Finally, I get to write a column about a bear

Maclaine Chadwick | Sports Editor

LAST WEEK, I got a phone call from a man who wanted to pitch me a story. He introduced himself as Thomas White. I found it strange that he was calling—normally pitches are submitted to me by email—but quickly realized why he decided to give the Fulcrum a ring.

Thomas White was the sports editor of the Fulcrum in 1955, and he wanted to share his story about the origins of a tradition that will surely make a comeback in the 2013 football season after the resurrection of Carleton University’s football program.  A week after the phone call, I received a handwritten letter from Thomas in the mail (complete with an Anthony Calvillo postage stamp), sharing the following memory, written in the third person:

“The week prior to the first University of Ottawa vs. Carleton University football game, which took place on October 10, 1955, U of O student Brian McNulty met with a prominent Ottawa jeweler, Jack Snow. It was agreed that Jack would donate a Panda to be presented to the winner of what would become an annual event—the Panda Game.

In order to publicize the contest, Brian called upon the sports editor of the Fulcrum, Thomas White, to assist him. It was decided that Tom would borrow his father’s car, park it in front of the jewelry store while Brian ran inside and grabbed the bear. The media was informed by the Panda thieves that Carleton students were responsible for the theft.

That evening, Tom’s parents, watching the local CBC news, thought that Carleton students must be a crass bunch, unaware that the bear was in the upstairs bedroom of their home.

The following day, game day at Lansdowne Park, a small parachute was attached to the Panda. Just prior to the end of the game, it was parachuted from the roof of the north stands and awarded to the winning University of Ottawa football team.”

The robbery was a hoax designed to fuel a fire between Carleton and U of O students—and it worked. The Panda Game went on to regularly draw crowds of over 10,000 students, sometimes upwards of 16,000. The Panda, affectionately known as Pedro, travelled to other universities, has run for student government, and has even appeared on Hockey Night in Canada. Pedro has since retired, and the Panda Game eventually came to an end, but what has stood the test of time is the crosstown rivalry between us Gee-Gees and our frenemies the Ravens.

How does that saying go? “A good friend will bail you out of jail, but a best friend would be sitting beside you saying, “‘I don’t regret driving the getaway car for you when you staged the robbery of a stuffed panda.’”

On another note, I wish I was around for the days when a goofy prank was allowed, even encouraged, by officials. After reading further into the history of the Panda Game, I learned that the Ottawa police were informed of the hoax ahead of time so as not to actually press charges.

I also really dig the past Fulcrumites’ involvement in the prank. Brian McNulty, the mastermind behind it all, was actually the associate editor of the newspaper at the time. Maybe these sorts of antics should be revived along with the Panda Game next year, and maybe I can call the sports editor here in 50 years and share my version of the story.