BYU's Cosmo the Cougar: The History of the Hip Hop Dancing Mascot
Check out the latest podcast episode Listen

History of the Cosmos

Three Cosmo mascots from the past stand side by side

For nearly 60 years, BYU’s furry mascot has done whatever his Cougar spirit bids him—picking up a few dos and don’ts along the way.

By Michael R. Walker (BA ’90) in the Winter 2012 Issue

Deep in the heart of LaVell Edwards Stadium, a metal door creaks and a thin line of light widens into a bright rectangle on the gray concrete. The shape remains only for an instant, as it is filled, bottom to top, with a familiar feline outline. Then the door slams behind a blur of fur hurtling into the midst of a few football fans. It’s Cosmo, stealthily leaping from his lair, somehow striking a mid-air spread-eagle pose for an instant, then landing with a thump near a surprised toddler, eliciting an awe-filled scream and a few tears. Cosmo pauses, shrugs apologetically, then runs toward the south end zone and the roar of the crowd.

Surprising, humorous, or inspiring, Cosmo’s big entrances have always been a part of his mascot repertoire. But today there is no parachute drop, fire truck, limousine, or helicopter. Cosmo keeps it simple, hoisting the B flag (the Y and U follow close behind) and leading the football team from a dark portal onto the sunlit stadium turf.

Cosmo made his first appearance at a football pep rally as the Cougars prepared to compete for the Old Wagon Wheel with the Utah State Agricultural School Farmers. The Brigham Young Universe on Oct. 15, 1953, reported on the mascot’s campus debut: “Zooming down from outer space onto the Brigham Young University campus, comes the newest member of the Y yell team—COSMO, the Cougar.”

The paper explained that “Cosmo is a member of the student body dressed in a suit, resembling a Cougar” and clarified his role, “He will do acrobatics, lead yells, climb goal posts, or anything else his Cougar spirit bids him.”

Cosmo with the pep squad
Cosmo poses with the pep squad. Photo courtesy of James Daly.

Cosmo was imagined and named by the late H. Dwayne Stevenson (BA ’57), head of pep activities at the time. “The name Cosmo—he plucked that out of the sky,” says Stevenson’s then-roommate, B. Udell Winkler (’56). “He thought of it being kind of far out, kind of beyond our reach, something special.”

Indeed, Cosmo has become a special part of the BYU community. If you ask last year’s mascot if there’s anything cooler than Cosmo, Stephen C. Jones (Cosmo 2008–10) says, “No. Nothing. Jimmer’s close, but he’s a close second. If you think about it, all of the athletes will come and go, but Cosmo’s still there.” But then Jones pauses to ponder. “Hmm. Maybe I wouldn’t put Jimmer second . . . I think Jimmer’s tied. Yeah, he just tied it up.”

Once, while Andrew C. Syndergaard (Cosmo 2005–09) visited with some basketball fans at the Marriott Center, a large group of kids came over to him all at once. When he looked over to see the source, he realized Santa Claus was there in another section. “How cool is it when you’re loved so much that kids leave Santa to come say hi to you?” he says.

Cosmo poses with three BYU cheerleaders holding pom-poms.
Cosmo and the BYU cheerleaders have sported a variety of looks in the 59 years since his debut. Photo courtesy of Clive Moon.

Doing “anything . . . his Cougar spirit bids him,” Cosmo has remained true blue for nearly six decades. But, over time that simple guiding principle has been expanded, using wisdom gained from decades of Cougar-and-fan interactions. Today, a longer list of dos and don’ts guides the mascot day-to-day; this article shares and illuminates a variety of excerpts from Cosmo’s Code of Conduct.

“Cosmo should be a representation, as far as athletics is concerned, of sportsmanship, fan interaction, and just being friendly,” says David J. Eberhard, BYU athletics marketing coordinator. “Sports are a metaphor for life; they’re not life. They’re there for us to learn from. So hopefully Cosmo will lead by example.”

Today Cosmo has become an enduring, vibrant symbol of athletic prowess and sportsmanship. Back in the stadium, football fans looking down from the uppermost seats of the stadium catch a glimpse of BYU’s mascot—far away enough he might be considered a “micro-Cosmo.”

Perched on his blue wooden platform in the south end zone, Cosmo crouches down on all fours, extends his right arm, right leg, and head—skillfully mirroring the pose of the bronze cougar at the stadium entrance. A moment, frozen in time, captures a mascot with staying power.

DO: Interact with fans and have a good time; take pictures.

Daniel T. Gallego (Cosmo 1953–54, 1959–60) first brought life to Cosmo in 1953 and then, after his mission, repeated as the coolest cat on campus from 1959 to 1960. Cosmo’s role and personality began to form as Gallego worked the crowds at home games. “I think Cosmo brought this whole excitement into football and basketball,” says his wife, Myrtle Borup Gallego (’61), “And because of my husband’s personality, he was a good one to introduce it because he was just fun-loving and people loved him.” She adds, “My mother and dad didn’t know who he was, but he would go up at all the basketball games and flirt with her and so forth.”

DO: Always be actively doing something. If you have nothing to do, go take a break and change your underclothes.

Cosmo’s antics went skyward the second year when he harnessed himself to a bungee cord in the Smith Fieldhouse (see photo on p. 31). “During a basketball game halftime, the first thing the spectators saw was Cosmo dropping from the catwalk to the gym floor and bouncing up and down a few times,” says Clive D. Moon (Cosmo 1954–55). “Then some assistants pulled me to different parts of the court and ‘shot’ me out over various sections of students.”

Cosmo stands at a football game with his hands above him in celebration.

DO: Move in a masculine manner.

By year three Cosmo was a cat in demand. So the Cosmo Committee determined that M. Ray Pope (Cosmo 1955–56) and the first female Cosmo, Peggy Herron Mortensen (Cosmo 1955–56), should share the role. “I think the novelty was they wanted a girl to throw everybody off,” Mortensen says. To fit in the Cosmo suit, she wore padding and slipped her own shoes inside the ones attached to the suit. To polish the act, Daniel Gallego (the first Cosmo) took her to the gym, and she spent hours learning how to “swagger like a guy.” The lessons paid off as no one suspected that Mortensen was the masculine Cosmo who, wearing a top hat and tails, escorted a coed to a performance of the opera Rigoletto.

DON’T: Never allow anyone to use Cosmo that is not on Team Cosmo.

Revealing Cosmo’s identity at the last basketball game of the season was once a BYU tradition. And in 1960 the mascot “beheading”—in the first of many historic head fakes—surprised the crowd.

The Universe later reported, “A few minutes before the beheading ceremony, a girl who thought she knew Cosmo’s closely guarded identity began to poke him and slap his back. What she didn’t know, however, was that President Wilkinson had donned the cougar skin to startle the student body before revealing the true Cosmo.”

“When they took the head and unveiled President Wilkinson, I remember the shock that went throughout the audience,” says Myrtle Borup Gallego (’61). “It started at the bottom and just went up; you could hear and almost feel what was happening. People couldn’t believe it.”

Cosmo sits atop the basketball basket, waving to the crowd.

DON’T: Do not talk in character.

“At halftime, I slipped into a quiet and much-cooler coach’s office to rest up for the final half of the game,” says Buddy Youngreen (Cosmo 1961–62). “While I was sitting in a chair [fully costumed] in the corner, a happily humming little 5-year-old girl came in and sat down in a chair just across from me. After a slight pause, she began to talk and talk and talk to me. I think the fact that I didn’t talk back made this young lady feel free to bare her soul, discuss the mysteries of the universe, and make several random observations. After one last pause to catch her breath, she looked at me quite quizzically and timidly asked, ‘You’re not going to eat me, are you Mr. Posmo?’ After I shook my head no, she exited, happily humming once again.”

DO: Share your talents to the best of your abilities.

The 30-foot screens in the stadium fade to black between the third and fourth quarters of the Tulsa game in 2006. Then dramatic music and images of Cosmo in training, a la Batman Begins, mixes with this narration: “If you make yourself more than just a cat, devote yourself to an ideal—tradition, spirit, honor— . . . then you become something else entirely.” Thousands of fans turn their heads to watch Cosmo Begins, the first of six Cosmo short films shown in the stadium that fall.

“Making films is unlike anything Cosmo has ever done before,” says main character actor, Andrew C. Syndergaard (Cosmo 2005–09). “We got to film from a helicopter, at the Salt Flats Speedway, in front of a green screen, and at the stadium at night. We also rode on top of the Cosmobile, jumped off of the fieldhouse, created explosions, and worked with BYU celebrities.”

With only two weeks and $285 from his pocket, director Jonathan D. Howe (BS ’07) turned Cosmo into a movie star. “When I looked down across the field, even the players were watching it,” remembers Howe.

The popularity of the films opened another door. “As a result of the movies, we were invited to participate in the Capital One Mascot Bowl for two years,” says Syndergaard. While Cosmo didn’t win mascot of the year, he gained more visibility through the event’s national commercials.

Cosmo later spoofed other films, resulting in Cosmo Reloaded, Cosmo: The Quest, and Cosmo: Back to the Future, among others.

LaVell Edwards wear Cosmo's head on a live broadcast of ESPN College Gameday with Lee Corso who is wearing the TCU SuperFrog head.
LaVell Edwards (EdD ’78) (left) counters ESPN commentator Lee Corso’s (wearing the TCU SuperFrog head) pre-game prediction by putting on Cosmo’s head and inspiring the Cougar crowd. Photo by Jaren Wilkey.

DON’T: Don’t do anything that would put you or anyone else in harm’s way.

With a strong student section, Cosmo can catch a wave at row one and ride to the top of the stadium in just minutes. Sometimes this stunt can be hair-raising. “The first time I was getting passed up the crowd,” says Michael A. Porter (Cosmo 1990–91), “I realized I was only a couple of rows from the top rail of the north end zone, . . . and I was still going up! I kind of freaked and quickly got back on my own two feet and scrambled away from that section.”

DO: Practice with the head on.

There’s more to being Cosmo than backflips and dance moves. “During the finals for tryouts, I was playing the Cougar fight song on a kazoo through the eye hole in Cosmo’s head,” says David R. Wright (Cosmo 1982–83). “As I was dancing around, I lost my grip on the kazoo, and it fell inside the head. I tried to get the kazoo out by moving the head, which didn’t work, but the sound of the kazoo rattling inside the Cosmo head made the judges laugh. The more it rattled, the harder they laughed. I made sure there was plenty of rattling the rest of the routine. When I left the room some of the judges were laughing hysterically with tears in their eyes. I knew I had a pretty good chance of being picked to be Cosmo.”

DON’T: Never interrupt the play of the game.

Cosmo poses with Patricia T. Holland.
Cosmo takes to the dance floor with Patricia T. Holland (’68). Photo by Mark Philbrick.

Cosmo spends a lot of time in the end zone—no wonder he often contemplates running onto the field to help his team.

Cosmo number one“During a BYU vs. Utah State football game, BYU was receiving the ball on a kickoff,” says James F. Daly (Cosmo 1977–78). “When the ball was going to land midway into the end zone, BYU made the motion to not run it out. There were no BYU football players in the end zone, sooo . . . I stepped in, caught the ball, and headed up field.

“As I looked out of those small Cosmo eyes, all I could see was five huge Utah State football players quickly zeroing in on me. I took an abrupt action to the left and ran as hard as I could, getting out of bounds on the six yard line. The Utah State players did not touch me, but I knew they would have loved to kill Cosmo running around with the ball wearing a BYU football jersey. Luckily, there were no penalties, and BYU took the ball out on the 20.”

DO: Stay hydrated during performance. Take regular breaks and change your shirt and socks as needed.

Every Cosmo for nearly six decades has only one complaint: the heat.

“Being Cosmo was a blast,” says David R. Wright (Cosmo 1982–83), but sometimes it was more like a blast furnace. “The worst was BYU at UNLV in August. Temperature on the field was 110-plus at game time, and I was wearing a fur coat!”

“During some football games on a hot Saturday afternoon, I would lose over 15 pounds—all water weight quickly gained back,” says Christopher D. Dowling (Cosmo 1970–71). “The costume would literally be soaked—and wouldn’t smell that good either.”

DO: When in Cosmo, always stay in character.

Donning the suit brings a distinct change in personality. Cosmo (2010–present) describes it as putting on “pure and total confidence. . . . Cosmo is spontaneous, outgoing, and the funnest cat in town.”

“The minute you put on the mask, a transformation happens,” says Joshua D. Drean (Cosmo 2008–11). “It is almost like magic. The fact that everyone thinks you are the coolest cat ever makes it true. Many times I was nervous backstage to try a new trick, but the minute I step out, and everyone is cheering for you, it is almost impossible to not do it! There is a special magic about Cosmo that can transform any bland BYU student into a character.”

DO: Love everyone.

The dunk team raises a stilt-clad Cosmo high in the air.
One of the nation’s most athletic mascots, Cosmo gets serious air in the Marriott Center. Photo by Mark Philbrick.

Cosmo is a friend to everyone and has been known to show up at hospitals, charity events, and anywhere he is needed. “Cosmo is off doing a lot of appearances and loving children who are sick with cancer, doing hospital and school appearances; he’s just all over the place, loving and serving,” says David J. Eberhard, leader of Team Cosmo.

“You go to things like Dave Rose’s Kids with Cancer Christmas party,” says Andrew C. Syndergaard (Cosmo 2005–09), and you see kids light up like a Christmas tree because you just showed up. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

And while he doesn’t express it verbally, you get the sense that Cosmo really cares for people in tough situations.

“I was standing in the middle of a packed house in Vegas at the conference basketball tournament,” says Justin S. Leavitt (Cosmo 2005–07). “They did a tribute to some soldiers and reunited some families with their soldiers at halftime. It was very touching, and I felt tears coming. I tried to fight the tears because I was standing in front of thousands of people. Then I realized no one could see my face, so I just let it flow.”

Timeline of the Cosmos

BYU gained its Cougar nickname from BYU athletic director Eugene L. Roberts (AB 1916), who had written newspaper accounts saying BYU athletes had played like cougars. The university officially adopted “Cougars” for its teams on Oct. 1, 1923. According to 1,000 Views of 100 Years, “the cougar was looked upon most favorably because it is a native Utah animal, powerful and agile, wise and beautiful, lending itself to artistic illustration” (p. 123).

The centennial photo book also reported that David J. Rust (’27), a guide on the Colorado River, wired Roberts in 1924, telling him that a mother cougar and three kittens had been captured. “Two of the kittens were brought to Provo and kept as mascots,” it says, adding that “they became the private pets of George K. (Georkee) Lewis who did much to popularize the nickname by bringing the pets to campus” (p. 123).

In 1926 the two “somewhat tame” cougars, named Cleo and Tarbo, were released on the floor during a dance at the Women’s Gymnasium, resulting in “some panic” (p. 123).

According to the BYU Athletics website, “live cougars prowled the sidelines of BYU games on a regular basis through the late 1940s and on special occasions through the 1960s.” After Cosmo appeared on the scene in 1953, there were occasions when he and his wild four-pawed cousins shared the sidelines; but, in the end, the bipedal mascot stood the test of time. In 1979, when “students tried to bring back a live cougar mascot at athletic events,” BYU’s YFacts says, “school officials felt a student dressed in a cougar outfit would be a better (cleaner and safer) mascot.”

Now nearly 60 years since BYU introduced Cosmo, see events and memories that shaped the Cougar over time.

1953: “Zooming down from outer space,” Cosmo makes his campus debut at a pep rally before the football game between BYU and the Utah State Agricultural School.

Daniel T. Gallego as the first Cosmo
In 1953 student Daniel T. Gallego was “beheaded” as the first Cosmo.

1954: A “beheading” ceremony reveals Daniel T. Gallego (Cosmo 1953–54, 1959–60) as the first Cosmo. The ceremony becomes an end-of-year tradition lasting until the ’90s.

1955: Cosmo Clive D. Moon (Cosmo 1954–55) has a clean ride on a 400-pound calf in the Fourth of July rodeo in Hanna, Utah.

1956: Cosmo wears a top hat and tails to the opera Rigoletto. “He” is later revealed to be Cougarette commandant Peggy Herron Mortensen (Cosmo 1955–56), the first female to play the mascot.

1957: To protect the new glass backboards from his antics, Cosmo is banned from the basketball court by Coach Stanley H. Watts (BS ’38).

BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson is revealed as Cosmo the Cougar.
BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson is revealed as Cosmo the Cougar.

1960: Many students suspected Daniel Gallego was Cosmo (again). When the mascot’s head was removed, everyone was surprised to find President Ernest L. Wilkinson (BA ’21) inside.

1961: A group of U students attempts to kidnap Cosmo but is able to steal only his tail. “I had to wear a patch over the hole for a couple of games,” says Roy H. Spradley (Cosmo 1960–61).

President Ernest Wilkinson poses with Sparrow, a living cougar.

1965: President Wilkinson and Sparrow share cougar tales.

1970: After a terrifying ride across the football field on a motorcycle, throttle stuck wide open, Cosmo is hooked and saved by the field goal net.

1976: Cosmo leads the basketball team out onto the court and dunks. “My friend was an usher,” says Michael T. Dowling (Cosmo 1976–77). “He overheard the opposing coach comment, ‘Man, their mascot’s dunking. . . . We’re in trouble.’”

Marie Osmond celebrates her 18th birthday with Cosmo.
Photo by Brent Petersen/Universe.

1977: Cosmo celebrates Marie Osmond’s 18th birthday by surprising her with an ice cream cake in the Cougareat.

1977: Seven hours before game time, Cosmo plays a little one-on-one with Danny Ainge (BA ’92) in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. “Danny was wearing brand new cowboy boots and played as if he was in leg irons,” says James F. Daly (Cosmo 1977–78). “That’s only fair, isn’t it?”

1980: Seconds after the epic touchdown catch that tied Southern Methodist University in the “Miracle Bowl,” Cosmo rushes into the end zone and “helps” the referees by pulling players off of tight end Clay L. Brown (BS ’81).

President Spencer W. Kimball poses with Cosmo
Photo courtesy of David Wright.

1982: Without speaking one word, Cosmo takes a cheerleader with him from the parking lot to a loge in the stadium to meet Church President Spencer W. Kimball.

1989: Cosmo’s nose goes from pink to black. “Every time you ran into something, it would scrape the paint off of Cosmo’s nose,” says Paul R. Thorley (Cosmo 1988–89). “I carried some pink fingernail polish for touch-ups. The next year and after his nose was black.”

1989: C. Bret Pope (Cosmo 1989–90) opens his hotel room to find one “cute little Asian” housekeeper dancing around wearing Cosmo’s head and another doubled over, giggling hysterically.

1990: Michael A. Porter (Cosmo 1990–91) starts the Cosmo Kids Club, handing out prizes during school visits and birthday parties.

1993: Cheerleader Amy Freeze (BA ’95) was reportedly “attracted to the animal magnetism” of Gary R. Arbuckle Jr. (Cosmo 1993–94), and they dated thanks to a semantic loophole—the policy stated no “inter-squad dating” instead of “intra-squad.” The next year the wording was changed and they both made the cheerleading squad. “To avoid breaking any rules, we simply got married,” Gary says.

Cosmo cheers at a BYU v. Southern Methodist University football game in 1997.
Photo by Mark Philbrick.

1997: In a mock news report crafted to introduce a new look for Cosmo, the BYU mascot is said to have suffered an accident in Rock Canyon, falling more than 100 feet, landing face-first on jagged rocks, and being airlifted to the hospital. After “cosmotic” surgery, Cosmo emerged with a smaller, more athletic head.

Cosmo poses beside the Cosmobile van.
Photo by Mark Philbrick.

2001: Cosmo hits the road with new toys like the Cosmobile, donated by Brick Oven, and a go-cart sponsored by Northwestern Mutual.

2002: Aaron G. McGavock (Cosmo 2000–01) graduates in Cosmo costume and goes pro as a mascot, entertaining crowds in the NBA, AAA baseball, and the UFL.

2004: C. Ryan Osorio (Cosmo 2004–05) takes two semesters of American Sign Language and uses it to communicate with fans.

2006: Cosmo films premiere in the stadium.

Cosmo, dressed in a blue Santa suit, meets a little girl and her father.
Photo by Ryan Faulkner.

2010: Santa Claus and Cosmo join with Coach Dave Rose, Jimmer, and the rest of the BYU basketball team to host the 14th annual Kids with Cancer Christmas Party.

2011: At the 2011 Utah Mascot Demolition Derby in West Valley City, Utah, Cosmo and Swoop, the Utah mascot, climb out of their cars and take turns smashing each other’s vehicles.

Tracking a Cougar

Follow Cosmo as he displays his endurance and spirit, making an appearance at three Cougar wins on a busy Saturday.

Football, 4 p.m. (W 40–7)

3:52 Waving a pair of borrowed white gloves, Cosmo conducts the band’s rendition of “The College Song,” finishing with a snappy military salute.

Cosmo carries one of the B-Y-U flags at a football game.
Photo by Ryan Faulkner.

3:56 Cosmo grabs the blue B flag and sprints onto the field, the football team close on his heels.

4:08 Cosmo mimics cheerleaders, feigning innocence when they look.

4:20 Cosmo allows a fan to admire his biceps, then poses with her for a photo.

4:21 After BYU’s first touchdown, Cosmo claps, then pumps his fist to the fight song.

4:22 After a group hug in the student section, Cosmo sits down, folds his arms, puts on a king’s crown, and surveys the stadium.

4:30 Cosmo “borrows” a cell phone, silently talks and laughs.

4:35 After another BYU touchdown, Cosmo leads the ROTC cadets in push-ups.

4:38 Cosmo steals a fan’s hat, throws it on the ground (obviously not BYU gear), then wears it teasingly over one of his ears.

4:40 After untying the shoelaces of front-row fans, Cosmo tosses some T-shirts.

4:59 A game of charades develops as Cosmo waves his tail at a concessions worker. Cougar Tail or hot dog? Hot dog.

Cosmo watches a football game from the sidelines.
Photo by Ryan Faulkner.

6:20 Cosmo hugs two outrageous fans sporting blue wigs and face paint.

6:36 Cosmo crowd surfs, supported by a wave of student hands and muscles, from row one to the top of the stadium in three minutes flat.

7:15 The game ends. As part of the last-home-game ceremonies, Cosmo congratulates the senior players.

7:20 Cosmo autographs balls and programs for front-row fans.

7:32 Cosmo climbs aboard a campus cart and zooms over to the Smith Fieldhouse.

Women’s Volleyball, 7:30 p.m. (W 3–1)

7:54 Cosmo appears at the southwest end of the court still in his football uniform. The women’s volleyball team is fighting for a tough point against New Mexico. Cosmo watches the rally and, when the point is won, has a grandpa pound it (easy on the knuckles).

7:55 Crouching to watch the game, Cosmo senses a predator behind him. He spins to catch a little boy staring and gives him a high five.

7:56 Cosmo leaps up the stairs and gives too many high fives and congenial handshakes to count.

7:57 A timeout is called, and Cosmo does some crazy dance moves.

7:58 Cosmo exits the gym and walks with a boy on the indoor track. He passes a young woman, spins her around, then bounds out the door.

Men’s Basketball, 8 p.m. (W 109–60)

8:01 After ushering fans to their seats, Cosmo hangs out with the four guys wearing full-body blue spandex suits.

8:58 Cosmo traverses the length of the Marriott Center floor in a series of backflips.

Cosmo getting ready to enter the Marriott Center for a basketball.
Photo by Jonathan Hardy.

9:17 The crowd yells out “B-Y-U” as Cosmo jumps on the letters at mid-court.

9:19 The cheerleaders and Cosmo do a backflip for each made free throw.

9:25 Cosmo walks on his hands from the half-court line to the baseline.

9:32 A young fan offers Cosmo a piece of red licorice; he locates his mouth and eats it.

9:45 With the team winning by more than 40 points, fans begin to exit. Cosmo is there, handing out hugs.

9:57 Cosmo enters the game9:57 Cosmo climbs the stairs to the southwest exit. A little boy says, “Bye, Cosmo.”

10:00 Snow falls on Cosmo as he makes his way to the Victory Bell, where the Cosmobile is parked.

10:07 Cosmo joins the crowd of fans for the final fight song of the night before a BYU basketball player rings the Victory Bell.

10:12 Cosmo remains until the last fan is gone. Then he climbs into the back of the Cosmobile, which makes its way to the main road. Its taillights fade into the dark and snowy night.

Feedback: Send comments on this article to