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An interview with the Stanford Tree

March 13, 2009 | 11:22 am

The Stanford Tree performs in the first half of a Cardinal basketball game against the Oregon State Beavers in the Pacific-10 Conference tournament at the Staples Center. Lions and tigers and bears are fine enough, but the biggest "oh my!" in the mascot world is reserved for Stanford's Tree.

Think the Tree is controversial with opponents? He doesn't get along with the Cardinal cheerleaders and even had a knife pulled on him by a fellow Stanford student. He hates Cal's Oski and he might hate USC's Tommy Trojan more ... but at least he has some love for Berkeley's tree people.

The Fabulous Forum caught up with the polarizing character, sometimes known as Stanford senior Patrick Fortune, during the Pac-10 tournament at Staples Center.

Tryouts are reportedly really grueling.  What's it like?

There's not that much that's "required," just an application and an interview. If you want to portray your dancing skills, that's one thing. A lot of people try and show what kind of personality they have, how outgoing they are and how they can pump people up.

So what did you do to get selected?

I did a few things. I actually hung myself by my feet from a tree and, with a mop brush in my hair, I painted a tapestry by dunking myself in paint buckets and getting pushed around.

The interview is a lot of the process. I had my friend in a cage and I ripped his heart out of his chest. Then I put it into an oil filter, pulled out a propane blowtorch, and I actually smoked the heart to kinda consume his energy and his soul to give me power going into the last interview.

Indiana Jones-style?

I was trying to make it a throwback to one of my favorite movies. They just burn the heart. I figured I should smoke it to consume some of that instead of just letting it go up into the air.

[Note: We later found out that he may have also curried favor with the previous tree by setting up a game of beer pong against a Stanford basketball player.]

Besides Oski, do you have an archnemesis?

Not really. Oski would probably be the biggest. Tommy Trojan? I hate him more.

Stanford doesn't really take the rivalry as serious as [Cal] takes it. But Oski did shove me one time. God, I wanted to fight him! At the same time, I know I'm going to get blamed.

What do you think about Cal's tree people?

Pretty dedicated! I'm sad that they lost. I wish they kept fighting, but they were pretty awesome.

Do you prefer Bush's logging policies more or Obama's logging policies more?

I haven't read up on Obama's, but I think I'll be more approving of his.

What's the worst thing an opposing fan has ever tried to do to you?

Opposing fans actually haven't done too much. I hear the catcalls, but I expect it. It kind of pumps me up.

I had a Stanford student pull a knife on me one time, though. That wasn't even at a game. But I was in costume, and people don't think of me as a person, they think of me as a symbol.

Was he trying to trim a branch off?

I'm not really sure.

What's your favorite part of the job?

I love the fans. The hatred is one of the most fueling things. Rolling into Berkeley's Haas Pavilion and hearing thousands and thousands of fans booing you with all of their soul -- it's just a lot of fun.

So why is the Stanford mascot a tree?

Back in the 1970s, when we lost the Indian, we had a vote on campus to decide what the new mascot was. I believe we ended up voting for the Stanford Robber Barons, and the university didn't like that. They said, "OK, fine, we'll just be the Cardinal." Kind of a throwback to Harvard, which is just a color.

Then the band did a field show for one of our football games, and the concept was possible alternate mascots. I think there was a "Steamy the Manhole Cover." The props in the band built a tree. The joke was, "We'll be the Stanford Trees." It's kinda the lamest mascot they could think of. Very simple, not really anything fearful. They started taking it to more games, and it turns out it was a lot of fun. The school got behind it.

The tree's irreverent. The band's irreverent. What's up with the cheerleaders and the Dollies?

There's a distinction between the two. The Stanford Dollies are the five women that dance with the band. They don't go anywhere without the band, the band doesn't go anywhere without them. The cheerleaders are a completely separate organization. Supposedly they're competitive, but they're not really. They kinda get in our way a lot of the times. I'm not their biggest fans. I don't think they're my biggest fans either.

Why did they start the Dollies?

The band's a fun-loving organization, but we're still Stanford kids and we're not all the most socially adept. So I think it was a way to get five beautiful girls to hang out with us and tour around with us. We love them and treat them as nice as possible.

I hear there was an ESPN commercial where the tree can't decide whether to use the men's room or the women's room. He-tree or she-tree?

I never really thought about it before. [The costume] kinda has some feminine features. I realize that I call her feminine names sometimes, but almost because it's my ball and chain that I drag around. I'd say it doesn't really have a gender.

NOTE: To see more of the Tree, just watch ESPN. He was recently in Los Angeles filming another Sports Center commercial, and who can forget the Tree's classic moment with John Anderson?

-- Adam Rose

Photo: The Stanford Tree performs in the first half of a Cardinal basketball game against the Oregon State Beavers in the Pacific-10 Conference tournament at the Staples Center. Credit: Kirby Lee / Image of Sport