Written by Alex Kurial
Photo by Marc Lafleur
OTTAWA, Ontario – Pedro the Panda is up for grabs yet again on Saturday, as the storied rivalry between the Carleton Ravens and uOttawa Gee-Gees gets set to write its 50th chapter.
The Panda Game has become famous across the country, and since its relocation to TD Place Stadium in 2014 has continued to set record setting crowds each year. Last year’s game, in which Carleton won a thrilling double overtime victory to extend their Panda Game win streak to four games, was attended by a sellout crowd of over 24,000 people.
The tradition dates all the way back to 1955, when the inaugural Panda Game was held at the then named Lansdowne Park. The origins of the concept began with uOttawa student Brian McNulty, an editor at school newspaper The Fulcrum, who desired a more passionate rivalry between the two schools.
Determining that the best way to do this was to boost the stakes of the game, McNulty arrived on the scene of the 1955 game with a stuffed panda he had obtained from Sparks Street jeweler Jack Snow. McNulty affectionately named him “Pedro”. When the game ended, a 14-6 victory for Carleton, Pedro was parachuted down from the roof of Lansdowne Park and claimed by the victors.
Pedro became a smash hit, and the next year was claimed again by Carleton in a 14-10 victory. Pedro attempted to levy this success into a political future, running for president of the Carleton Student Council. When the student body decided that the position should be held by a human candidate, it was said to unleash a curse on the Ravens football team. The next year uOttawa would take Pedro for the first time after a 44-0 win, (still the largest in Panda Game history,) and go on to hold him for the next seven years.
The Ravens finally put an end to their bad karma in 1964, courtesy of their bold decision to unleash the quarterback rollout to torch the Gee-Gees defense. A fairly revolutionary play call at the time, quarterback Bob Amer led Carleton to a high flying 40-33 victory to finally bring Pedro back to Carleton. The uOttawa seven game win streak remains the longest in Panda Game history.
The 1960s also saw an uptick in the crime of “Panda-napping,” whereby elaborate raids were planned on the school currently housing Pedro by opposing students. Having originated as good natured fun, the operations would became more and more destructive to the respective campuses. In keeping with the political climate of the time, 1968 saw the Panda Game’s traditional pre-game “Hate Week” rebranded as “Love Week” in an attempt to curb the damage. uOttawa felt the love on the field, winning 28-27 that year to extend their series advantage to 11-3. Carleton would score an impressive victory of their own in 1971, stunning the nation’s ranked #1 Gee-Gees team by a score of 28-14.
Just like the first game under the watch of the original Pedro trophy, Carleton opened the Pedro Two era with a win as well, 30-21. This was the beginning of a boom for Ravens football in the 1980s, during which they won five of eight Panda Games between 1980 and 1987. This included a 1985 season that saw Carleton go all the way to the Western Bowl, no doubt spurred on a by a 34-27 Panda Game win earlier in the season.
Shenanigans perhaps reached their peak in 1985 as well, when a group calling themselves the PLO (Panda Liberation Organization) came to Ottawa and kidnapped Pedro. After many tense hours, the perpetrators were revealed to be troublesome engineering students from Queen’s University. Pedro was returned unharmed, much to the relief of the city. The charitable character that Pedro is, he decided to follow the lead of that summer’s Live Aid mega concert, and donate all the proceeds from the 1985 Panda Game to famine relief efforts in Africa.
The following years saw skeleton crowds at the games, with pre-game festivities virtually eliminated. This coincided with a rapid decline in Carleton’s on field product, as they went 14-50 during the decade. There would be one final Panda Game win in 1994 by a score of 27-15, but this was the last thing Ravens football fans had to cheer about for a long time.
Following the 1998 season the Carleton football program was disbanded. A lack of success on the field, along with a desire to spread athletic funds into other sports, were the final nails in the coffin. In keeping with Carleton’s dark fortunes, uOttawa won the 1998 Panda Game by a crushing score of 59-17. It appeared the book had finally closed on one of college football’s great rivalries.
As fate would have it, a resurgence in interest and excitement for Ravens football would surge years later, and 15 years after disbanding Carleton was back on the field in 2013. This too meant the long awaited return of the city’s biggest game. While the Gee-Gees took the return matchup on their home field, it has been all Carleton since then as they have rattled off four straight Panda Game wins, a school record.
The return of the matchup also saw the third and current version of Pedro make his debut. This time he has come back in an aluminum body, assisted by local Ottawa artist Dale Dunning. Pedro Two is currently enjoying retirement in the City of Ottawa Archives.
2014 saw the Panda Game move to the newly named TD Place Stadium, and on the big stage the rivals did not disappoint. An instant classic was decided on a last second Hail Mary pass by Carleton quarterback Jesse Mills, that, after being deflected by a defender, dropped perfectly into the arms of wide receiver Nate Behar who ran the ball in for the touchdown. Ravens fans elatedly stormed the field to celebrate with their team. After 20 long years, Pedro was finally coming home to Carleton.
And he has not left since. A wild 48-45 double overtime victory the next year was followed by a commanding 43-23 win in 2016. The two teams went back to double overtime last year, with Carleton emerging victorious on a read option that quarterback Mike Arruda held onto in order to run in for the winning touchdown, sparking another crowd rush of Ravens fans.
Ravens defensive lineman Tevin Bowen has been on the team since the start of the current winning streak. He says the atmosphere of a sellout crowd at TD Place can’t be replicated.
“After a big play, after a touchdown you hear the roar. And you hear the echoes [in the stadium] and you’re like wow.”
While he has enjoyed the thrill of the double overtime victories, Bowen is hoping that this year the Ravens can return to the emphatic win they scored in 2016.
“To beat them in convincing fashion, there’s nothing better at Panda. There’s no doubts, no maybes. You lost. That’s what we’re going for this weekend.”
Carleton of course has a long way to go to even up the all-time series, which uOttawa currently leads with 32 wins to Carleton’s 17. But there is no doubt that since their rebirth, the Panda game has firmly belonged to the Ravens. Pedro has gotten comfortable in his home on display in Alumni Hall, and on Saturday Carleton will look to ensure he remains there for another year. Barring any Panda-nappings, of course.