The distinctive ram with Carolina blue horns has a storied history with UNC athletics, but much of its past is unknown to the University community.
The most recent Rameses, who died Thursday, was the 18th ram to assume the duties of the University’s mascot.
Rameses first became a part of UNC tradition in 1924 when the football team was searching for a mascot for its games.
The University’s athletic nickname, the Tar Heels, did not lend itself easily to a tangible mascot, said Ann Leonard, one of Rameses’ caretakers.
“The football team had a player whose name was Jack Merritt, and they called him the battering ram because of his preferred style of playing football,” Leonard said. Rameses was created with Merritt in mind, she said.
Leonard was married to Rob Hogan, Rameses’ caretaker, who died in 2010. The Hogan family has cared for every ram since 1924.
Don Basnight, Hogan’s 52-year-old cousin who has helped care for the farm since his childhood, has seen some landmark moments in Rameses’ history — including several kidnappings of the ram by rival schools.
One of the most notorious of these kidnappings was by several East Carolina University students prior to a UNC Homecoming game in the late 1970s.
“They stole the ram and took him to a fraternity house in Greenville where he lived on beer and pizza for a week,” Basnight said. “He showed up at the game painted in all purple.”
Most recently, several Duke University students attempted to kidnap Rameses but were less successful and caught in the act by Hogan, Basnight said.
“We have a lot of new security in place now with electric fences and guard animals,” Basnight said.
Leonard said none of the kidnapping attempts have ever been malicious.
“It’s all been in good fun, and nobody’s ever hurt the ram in a school rivalry,” Leonard said.
While the 18th Rameses died of natural causes, preceding generations of Rameses were not as fortunate.
In 1996, Rameses was stabbed to death by a drunk man who stumbled across the farm. The man later cited hunger in his defense and was charged with a misdemeanor for animal cruelty, Leonard said.
Prior to that murder, one ram died after being hit by an 18-wheeler, Basnight said.
Rameses the 17th contracted a bacterial infection and later died after his offspring, Rameses the 18th, became startled and ran into one of the older ram’s horns.
Despite some rams’ misfortunes, Leonard said Rameses is well cared for.
“He has a two-acre pasture, which is pretty big, and he leads a pretty leisurely life,” Leonard said.
Rick Steinbacher, UNC’s associate athletic director for marketing and promotions, said he is thankful for the University’s relationship with the Hogan-Leonard family.
“It is just amazing how appreciative and fortunate we are as an athletic department to have a family that is so willing to keep such a great tradition going on for us,” Steinbacher said.
Basnight said he, too, has enjoyed the family’s relationship with the University and loves caring for Rameses.
“It’s a fun and unusual tradition that none of the other ACC schools can come close to even doing,” Basnight said.
“Nothing is as unique and as exciting as that.”
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