Former UF mascot now making noise for Seahawks
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The transformation will take place sometime early Saturday afternoon at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
In a span of about seven minutes, 32-year-old UF graduate Ryan Asdourian will evolve from a normal-looking guy who works at Microsoft during the week into a hulking bird with hostile eyes and dressed in a football uniform.
That’s when Asdourian says goodbye to himself and hello to Blitz, the mascot of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.
When Seattle hosts New Orleans on Saturday in a playoff game, Blitz’s job is to entertain and help keep the volume turned up in what is considered the NFL’s most deafening stadium.
"Let me tell you, this place gets loud," said former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, in his first season as Seattle’s defensive coordinator. "In college football, the Swamp is known as a place that gets loud and difficult for visiting teams. CenturyLink is like that in the NFL. Our fans here are called the 12th man and he’s a part of that."
Asdourian’s path to becoming Blitz started within earshot of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at East Hall, where he lived when he first arrived at UF in 1999. He saw Albert perform at a sporting event and mentioned to his roommate that playing the role would be fun.
Coincidentally his roommate was a UF cheerleader and informed Asdourian that the cheerleading coach was also the mascot coach. If Asdourian was interested, he could put in a good word with the coach.
For the next four years Asdourian was a regular Albert, strapping on the heavy and hot costume at Gator games to lead cheers and fire up the crowd.
"I stuck with it until I graduated," he said. "When people ask why, I always talk about the adrenaline of 90,000 people cheering. I remember when I would go into the center of the field and do the "Two-Bits" chant. I would be the sole person doing it for a couple different games.
"There is nothing that was more adrenaline-pumping than that."
He graduated from UF in December 2003 with a computer science degree. A couple of months later Asdourian moved to the Seattle area to start work at Microsoft, where he began in the engineering department and later transitioned more into a marketing role.
He uses some of the showmanship skills he relies on as Blitz during his Microsoft presentations as part of a team that delivers apps to the Windows platform.
"I love it," he said. "Being able to effectively do marketing with a technology background at a technology company is a really powerful thing."
Asdourian got the job as Blitz in 2006 and is in his eighth season. It has not been boring.
Blitz had skydived with the Red Bull team, flown with the Blue Angels and jumped from CenturyLink Field’s roof to zip-line across the stadium. He’s even got a theme song written by the Seattle-based band The Presidents of the United States of America.
Once settled in Seattle and into his job at Microsoft, Asdourian fired off an email to the Seahawks to inquire about helping Blitz out. He told them about his background as Albert at UF and soon afterward, he got an email back.
The next thing Asdourian recalls is meeting up to have a beer with the guys who played Blitz and Mariner Moose — the mascot of the Seattle Mariners. The position was full-time, and since Asdourian already had a job at Microsoft, he was unavailable.
However, a year later he met with Seahawks officials again and was told the position was now on a part-time basis. He interviewed and learned he got the job while watching the Gators play in the NCAA Tournament during a Seattle Gator Club gathering.
The Gators won.
"Greatest day ever," Asdourian quips.
For a while his role as Blitz was all fun and games. However, in 2008 Asdourian began to experience tingling in his legs and feet. During one episode his body felt numb all the way up to his rib cage.
Something was wrong.
Asdourian began a series of visits to doctors who eventually diagnosed that he was suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s website, MS is, "a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms can be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision."
"I am very lucky in a sense that it has no affected me very much," Asdourian said. "I feel like I have a little bit of a calling to help out where I can and spread awareness. That’s what I am trying to do: raise awareness about the disease, educate people about the disease."
Blitz has been a great teammate to Asdourian in that quest. Using Blitz as his alter ego, Asdourian has become an activist to raise money for MS research. He created an annual Team Blitz Pub Crawl that last year included 450 participants and raised $23,000.
In 2011 Asdourian was given the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Greater Northwest Chapter of the National MS Society for his work with the organization. A good friend from Asdourian’s time at UF, Gators men’s basketball program assistant Mike Robuck, has helped raise awareness of MS in the past in the Gainesville area.
Robuck brought Albert and Alberta to the annual Walk MS event one year. The local Walk MS event this year is scheduled for April 12 in Newberry. Click here for more information.
"We’re both drummers and kind of met through that," Robuck said. "It’s a pretty cool story that he’s got. He has done a great job of fundraising for MS."
Asdourian has no plans to slow down as long his MS cooperates. Neither does Blitz.
He even has his own website — BlitzTacklesMS.com — and a Twitter feed @BlitztheSeahawk to help spread the word.
When the Saints come marching into CenturyLink Field on Saturday, it will be show time — for Blitz and the Seahawks.
"That’s been one of the blessings in disguise," Asdourian said. "It’s been awesome what we’ve been able to do from a charity point of view with the combination of the mascot.
"What I have found, as you start to talk about it, you find people coming out of the woodwork to say, ‘hey, my mom has MS, or my cousin has MS, or my brother has MS. Thanks so much for what you are doing.’ That for me makes it all special and worth it."