Loyal Cougars

On the Road with Boney: A Morning with Manford

“Every day was a struggle, you know? But you didn’t hear me complainin’. We worked constantly to perfect our act. A lot of Broncos fans at the end of the day couldn’t tell if we was a real horse or not.”

It’s 11:30 A.M. and Manford Blanding rolls out of bed, still wearing the clothes he wore all day the day before: a pair of orange and blue Boise State Bronco pajamas. They don’t sell Boise State pajamas in adult sizes; Manford made them himself in 2007- the same year, according to him, that college football was invented.

He stumbles out of his murkily lit bedroom, his dirty fingernails searching his body for something to scratch. His one-bedroom apartment in Middleton, a Boise suburb, is a haven of decay and sadness. He makes his way to the door, opens it, and stares at me for a moment with dull, aching eyes before coming to his senses. “Oh, yeah. You’re here to talk about that mascot thing. Come on in, I guess. You want some cereal?” I politely decline. “Oh, never mind,” he says, downcast. “Milk’s gone bad.”

I introduce myself and ask Manford if we should get started. “Manford is my father,” he interrupts, “Please. Call me Mr. Blanding. I insist.”

“Mr. Blanding” shows me to what he calls the “parlor,” a musty room wallpapered in what look like posters of Kellen Moore’s teeth. The couch is bright orange. “Found that outside someone’s house over in Eagleton. Couldn’t believe my luck.” I smile.

“Mind if I put on a record?” he asks. He delicately places a CD into a boombox on the floor and hits play. It’s Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits. “You hear this before? Came out about ten years ago, but it’s still great. Listen to it all the time,” he declares, grinning a smile that looks like it was pieced together out of broken piano keys.

After listening for a few minutes to his explanation about how Chris Petersen invented the “Statue of Liberty,” I start to talk to him about the real reason I came, of which he’s well aware. He looks down at the floor, sighing regretfully. “You know, I’ve been following football for over seven years. There have been some good times and some bad times. But nothing that’s hurt quite like that.”

I’m here to talk to Manford about a job he lost in 2011 when BSU made a mascot switch from the classic two-man horse costume to the more modern, stylized one-man horse outfit we see on the sidelines today. He wipes his nose with his sleeve and takes a sip of Shasta to clear his throat. “You know, I gave everything to that job, and that job was everything to me. And then they just cast me aside, you know? Like…like the Dewulf RCE3060 to an undersized potato. I couldn’t believe it.”

He takes his time chronicling the long history of the two man horse costume, from the moment it was first invented by resourceful cattle thieves in the early 1800s, to the zenith of the suit’s popularity: the classic 1984 film Top Secret! “It honestly just makes me sad,” he explains. “The dignity of the two-man suit has been bastardized by two-bit horse mask meme jockeys.”

Manford acknowledged that life as the “back horse” wasn’t always glamorous. For a few months in 2009, Manford had to wear a gas mask when performing after LaMont, Manford’s longtime friend and “front horse,” developed a fairly serious case of IBS. “Every day was a struggle, you know? But you didn’t hear me complainin’. We worked constantly to perfect our act. A lot of Broncos fans at the end of the day couldn’t tell if we was a real horse or not.”

In 2011, BSU announced that they were retooling their mascot, Buster Bronco, to mark BSU’s ascension into the big time of the Mountain West Conference. They only needed one person in the horse costume now. And by specializing in “back horse” tricks (“I can do a back kick, but just you watch me try’n rear,” he guffaws), Manford basically ensured that it wasn’t going to be him. “I remember that day like it was yesterday. Karl Benson called me up outta the blue and invited me to Perkin’s,” Manford recalled. “I knew it was over then,” he chuckled. “No one ever gave anyone no good news at a Perkin’s.”

“I knew it was coming, but when he said I was done, my heart still nearly exploded like my uncle Ron’s,” he laments, as he hands me a newspaper article with the headline Local Hero Dies After Eating Three Baconators. “I couldn’t believe it was over. I know a lot of people have lost their jobs because of Obamacare and whatnot, but I never thought it could happen to me. I was downsized, and they ain’t ever gonna upsize, you know? Who would’ve thought I’d be in this position even after I got my Master’s.” He wipes away a tear and takes another drink of Shasta. I ask him in what subject he got his degree. “Truckology, same as everyone.” I laugh. He doesn’t.

I notice that the seat of my pants is sticking to his couch. I don’t know what I sat in. I need to leave. As he continues to break down into grotesque sobs, I start making vague apologies about another appointment. “You can’t leave, yet,” he insists through the snot that’s now trickled through his week old scruff. “I wanted to show you something.” He stands up from his beanbag chair and switches on the light, then points at the floor. It’s blue. “Check it out.” There’s a smile on his face, dense, shapeless, and grubby like the potatoes for which his state is famous. “I did it myself.” I can’t believe what I’m seeing. The shag carpet has been spray painted a garish azure, perfectly mimicking BSU’s famous “Smurf Turf.” I half smile, half grimace. The way he’s looking at me, I’m not sure if he’s simply impressed with his ingenuity or planning on murdering me.

I gather my notebook and stand up, the gummy couch mock Velcro-ing my pants, and start edging toward the door. “Hotter than a pepper sprout,” wails June Carter. I offer Manford my condolences for his situation and he thanks me for coming. “Tell the world my story,” he says.

He’s muttering something as I close the door, the last words I’ll ever hear from Manford Blanding of Middleton, Idaho. “I guess I always just figured LaMont and I would escape to the wild one day,” he near whispers, as much to himself as anyone. “Live like real broncos.”