1966-1970 Lowell Katz

I was doing some research about the Louisville Cardinals mascot and the people who have worn the costume and I was surprised to learn that that is not as easy to find as one may think. There is scant information to be obtained or maybe I have just not found the right resource until I came across Lowell Katz. It was almost by accident. I had worked my way up to the late 1960’s, with gaps up till then as to who wore the costume, and all I could find was a picture(below) and the caption, “Lowell Katz served as the Cardinal Bird in 1967.” (Picture courtesy of UofL Library Archives)

This was disappointing and I felt a little deflated but almost on a whim I decided to google the name. I had a little shock of curiosity and a tinge of excitement to find a local doctor by that name and all I could wonder was if it was the same person. HMMMM. He looks to be about the right age and he graduated from the University of Louisville Medical School. This is too much, I had to call his office. My optimism was a little rocked when I called and asked for Dr. Katz to be told he had retired. I took a stab and asked if he was the same Lowell Katz that had been the mascot in the late 60’s. BINGO. The very nice young lady even gave me his email address(an AOL account-not shocked) so that I could contact him. I was elated but not as elated as when I received a response to arrange a phone call. Dr. Katz is a lovely man with a friendly voice that exudes optimism. He was full of stories and a true Cards fan. Optimistic and a true fan, just the traits a mascot make. We spoke for about an hour and he was full of stories and memories and was able to help me to fill in some of the blanks of who has been the Cardinal Bird. The COVID19 is a real threat so to be safe we only spoke on the phone but made plans to meet in the future and have a further discussion and hopefully a video interview which will be added to the website. For now, I asked a few questions and he shared a few memories which I have tried my best to share below. As a tease I will share with you that he still has the head of the costume he is wearing in the above picture. Isn’t that fantastic? Anyway, here we go.

How did you end up becoming the Cardinal Bird?

I have been a fan of Louisville since I was eleven years old. The first game I remember was in 1958, Louisville vs. Cincinnati, they were our big rival then. Oscar Robinson played for Cincinnati and I had to listen to the games on WAVE radio. The signal was so bad I had to put my hand on the radio and act like a human aerial to hear anything. So, when I was a freshman I started going to the games, Wes Unseld was a freshman that year. The freshman team was so good they beat the varsity that year. Murray Klein, who was a fraternity brother and the Bird before me, asked me if I wanted to take it over and I said absolutely. I was the first bird to have any real personality and make it fun.”

Is it true that the mascot is supposed to stay anonymous until their tenure is over?

“No, not at all. Everyone pretty much knew who I was. I would wear the costume on the way to the games and I would have a friend drive me. If we had to stop to get gas I would get the weirdest looks from people.” 

Do you have a favorite moment or game you remember?

“One of the first games I was the mascot was against Cincinnati. I ran across the court and started acting like I was hitting the Bearcat with the cane. Back then the Cardinal Bird carried a cane. One other game at Cincinnati, the crowd was so rowdy, the guards made us and the cheerleaders all stand in the middle of the court and guarded us until the crowd left. At the end of a football game at WKU, a WKU fan yanked the head of the costume out of my hands and ran off. I thought he was gone. Joe Champa, a UofL baseball player, chased him down and retrieved it. Lucky Joe was there to get it back.”

How did you go about conveying emotion or excitement without using facial expressions because you are wearing the Cardinal head?

“Good question. Back then there were only 7,000 or 8,000 fans at the games. I would go up into the crowd and pull fans up and urge them to get off their hands and pull for the team.”

Did you like basketball or football games better?

“I liked basketball much better. Football was cold and the team was bad. We had an away game at Kent State and it was cold and rainy and we were losing bad. Their mascot kept coming over and splashing us. It was a bad day but Lee Corso, he was a great guy, offered to let us fly with the team and coaches. That was a big deal.”

Did you know Coach John Dromo? Can you tell me anything about him?

“He has the highest winning percentage of any UofL coach. He recruited Butch Beard and Wes Unseld. He really got things going for Louisville. The freshman beat the varsity, that’s how good they were. He was well-dressed. Calm and collected. He used to call it their panic defense when they were behind. They would try to throw the other team off balance. He would say all the time that he would rather be lucky than good any day.”

How did you end up with the Cardinal Bird head?

“Some friends of a friend told me about a couple who had the head. They would put the head out on their mailbox for every game and have people over to watch the game. I asked them about it and they told me for years that I couldn’t have it. Finally, a few years ago they contacted me, asked me if I wanted it and of course I said yes. It was in pretty bad shape so I had a local artist restore it for me.”

Was there any downside to being the Cardinal Bird?

“No, not at all. I was in medical school so that was a challenge sometimes but the professors were understanding. I loved it. I loved every minute of it and would do it again. In fact, I would do it now if they would let me.”

Don’t be modest. Do you think you were the best mascot the University of Louisville ever had?

“No. Aaron Flake was the greatest Cardinal Bird. He did so much for the community and was a positive influence. I was pretty good though.”

Lowell Katz is a retired doctor living with his wife in Louisville, Ky. He attends several games each year. I would like to thank Dr. Katz for taking the time to speak with me. It was a real pleasure. Hopefully, when things get back to some kind of normal, we will be able to do the video interview.

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