Stony Brook University basketball fans are on their feet in Hartford University’s Chase Arena. Their red shirts and faces stand out among the sea of Vermont green and yellow. A young man with bright blue eyes stands before them.
“Repeat after me,” he yells. “I believe that we gonna win!” The crowd starts jumping and repeating the mantra, drowning out the Vermont fans.
Chris Murray may be one of the best known members of Stony Brook’s athletics department but students and fans know him better by another name: Wolfie.
“I’ve developed a Spider-Man complex,” Murray said. “I walk around in the suit and everyone knows me, gives me high-fives. I take it off and I see the world just the same, but no one knows who I am.”
While Murray is no longer the main man inside the suit – athletics currently employs two other Wolfies – the science education graduate student remains active within the athletics department, working as an assistant in its external affairs office.
“On paper, I manage the Wolfies,” he said. “It’s my job to manage their future and find people to take over for me.”
Murray started as Wolfie in 2007 – his first mascot job. “I never did any of that stuff in high school – I just love sports. Going to games, yelling.”
But one day his sophomore year roommate, who was Wolfie at the time, asked Murray if he needed a job.
“I was skeptical at first. And then he told me it paid $10 per hour, so I figured why not?”
What followed was the birth of a character.
“Before I started doing Wolfie, there really was no Wolfie as we know him today,” Murray said. “He was more like most other mascots. He just sort of sat around and hung out with the fans and cheerleaders a bit.”
But Murray explained that Wolfie definitely has a personality now.
“He’s a big child. He’s mischievous and fun and always benevolent. He’s a prankster really, but never mean. All of this has developed over the years. I never tried but it just sort of happened.”
Spend some time with Murray and it’s not hard to see where Wolfie gets his personality. His office attire, an oversized dress shirt and poorly knotted tie, evoke a child playfully dressed in his father’s work clothes. Any mention of Stony Brook athletics leads to wide-eyed excitement and a barrage of facts.
The one word that Murray uses to sum up his Wolfie philosophy is swagger. “It’s about confidence,” he said. “The walk, the moves, the attitude – they’re all a part of it.”
He credits the 2008-2009 basketball season and the debut of Wolfie’s signature dance routines as the genesis for the mascot’s newfound swagger.
It was the fall of 2008 and the dance team and Wolfie were at a harvest festival.
“We were dancing with all the kids and then Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ came on,” Murray recalled. “I knew the dance so of course I started doing it and then the dance team started doing it and one of the girls said, ‘What if we could do this on the court?’ Once that happened it just snowballed.”
The dancing is a big part of what it means to be Wolfie now. “You have to make it a show,” Murray said. “It’s what separates us from other schools. It was the powder keg and our spirit program has sort of blown up from there.”
“Athletics has come a long way in the last few years. But as I tell them, ‘UConn wasn’t built in a night.’ We’re still a developing division-one program.”
And Murray and the athletics department want Stony Brook to develop into Long Island’s premiere college athletics program. They believe that will help Stony Brook become Long Island’s premiere university.
“We want Stony Brook to be Long Island’s college,” he said. “That starts with something I like to call communiversity. Athletics is part of it but it’s also about outreach. We’ve done a good job here in the Three Village area but I think we can definitely expand it further.”
Wolfie started out making only 10 appearances per year, Murray said. That number is now up to about 200.
The most memorable community appearance for him was three years ago. While visiting a school for autistic children, he walked into a small class with the most severely affected children.
“One of the girls started petting my nose and saying ‘soft’ and ‘nose.’ One of the teachers starting crying and there I am inside this suit tearing up too. They were so grateful. That’s one moment I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
Back in Hartford, Murray, out of costume, continues to stir up the crowd. His next cheer is meant to mimic a roller coaster ride with fans screaming while holding their arms above their heads.
“Everybody ready for the roller coaster?” he shouts. “Alright! Strap in!”