Sparky makeover one for the ages

By Josh Kelman
FOX Sports Arizona

TEMPE, Ariz. — In Friday’s bizarre, silly and sometimes misdirected press conference, the Extreme Home Makeover: Sun Devil Edition continued with the revalation of a new Sparky mascot.
Between new logos, fonts, coaching staffs and tarped football stadiums, ASU fans have been asked to swallow a lot of change in the last few years, but this one might cause the most indigestion.

I’ll let an ASU official defend the new mascot: “Once they get used to it, like they got used to the new uniforms … they’re going to adapt and I think that they’ll like it.”

Actually, I lied. That quote isn’t from an ASU official at all — that’s what an Oregon official said in 2002 when the school introduced Mandrake (aka Roboduck aka Duck Vader aka The Patron Saint of Badly Modernized Mascots).
But ASU might as well copy and paste it to a skeptical fanbase.

Some of the public criticism over Sparky 2.0 will stem from a mockery-deserving press conference that opened with ill-advised stand-up comedy. One senior ASU official told me emcee Mark Cordes was not instructed to tell jokes (I can only imagine the administration: “He’s gone comedy rogue!”). It seems equally bad you’d hire a veteran stand-up comedian and not expect him to do material. There were other gaffes unbecoming of a Disney presentation: Why a beautiful, high-tech stage only to have just Cordes come out from behind it (new Sparky entered via the Memorial Union hallway)? And what was up with the confusing InnovationSpace presentation?

In the end, all that is water under the bridge. The main topic is, of course, Sparky himself.

Some observations about the suit from my untrained eye:

— No shortage of comparisons via social media. Some of my favorites: Japanese anime, Guy Fawkes, “The Simpsons” Bumblebee. Whatever is going on with the eyes is unmistakably Disney-esque.
— Athletic director Steve Patterson said this version is aimed at kids. I can’t speak to that. My son is 17 months old and doesn’t trust anything with a mustache, mask or no mask.

— One major beef: The color of the mask. There’s no evidence anywhere that the mask has ever been anything other than maroon, and this feels a little like a shameless attempt to make black more of an official school color. Black head/maroon body?

— The costume is a step further from the iconic Berk Anthony logo. ASU gets a pass on this; the Notre Dame leprechaun doesn’t look much like that logo, either.

— The mouth has a disconcerting perma-grin. All I see is the Muppets’ Dr. Teeth.

— New Sparky is buff. Like, really buff. Somewhere between Mavs Man and Roboduck in the six-pack department.

Still, all this bemoaning and nitpicking amongst adults about a horned costume that does pushups on sidelines during football games feels a little misguided. I’m reading lots of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This from grown-ups whose mascot-loving days are (or should be) long behind them. The real test is with the kids.
Case-in-point: My generation hates Jar Jar Binks and thinks it ruined our beloved Star Wars. The younger generation loves him and pod races.

Is this Roboduck: Part 2? Bound to join the Suns Gorilla in the Mascot Hall of Fame? You’re advanced enough to read this yet still have an opinion about mascot design?

Like the saying goes, “If the music is too loud, you’re too old.”

Times change, and the Sparky mascot with them. We’re getting older. Sparky is getting younger.

Such is life.

FOX Sports Arizona producer Josh Kelman is a lifelong Phoenician and a 2001 Arizona State alumnus.