Ask any recent Fordham alum about the university’s sports teams, and you might get a bit of a snicker. Despite Fordham’s famed sports history — Vince Lombardi was a football player on the Seven Blocks of Granite, the lineup that dominated the 1930s — lately the school’s point of pride has been academics and proximity to Manhattan.
But all that changed this year: Fordham’s football team is currently 12-1, a school record for most wins in a season. The team won its first-ever home NCAA FCS playoff game against Sacred Heart on Saturday; next week, it takes on Towson.
Standing in the center of the action is Fordham sophomore Ryan Thornton, the Nutley, N.J., native who’s been the Ram mascot since his second semester of freshman year. He says a lifelong love of Fordham sports motivated him to become the campus’ famous tumbling ball of fur.
“Both of my parents graduated from Fordham, and as a kid I would always go to Fordham games,” he says. “The Ram was always my favorite guy to go up to and give a high-five to. I always told my parents, ‘I’m gonna be the Ram one day.’”
After a tryout with the school cheerleaders, Thornton got the job. He says he goes to the gym about twice a week because being the Ram requires a good deal of athleticism.
“You’re constantly walking around, walking up and down stairs, jumping around on the court, getting the fans pumped up,” Thornton says. Not to mention — no surprise here — he has to perform in an extremely hot costume, the head of which alone weighs about 30 pounds. “It definitely gives you a strong neck,” Thornton says.
Only a select few of Thornton’s friends know of his high profile gig.
“Some of them have gotten suspicious over the months — ‘Where are you going? Why aren’t you going to the game with us?’ I’ve told my very close friends, but I do like it more of a secret because that’s a cool aspect of the whole thing. The mascot never takes off the head. No one ever knows the identity. I think it’s a tradition.”
At the game
Thornton, who says he hopes to be the Ram until he graduates, says the mascot’s personality can change from game to game. “I do like being a fierce ram — the animal itself is actually very aggressive, so I definitely am rowdy on the court and on the football field, and I definitely make sure that fans get pumped up,” he says.
He gets them energized by dancing, but he also wins a lot of attention by being a more approachable beast, too. “I make sure I’m friendly though — I go up into the crowd, give high fives to people, take pictures with young children and families.”
It can be hard to keep the crowd on its feet when a team isn’t doing so well, but Thornton tries to channel positivity through the Ram.
“You just gotta keep clapping, lifting your hands, try to get the crowd to stand up and support the team,” he says. “The team has to feed off the crowd.”