(Photo credit: Andrew Huxman)
The Admirals are continuing to celebrate 35 years of professional hockey in Milwaukee, presented by BMO Harris Bank. And this week, they’re announcing the #4 greatest Admiral, as voted by the fans and a special blue ribbon panel.
A bit of a surprise coming in at #4….It’s Beer Cheese, from the Merkt’s Cheese Race promotion.
“He was without a doubt, one of the all-time greats,” says Mike Wojciewchowski, VP of Business Development with the Admirals. ”It didn’t matter what you threw at him — he was always ready to race and put on a show for our fans. And such a great attitude off the ice too. He was living the dream every day.”
Beer Cheese was one of the four racing cheese mascots that usually competed in the first intermission at Admirals games from 2007-2012. While Sharp Cheddar, Port Wine, and Almond Swiss all won their share of races, none of them did it with the frequency and showmanship of Beer Cheese.
When Merkt’s pulled the sponsorship after the 2011-12 season, Beer Cheese had a career record of 134-91. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that winning percentage is tops among all racing mascots in professional sports. Better than Polish Sausage at the Brewer games. Better than George Washington at the Nationals games.
Better than everybody.
“And some of those losses should have been wins, had I not been disqualified for some bogus infraction called by Matt or Meg or Roscoe!” Beer Cheese says while chuckling. ”As far as I was concerned, there were no rules. Sometimes I had to play the body, sometimes I had to fight through double teams. I just had to do whatever I needed to win. To hear everyone in the building cheering for me as I crossed the finish line…it was the best feeling in the world.”
One of the most memorable victories came on March 8th, 2008 in a game between the Admirals and Rockford IceHogs. Bret Michaels was performing a post-game concert, so there were over 10,000 fans in the stands, and Beer Cheese had something up his sleeve.
“It was a must-win race for me. I knew it had to be my night. So after I left everyone in my dust, I pulled out a sharpie marker and a regular sized tub of Beer Cheese spread. I signed it, and tossed it into the audience. I told the fan that the tub was going to be worth something someday. And now that I’m the 4th greatest Admiral of all time, today is apparently that day. I hope they still have it.”
But behind the scenes, there was lots of jealousy and resentment among the other competitors.
“I’m pretty sure those skates aren’t regulation size, or they may have been rocket powered,” says a still bitter Almond Swiss. ”I remember a game where he missed the start of the race because he was reading the newspaper over at the bench. And then he still came back to win. And he used to make that Roadrunner chirp as he went by. I really wanted to slug him, but you know, the costume kind of restricts what your arms can do.”
Sharp Cheddar talks about how the resentment got to be so out of control, she hired a professional to knock Beer Cheese out of a race back in 2010.
“It was a Salute To Wrestling promotion at the Admirals game, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan was a special guest. And he just happened to find himself on the Admiral bench during the cheese race. And he just happened to have a 2×4 on hand. And he just happened to catch Beer Cheese at the start of the second lap. Best $500 I ever spent, even though referee Roscoe blew the call.”
Port Wine is far less bitter, and has remained a close friend of Beer Cheese over the years.
“I’m really happy for old Beery. This is such a great and well deserved honor for him. And yeah, I still have a few nightmares about him taking me out in turn four…but that’s just Beery being Beery. His drive to win and be the best makes him special, and that’s obviously why he did so well in the fan vote. The race results speak for themselves, but I think he’s more proud of that fan vote.”
Beer Cheese’s influence even made its way into the Admirals locker room.
“We would all gather around the video monitors in the locker room to watch the cheese race every game,” former head coach Lane Lambert recalls. ”I’d tell the guys that if they had as much compete in them as Beer Cheese had, we would give ourselves a good chance to win each and every night.”
Since the sponsorship was pulled, Beer Cheese has retired from ice racing. But he still is very visible in the dairy community in Wisconsin.
“I give motivational speeches at many of the dairies around the state. For the bovines out there that can use a metaphorical kick in the udder, I show them that the only things keeping their production down are the imaginary fence-posts in their heads. It’s very rewarding work — I love making a difference. But if ever given the opportunity to lace up the old skates again, I want all my fans out there to know that I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’ll see you in the winner’s circle.”