Years before that fuzzy beaked, man-sized penguin named Iceburgh showed off his boogie-woogie dance moves on the Consol Arena ice, the Pens’ mascot was a waddling flesh-and-blood penguin named Pete.
Pete was the brainchild of one of the the Penguins’ founders, Jack McGregor. The summer after the team’s first season, Pete was given to the team by the Pittsburgh AquaZoo. He lived at the zoo but before game time, he would be ushered to the Civic Arena.
“The idea was to have him escort the team onto the ice before each game,” McGregor said in a recent interview.
In fact, Mr. McGregor commissioned the Canadian hockey apparel company CCM to outfit Pete with his very own ice skates. And, according to McGregor, penguins have a whole host of deformities from bow legs to crooked feet that made the endeavor quite difficult.
“But by golly, it was successful,” he said. Pete’s trainer taught him to ice skate and the penguin took to the ice. And the crowds went wild. Pete was a hit.
Unfortunately, Pete’s tenure with the Penguins was short-lived. In the same year he started as the mascot, Pete caught a terrible cold and, after four or five days, died from pneumonia.
McGregor could hardly believe that an animal made for the cold weather could die of pneumonia.
“Fans loved him so much … we had him stuffed and put in the trophy case at the Civic Arena,” Mr. McGregor said.
That position too, didn’t last long. After a short time (McGregor couldn’t remember exactly how many weeks) Pete went missing.
“He was stolen,” Mr. McGregor said, “probably by a fan.”
Next season marks the Penguins’ 50th year and the 49th year since a little penguin charmed Pittsburgh fans in his little ice skates. And maybe you, dear Pittsburgher, remember being at a family barbecue a dozen years ago and maybe you vaguely remember your mother’s uncle Joe bragging about an “old, stuffed penguin” in his basement. Think hard. Do you remember? If you do, this is our pitch: Do the right thing. #BringPeteHome #Homefor50 #ReturnthePenguin