For four years at the University of Maryland, Jimmy Wand was the Turtle, the animate presence inside a costume of outsized boots, four-fingered mitts, Naugahyde shell, brown leggings and a beak-shaped foam-rubber head with a sly grin and devilish eyes.
He breathed life into the Turtle, and in turn, the Turtle -- the mascot of the Maryland Terrapins and mitts down the most famous character in College Park -- breathed life into Byrd Stadium and Cole Field House where football and basketball games are played.
If the costume was the body, then Jimmy Wand peering out through the Turtle's mouth was the Turtle's soul. Together they did what neither could do separately: they tangled with the San Diego Chicken and the Bird from Baltimore and grabbed the Florida Gator by the tail; they got away with murder flirting with girls; they danced and strutted in front of thousands of people and sometimes, singlehandedly, transformed a listless crowd of 40,000 spectators into a horde of roaring partisans.
In the natural cycle of mascots, however, there is no forestalling the semester when it's about time to graduate and circumstances require that one leave for a younger generation what one has done long and well enough.
This weekend, when the Maryland Terps take on Penn State, Jimmy Wand's costume will be passed on to a new cheerleader, sophomore Paul Erskine who will bring a new personality to the mascot.
Erskine was chosen over six other candidates at a try-out Tuesday evening on the steps of the stadium. The Turtle lay in pieces in front of the steps, looking as if a bomb had exploded in a toy store carrying stuffed animals for Brobdingnagian infants. Jimmy Wand looked on wistfully, a curly-haired 23-year-old in jeans and running shoes. He plans to finish his last semester at Maryland this fall and, in lieu of "turtling," must devote his free time to earning money as a bellhop at the Bethesda Holiday Inn.
"I was walking over here, on the mall, and I thought, 'Boy am I going to miss this,'" he said. "It was a blast. A lot of people know me as the Turtle. They'd come up to me and think they know me because they met me in the suit."
His shell will be hard to fill. If the Turtle costume didn't cost nearly $2,000, they'd probably hang it from the rafters of Cole Field House, for he was, as one cheerleader said, "the best mascot in the ACC."
Maryland had mascots before Wand, but they wore a suit that apparently was so ugly alumni complained and some people are still at a loss for words trying to describe it. ("It was half grasshopper, half I don't know what," sighed cheerleader adviser Didi Dimopoulous.)
The university invested in a suit from an Ohio company and advertised tryouts in fall 1978 for the new Maryland Terrapin, it's proper designation rather than Turtle, a nuance that seems to be widely ignored.
Lubricated with a few pitchers of beer at a local rathskeller, Jimmy Wand tried out on a dare, and won thanks to his back handsprings and manic energy.
"The first time I tried on the suit, I did a cartwheel and the chin strap broke," he recalled. "I came out of the shoes, the shell split open and the head rolled off. I thought, 'Great. This is going to happen in a game.' You're right out there in front of all those people. You have no place to hide."
After a while he began to feed on the exposure, and as his repertoire of stunts expanded, so did his celebrity. He let himself be passed around by the fans. He scaled down from the rafters at Cole Field House on a rope and did one-handed push-ups when everybody was talking about Rocky. For the basketball game with arch-rival Virginia, he strapped on drywaller stilts and dressed the Turtle as Uncle Sam. He was almost tall enough to pat Virginia's star seven-footer, Ralph Sampson, on the head.
The role of turtle invested Jimmy Wand with confidence, and he admits his fame swung him at least one date. His friends allow there was a time when his head swelled nearly to the size of the Turtle's, but he outgrew that, they add quickly. Now he seems almost apologetic when people approach him in the Rendezvous and say, "Hey Turtle!", the nickname be- stowed by his brothers at Theta Chi.
It wasn't all rosy though, especially during away games on enemy territory. He was routinely showered with toilet paper and once was hit in the chest with a flashlight battery. The North Carolina State University pompon girls tore off his tail, and more seriously, an irate State fan tried to turn him into turtle soup, smashing him against a concrete wall several times. Wand keeps a letter written by a spectator outraged by that attack in his Turtle scrapbook -- a valedictory album of courtside snapshots, letters that read like valentines, a glossy of the Turtle and Jean Bourne, the former cheerleader and a Miss Maryland, and a set of pictures showing him being interviewed on television.
All that's gone now. "The fun part of it was that you were right there," Jimmy Wand said, "in the heart of the game." CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Two of the losers for the role of Maryland Terrapin. Hal Parent tries on the bulky $2,000 suit. Wayne Welker puts on his act for the judges in Byrd Stadium. Sophomore Paul Erskine won. Photos by Richardson -- The Washington Post