.
Maybe Diesel didn’t quite understand what six points on the scoreboard meant, but that was okay. It was enough to see the smile on his face.
On social media, fans poured their feelings and support about the loss of a beloved mascot. Diesel was inseparable from the moment itself. They remember Jordan Lynch or Chandler Harnish do what they did seemingly a thousand times and score a touchdown, but that was only half of the memory.
The other half was that Siberian Husky running furiously across the field.
Maybe it’s stupid, but it still means a lot.
However, his life as mascot and high-fiver is only half of his story. He was still somebody’s dog. I remember the pain that comes with burying a dog – seeing that wretched shade of brown dirt, the same dirt that my dog used to dig into. On Sunday night, when I heard the news, I made sure that I went to hug and kiss my dog a little bit more. He didn’t understand it, but that doesn’t matter.
My hope for Huskie fans is they don’t forget. Mission will still run across the field on a touchdown, tongue out and happy as can be. However, for those fans who cheered their lungs out during the years Diesel manned the sidelines, I hope they don’t look back on it, thinking, “After a touchdown, I remember we had a dog run across the field.”
Instead, I hope they remember the team’s mascot, who roamed the sidelines when the team rose to prominence, the way they look back on all of the great athletes who played in Huskie Stadium.
You should have seen Diesel in his prime.
• Jesse Severson is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.