DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Finding Billy
By Bro. Mark Elder, C.M. /
February 17, 2022 /
Posted in: CAMPUS AND COMMUNITY /
Many senior alumni of DePaul look at Billy Blue Demon and are taken to the prime of their youth. They remember the glories that went with Billy: the taste of victory against long standing rivals, Marquette and Notre Dame; the nation discovering Ray Meyer as “the grand old man of basketball lore;" and the excitement tied to men's basketball games from the 70s – 80s.
I have a special relationship with Billy. I was given the honor of
painting him on the game floor of Alumni Hall in 1978. I was excited to do it
but had no idea how special it was at the time. I understand a lot better now
as to why, but I always wanted to know where Billy came from. Who thought of
him? Who drew him first?
Before the late 1960s, if a group like DePaul Athletics wanted to use a cartoon mascot, they had to borrow or steal the cartoon. Try to remember, we at DePaul did not have an art department until 1967 - the need to improvise was great.
The most popular character for our purposes in this “borrowing" was Harvey Comics' Hot Stuff. He was from the same group that produced Casper, The Friendly Ghost. At DePaul, Hot Stuff was relabeled “Baby Demon" and was always done in blue. It was rare the copyright owner would notice and issue a cease and desist order, so we helped ourselves. Eventually our thinking started to shift in 1969. Athletics began conversations about getting our own mascot.
Generous to Catholic causes, Tarpey owned a company, Gene Tarpey Advertising. It was well known across the Archdiocese of Chicago. Many Catholic organizations asked Tarpey for graphics help on flyers, raffles, books, pamphlets and general advertising. Tarpey completed many of these jobs at little cost or as outright donations.
When McCann called on Tarpey, it was to solve a problem in creating a mascot for DePaul. Tarpey wanted to help, and after a few conversations, a concept and a character were born. One of Tarpey's colleagues confirmed he created Billy at little cost, a donation, really.
Billy first appeared in the 1969 sports information media guide, then proceeded to “sit on the bench" for three years. He did not appear in student publications, media outlets or merchandise during this time at all. Not even a memo or announcement of any kind. It is a good question as to why. My guess is DePaul simply was not ready for the marketing Billy needed.
Enter Jack Lavin. Hired as a full-time sports information director in summer 1972, Lavin's previous work with the Chicago Tribune focused on marketing and advertising. That fall, Lavin used Billy on the wallet-sized men's basketball schedule -- his first appearance to DePaul fans.
The success of Billy can be tied to the rise of DePaul men's basketball in the 1970s. The more the team succeeded, the more you saw Billy. Cheerleader uniforms, pennants, posters, hats and TV graphics displayed the character as the team made more appearances throughout the decade.
Billy hit the big time in 1979 when our men's basketball beat UCLA in the NCAA tournament regional final. Billy was big and we were proud of our Blue Demons. It was only at this pinnacle of popularity that Billy was finally copyrighted in 1980.
The 80s were good to Billy, but the times tend to change things. What Billy could do on top of that basketball hoop was limited and confining. Other DePaul teams found it frustrating they could not use Billy the same way as the basketball teams. Some others thought he was a bit sexist. In 1996 the university looked for a change, and DIBS was on his way.
However, Billy did not go without a fight.
In 1998 DIBS came into the new mascot position with his newfangled computer swagger and his hair on digital fire. Billy then went quietly, but not sadly, waiting for the day he would return to campus.
In 2021, the university reintroduced Billy to the DePaul community with the Classic Collection, offering Billy Blue Demon items. The university also will dedicate the Feb. 27 men's basketball game to Billy Blue Demon.
Tickets for the Feb. 27 game are now available. Faculty and staff can receive up to two complimentary tickets in the Demon Deck, along with special discounts on extra tickets, by entering promo code “APPRECIATION" via this ticket link.
Bro. Mark Elder, C.M., is an adjunct faculty member and the service learning coordinator in The Art School at DePaul.