Goldy Gopher apparently never saw it coming -- a sucker punch smack in the nose above his heartwarming bucktoothed grin.
An annoyed fan -- a University of St. Thomas math professor and a devoted University of Minnesota booster -- socked the fuzzy-suited mascot after tiring of his antics during a men's gymnastics meet Saturday night.
The mascot-mauling left the professor red-faced, regretful and banned from the University of Minnesota's Sports Pavilion and Williams Arena for a year. Goldy is left shaken, his gopher face damaged. And spectators didn't know what to think.
"Honestly, we thought it was funny at the time," said Barry Colthorpe, who watched the bleacher knock-down unfold as he sat with his wife. "I know it shouldn't be funny that someone got punched, but the fact that it was a mascot, it was an unreal situation. But you can't go around punching people even if it's a mascot."
Most fans know that Goldy tries to entertain crowds with light-hearted shenanigans. "He doesn't mean any harm," said Scott Ellison, U of M associate athletic director. "He's just there to add a little fun."
But apparently Douglas Dokken, 60, wasn't amused. In a news release issued by St. Thomas, Dokken said he was trying to watch the gymnastics competition when Goldy sat behind him and teased him for several minutes.
Goldy apparently tapped him on the shoulder. "You know, it's the old trick where you tap people on the wrong shoulder and they turn and don't see you because you're on the other side," explained Goldy's coach, Mike Elder. (Elder spoke on Goldy's behalf because the mascot, as always, was mum.)
Goldy had already played the same trick on a few others, eliciting smiles from his victims and laughter from the kids trailing him. But when Goldy tapped Dokken, he got no reaction, Elder said. So he tapped again. Nothing.
Then suddenly, without warning, Dokken turned and punched Goldy, knocking him back into the bleachers, Elder said.
"The kids went from laughing to screaming because they were right there," Elder said. Goldy put up his hands, err, paws. "He was shocked," Elder said. "Then the guy stands over him and punches him again."
Goldy hustled out because "Goldy doesn't fight," Elder said.
The student mascot reported the incident to his supervisor and then the University of Minnesota police, who confronted Dokken after he left the stands. Security officers hadn't witnessed the altercation, which meant Goldy had to file a citizen's arrest form, explained University Police Lt. Troy Buhta. Dokken was cited for disorderly conduct and is banned from the premises for a year.
In a written statement, Dokken said he deeply regrets the incident. "I should have just walked out of there," he said.
Dokken, who has taught at St. Thomas for 26 years, is by no means anti-Gopher. He got his doctorate from the U of M, is a longtime fan of the its athletic programs and frequently attends gymnastic meets there. Sweatshirts adorned with Goldy hang on his office coat rack, said St. Thomas spokesman Jim Winterer.
When news of the thumping made its way around the U of M, Ellison was taken aback. "I've been here 22 years," he said, "and I can never remember Goldy being punched." Ellison himself has been the target of Goldy's amusements.
"It's Goldy," Ellison said. "That's what Goldy does. What more can you say?"
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788