Gearing up to be Gustav the Viking

Gearing up to be Gustav the Viking

Gusman
Gus the Viking flexes during the men’s Augustana basketball game against North Central Feb 4. Matt Banna, the man behind the costume, is graduating this spring after a year and a half of being the college’s mascot.

Being a school mascot, especially Gustav Mauler the Viking at Augustana, is not an easy job. Matt Banna, the man behind the suit, said the outfit is heavy, hot and at times difficult to see through.
“If you’ve been running around a little bit, it fogs up, gets hard to see,” said Banna. “So you might think you recognize somebody but you couldn’t really tell until you’re four or five feet away.”
Banna often has to take breaks to hydrate in the middle of football or basketball games, especially when the mascot head gets fogged up too much to see through.
“It’s very exhausting physically,” he said. “It’s probably gross to hear, but you sweat a lot.”
During the men’s basketball game against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in December, the teams went into double overtime. Banna said he was so exhausted by the end of the second overtime that he would have had to take off the mascot costume if the Vikings had gone to a third overtime.
And while Banna can see through the mask fairly well when it’s not fogged up, the Gus head has a blue filter he looks through, which means that the orange scoreboards cancel out with the blue.
“So of course during the game I have to ask the cheerleaders or whoever, ‘What’s the score? What’s the score? How much time is left? I can’t even see,’” he said.
But despite these physically exhausting parts of the job, being Gus is well worth it, Banna said.
“Just the atmosphere of the beginning of the game—everybody marches with the drum line, sometimes with the football team, and being in the locker room with them before the game—just the feeling that you get is unreal,” he said.
Some of Banna’s friends know who is behind the costume, but he said the surprise of people not knowing his identity make the job more entertaining.
“It’s fun having people not know who you are just for the fact that messing around with people is just fun in general, and sometimes if people know it’s you, it takes a little bit away from it.”
Gus the Viking is new to Augustana; the college has had a few mascots throughout the years, but Sam Schlouch, director of public relations and arts promotions, said the Gus mascot is the first official mascot for the school.
In the 2010-2011 academic year, the design director at Augustana at the time, Kurt Tucker, rebranded the athletics department, commissioning a mascot company to create a new suit for the college.
Students, faculty and alumni suggested names for the mascot in a contest, which certain student athletes and athletic staff voted on, according to Augustana’s website. Other possible names included Augie Stan, Sven the Viking and Thor.
The name Gustav Mauler is a play on the name of Gustav Mahler, a famous composer and conductor.
“There have been two or three solid Gus people in the past, and Matt by far has been really one of the best, if not the best,” said Schlouch. “He’s enthusiastic; he’s a go-getter; he automatically does it without me having to ask.”
Schlouch was put in charge of the mascot when it was created in 2012, and contacts Banna first whenever there is an event that he thinks Gus should attend.
“There are times when I don’t even know he’s going to go to something and he just emails me and says, ‘Hey, is it OK if I go?’” said Schlouch.
Banna started wearing the Gus costume at men’s basketball games, and now also leads the football team out into the field as well.
“Getting amped up and everybody psyched and ready to go, it’s just an unreal feeling,” said Banna. “You can’t beat it.”
He also attends certain admissions events to help recruit perspective students.
“He’s basically there to make people excited about Augustana,” said Schlouch. “If it’s a sporting event, it’s to cheer on whoever’s playing. If it’s an admissions event, it’s to pump the crowd up and get them excited to be on campus.”
Gus is not Banna’s first job as a mascot, though. He was his high school’s mascot, Willy the Wildcat, which was a volunteer
position.
Banna transferred to Augustana last year during his junior year and found out about an open position for the college mascot soon after. While there are back-up students who dress up as the mascot when Banna can’t make it, Schlouch said he shows up at almost every event.
Banna said a lot of people in crowds like to interact with him and have fun, but others aren’t a fan of the costume.
“A lot of people get scared by it and I think it’s hilarious,” said Banna. “If a kid is getting scared, I won’t bother them. But if there’s an Augustana student that gets scared—oh, I am going right after them.”
Since Gus can’t talk, Banna said he over exaggerates every motion.
“Like if you’re surprised or sad or happy…it doesn’t really work if you use such minimal motions,” he said.
Schlouch said it will be hard to replace Banna after he graduates this spring, but he would love to see more interest from students in being the mascot.
“Everybody brings something different to it because you’re acting…So to have some continuity between the different events that he’s at I think is important,” said Schlouch. “But ultimately, as long as you are a fun and energetic person who’s willing to make fun of people a little bit and have a little fun with them, that’s all it really takes.”
“Putting on the suit three times in one day—that’s not very fun,” said Banna. “But suiting up for a sports game…I love interacting with people and having a good time and it’s just fun. That’s the only word for it. You have to enjoy doing it.”
Augustana Special Collections Kai Swanson, executive assistant to the president, as the unofficial Viking mascot for the college in 1985. The football team won the championship that year for the 3rd of four straight championship wins.
Augustana Special Collections
Kai Swanson, executive assistant to the president, as the unofficial Viking mascot for the college in 1985. The football team won the championship that year for the 3rd of four straight championship wins.