By Abe Hardesty, FurmanPaladins.com
Dave Hanson, who once pursued a career in acting, now gets his adrenaline rush on the football field.
Five Saturdays this year, the armor-clad Hanson and trusted steed Fury will lead Furman's team onto the field in one of college football's most unusual entrances.
For Hanson, a 50-year-old Turner Broadcasting employee, the ride brings a new dose of excitement each time he charges onto the field, moving at high speed between a corridor of music-playing Furman band members and noise-making Furman cheerleaders.
"Riding down the field is exhilarating. I don't think I will ever get tired of that experience," says Hanson, who began serving as Furman's official mascot in 2001.
Fury is also energized by the scene and the roar of the crowd.
"When everyone is lined up to enter the field, the atmosphere down there is intense," says Hanson. "The band, the cheerleaders, the team, the smoke – there is so much noise and activity that Fury gets quite excitable. "
So much that 1,200-pound Fury, now in his ninth year on the job, is ready to run well before his rider gets the cue.
"He knows that we are about to begin and gets so wound up that it can be difficult to keep him from starting too early. Once it is time, the music starts and we are given the signal. Fury charges onto the field and it is on," says Hanson.
"Once the ride is done, we can settle in for some great football with some of the best fans out there."
Hanson, an Illinois native and longtime Chicago Bears fan, is not a Furman grad but became "a true fan of Furman football" during his first season as Sir Paladin, whose attire is rare among sports mascots because it is authentic.
Unlike some sports mascots, Hanson's uniform is the real thing: a 100-pound suit of armor that Hanson needed during his jousting days. Beneath it, he wears a leather suit that weighs another 25 pounds and keeps him warm (sometimes too warm) throughout the day.
A theater major in college, when he dreamed of a career as an actor, Hanson was invited to perform in a jousting show at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival shortly after college and was quickly hooked on the art of medieval warfare. He performed at the Georgia Renaissance Festival the following year, and eventually owned and operated a professional jousting troupe, "The Knights of Pendragon" for the next 14 years.
In 2000, then-Furman director of sports marketing Chuck Hussion spotted Hanson at a football game at Atlanta's Gwinnett Central High, where he made occasional special appearances .
Hussion was immediately convinced that Hanson's dramatic charge would be a great fit for Furman's pre-game routine.
"As soon as I saw that, I said, 'we've got to get this guy,'" Hussion recalls. "I thought he would make a great addition to our pre-game package, and he has."
Hanson agreed to appear at one Furman game that in that 2000 season. In 2001, he became a key ingredient in a redesigned field entrance that included new music, the inflatable tunnel connecting the dressing room to the field and the inflatable Furman helmet that links the tunnel to the playing field and serves as Sir Paladin's launching spot.
The result is one of the most impressive entrances in college football, and perhaps the most physically challenging for any mascot. The only acts that compare are horse-mounted mascots at Florida State (portraying a member of the Seminole tribe) and a Trojan warrior at Southern Cal. Both have been ranked among the most dramatic entrances among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Those surveys do not include pre-game routines among the rest of the 300-plus schools in Division I football or the other classifications.
Hanson's authentic armor makes both those rides easy in comparison.
"We wanted to do something to get more people into the stadium a little sooner," says Hussion. "At the time, even a lot of our most loyal fans weren't getting onto the campus until just a few minutes before the game; we were looking for some ways to build a better pre-game atmosphere, and the new entrance did that."
The entrance featured new, stirring music from the Paladin Regimen – a version of "Hurricane 2000," which the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra performed along with the German band Scorpion, which in 1984 created the heavy-metal "Rock You Like a Hurricane." The song, chosen by then-Paladin head football coach Bobby Johnson, dovetailed with the fact that Furman's athletic teams were once known as the Purple Hurricane.
The song and Sir Paladin haven't missed a Furman game since.
Sir Paladin's 14th season (13th full season) will offer a new wrinkle -- an artificial turf that Hanson says is better than the real thing.
"I don't expect it to present any issues. Fury has performed on a lot of different surfaces -- pavement, gravel, and grass -- and he's never had a problem adjusting. I think he'll like it because it's such a smooth surface, and it's better for us that we'll not have any metal grates to contend with.
"For all the same reasons it will be a benefit to the players -- better footing, and a consistent, even surface --it will be a benefit to Fury."
The only downside to the new turf, Hanson said, is that he will no longer be able to plant his sword into the turf as he has in the first 12 seasons..
Hanson, who during the week is part of a team that is responsible for all of the scenery used in production at the studios of Turner Broadcasting's Techwood facility, gets plenty of support in his armored endeavors from wife Maria and two teen children.
"They love coming up to Furman as well. My kids argue over which one gets to bring their friend to the next game," says Hanson.
The entrance, the only in Division I football that includes a knight in authentic armor on a 1,200-pound horse, creates a healthy amount of anxiety.
"Any time you get on a horse, there's a chance that something unplanned can happen," says Hanson. "I very rarely get thrown, but it has happened."
"I'm always nervous that something will go wrong, and we'll let down the team and fans. Every time we head down the field, there is a great relief to reach the end as planned. It can be very nerve-wracking, and yet the rush that comes along with it can't be beat."