Meet Trey Mock, the face behind Blue's mask and the giant heart beating inside the mascot (2024)

Gregg DoyelIndianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS – Trey Mock is bouncing around the grounds of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, trying to get everything ready for the most popular mascot in professional sports. In a few minutes the city will celebrate Blue’s Birthday Bash, and on Illinois Street it looks like all of Indianapolis is heading this way. Cars are lined up outside the parking garage to join the crowd already here, more than 1,000 Colts fans gathering near posters of Blue and signs welcoming Blue and a giant birthday card posted on the fence, with a box of colored markers for people to leave Blue a birthday message.

For a few seconds, Trey Mock stops bouncing around the grounds of the museum to take it all in. He’s seeing everything, the enormous scene and the small details, and he’s getting emotional.

“Look at that,” he says, gesturing to the birthday card, where a tiny girl has found a spot on the lower right corner to write her message for Blue. Her name is Emilia Sims, she’s from Carmel, and she’s 4. She’ll learn the finer points of writing someday, but for now Emilia is writing from her heart. “Happy Birthday Blue,” she’s trying to write.

Here’s what she comes up with, in shaky letters:

HABEC

It’s hot out here as the 6 p.m. starting time approaches, and Trey Mock is wearing a T-shirt and shorts. He has a bandana around his head, a sweatband for what he’s about to endure. Trey Mock is Blue, you see, but most of these guests don’t know that. They surge past him, seeking the mascot, walking past Blue as he hides in plain sight.

“I get to be Clark Kent and Superman,” says Mock, 42. “Clark Kent’s nice, but nobody’s, like, leaping out of their chair to go high-five Clark Kent – but I have a telephone booth, and instead of a cape I get to put on a blue horse costume that’s beloved. It’s kind of a hard balance at times. It can be mind-blowing.”

Mock is a superhero inside that 7-foot horse costume, but out here in his T-shirt and shorts he’s a person just like the rest of us – human being, human frailties. Blue wouldn’t know what those are like, but Trey Mock would. He’s been wearing a mask for more than 20 years, since going to Auburn for freshman orientation and seeing Aubie the Tiger bouncing around and trying out the next year. A year later he won the 2003 NCA College Nationals mascot championship. The Atlanta Falcons recruited him in 2004 out of Auburn – he was studying to be an architect – a semester short of graduation. He spent the 2005 season with the Buffalo Bills.

He retired the next year. Tried to, anyway. But then the Colts called, wanting to create a mascot program, and wanting Trey Mock to audition. Mock told them no.

This party for Blue? Those nearly 10 million followers on Blue’s social media accounts? The spot in the Mascot Hall of Fame? Almost didn’t happen, any of it. The crowd here, the parents and kids, little Emilia Sims, they don’t know any of that. They walk past Mock as he marvels at this scene at the Children’s Museum, at what this life has given him – married, father of two, happy, grateful – and gets emotional.

Mascot Hall of Fame: 'A piece of Disney right in Indiana'

“In college it’s like a secret society,” he says of being a mascot. “You get to be funny, but at some point that will wear off. In college you’re taught to get laughs and applause, and if you can get those two things it can be super powerful. That’s what I was taught to do – get laughs and applause – and I did it for the Falcons and Bills, but I’d wake up the next day and feel empty. I could not find happiness.

“Coolest job in the world,” he says, “but I battled with depression and fear, anxiety and just a lack of purpose. It’s hard when this character is getting applause but you’re not getting applause, you’re just the guy behind the thing.”

That’s how it was for Trey Mock, once. That’s not how it is anymore. In his next breath, he tells me about Karen.

I remember: ’This feels different

This was 2010, the offseason, which can be the busiest time for a mascot who cares. And Trey Mock cares. On this day he had seven appearances scheduled when he heard about someone named Karen. That’s all he knew about her: Karen. Well, he knew something else. She had cancer. It was terminal.

Karen’s dream was to get into Lucas Oil Stadium with her family, walk the field, throw footballs, maybe meet Blue. Five minutes, someone with the Colts was asking Mock. Can you give Karen five minutes?

Trey shows up at the stadium, goes to the service level and explodes out of the tunnel, Blue in all his glory, and bounds onto the field.

“I see the family,” he says. “Two little girls are there, like 4 and 12, and I’m quickly trying to figure out which one is Karen, but I realize Karen was the mom. Every time they pass the stadium, the girls would say, ‘Mom, that’s where Blue lives.’ I thought if I could create the perfect day for the family, that would be amazing.”

Five minutes became two hours.

“We threw touchdown passes, we danced, we took pictures,” he says. “The thing I remember most was their mother is facing this awful disease, but the two hours I spent with them was nothing but joy and love and laughter – and this feeling, this entire feeling, had overflowed into everybody else that was there. We were swept up in it.

“I went on and did the rest of my appearances that day, but I remember thinking: ’This feels different.’ The next day I woke up thinking about the family and still had this full heart. I’d been to Super Bowls, led the team out of the tunnel, bungee-jumped out of a balloon and driven an Indy car around the city. Why is this day different? I couldn’t figure it out.”

In the next breath, he tells me about Angie.

'Don’t let go of this hug'

It’s more than six months later, late in the 2010 season, the Colts’ final regular-season game. They’re playing Tennessee on Jan. 2, 2011, and Blue’s there making his roly-poly magic. He’s in the end zone, firing T-shirts into the crowd, when an Indiana State Trooper gets his attention. There’s a woman in the 13th row, the trooper is telling Mock, begging to see you.

This happens from time to time – he’s one of the Beatles around Lucas Oil Stadium, and not George or Ringo – and Mock can’t accommodate every request.

“But for whatever reason,” he says, “I put down the T-shirt cannon, climb into the crowd and start going up the aisle. I get to Row 6, and she sees me.”

They make eye contact, Blue and this tiny woman on the 13th row, and now she’s climbing over chairs to get to him. “Oh no,” Mock remembers thinking, “who is this woman? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?”

He’s still wondering when she gets to the end of Row 6 and wraps her arms around Blue. She’s hugging him, and she’s crying. Mock doesn’t know what’s happening, he doesn’t know why, but he knows one thing:

“No matter what happens,” he’s thinking, “don’t let go of this hug.”

She’s hugging Blue and Blue’s hugging her and now this tiny woman is talking into Blue’s ear.

“Blue,” she says, “you don’t me, but you do know my daughter, Karen. I wanted to thank you, and wanted to let you know Karen passed away.”

They’re still hugging and now Trey Mock is crying, and this woman – she says her name is Angie – starts consoling him.

“No, no,” she’s saying into his ear. “I want to thank you. I’ll never be able to repay you for what you gave my family.”

Angie lets go of Blue, sending him back to the field, to the spotlight, and sends him away with a gift: A pin on his jersey, a pin with Karen’s name. After the game, sitting in the locker room alone, Mock’s looking at that pin and thinking about Angie and what she’d said.

“And it hits me,” he says. “She said, ‘I’ll never be able to repay you for what you gave my family.’ The word was gave. My entire career, I was taught to get laughs and get applause. I needed to take something from you. What I realized was the greatest thing I can do with my platform is give – give my time, give people the opportunity to laugh and find joy. It sounds like such a small flip of the switch, but boy did it change the character’s trajectory and my heart forever.

“When I’m in costume now, and someone hugs me, I’m not going to let go first. Some fans hold on for several minutes, and they’ll start speaking: 'I don't always feel loved, but I do right now,' or, ‘I’ve not been hugged in forever, thank you for this.' It’s 2024 and I’m going on my 19th season, and not a day goes by or a hug goes by where I don’t think about Karen and her family and how they changed my life.”

Trey pauses again. In the next breath, he tells me about his dad.

Colts call; Blue says no

It’s early 2006, and Mock’s done with being a mascot. Two years earlier he’d left Auburn for the Falcons, then the Bills, but he was done. The emptiness he’d referenced earlier, remember? It’s hitting him in 2006.

“Maybe I’m just not a good performer,” he’s thinking. “Maybe I’m not meant for this.”

Mock moves back to Atlanta to live with his parents until the spring semester starts. He was going back to Auburn to finish his degree – he’d always wanted to be an architect – when the Colts call. The team, rolling with Peyton Manning, was starting a mascot program and heard Mock’s name from folks around the league. Thanks, he tells the Colts, but no thanks. I’m enrolled at school.

“They said, ‘OK, well, if you change your mind, portfolios are due Friday morning,’” Mock remembers. “This was a Monday. ‘No, I’m good.’ I hung up the phone, and my mom had a sketch pad out. I sketched out Blue as you see him today and faxed it to the Colts: ‘Thank you for the offer. I think this is the design you should go with – good luck in your process.’

“I crumpled it up and threw it away in the trash bin in Dad’s office.”

On Thursday evening Mock walks into the kitchen and sees no food on the table, just his drawing of Blue. His dad had found it, smoothed it out and put it there.

“I sit down, and this wave hit me: I should’ve tried out,” he says. “I lifted my head in tears and told my parents: ‘I made a huge mistake.’”

Mock’s parents tell him there’s still time, but they don’t get it. The portfolio is due the next morning. In Indianapolis. And this is 2006, before digital portfolios. The Colts needed it handed to them.

Mock’s dad tells him to go upstairs, get whatever’s in that portfolio.

“I went up, get my stuff and come back down,” Mock says. “Dad wasn’t in the kitchen. ‘Mom, where’s Dad?’ She tells me to go outside. I walk out and Dad’s in his truck. My father…”

Mock pauses. He’s softly crying as he tells this.

“My father drove me more than an hour in rush-hour traffic to Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta,” he says, “and we put my portfolio on a FedEx plane. I got a call the next morning from the Colts: ‘Did you change your mind?’"

Viral Moment of the Year for Blue's son

More than 350 games, including two Super Bowls. More than 2,400 trips to schools around the state. Indiana has 92 counties, and Blue has been to every one of them. He was in London when the Colts played there in 2016, and in Germany in 2023, and he was in Okinawa in 2006 when Colts owner Jim Irsay sent his brand new mascot, 12 cheerleaders and other team officials on a three-week tour of Japan and Hawaii. One of the cheerleaders was Alison Justice, a coal miner’s daughter from Eastern Kentucky. Trey met Alison in Okinawa in 2006. They’ve been married 16 years.

Alison’s last game as a cheerleader was the 2010 Super Bowl against New Orleans. Today she teaches second grade and does the heavy lifting at home while Trey is traveling the state.

“If you want to point to the success of this,” he says of the Colts’ wildly popular mascot program, “point all the fingers at her.”

They have two kids, Gunnar (11) and Tegan (8). Gunnar joined his dad on the field last season against Tampa Bay, and the kid’s a natural – helping his dad create what the NFL Mascot Summit voted “Viral Moment of the Year,” a Colts field goal attempt that clanged off an upright as Blue and his sidekick, Junior Blue, fainted and lay motionless under the goalposts.

That trophy is at home in Gunnar’s room. More than a dozen other trophies and plaques clutter Trey Mock’s office at the Colts’ complex on 56th Street, including NFL Mascot of the Year awards in 2016, ’19 and ’23, and his 2020 Mascot Hall of Fame induction plaque. They’re serving as doorstops and clothes hangers as Mock sits for a phone call, sharing one of his philosophies about this job, and this life.

“A wise person once said: ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today,’” Mock says. “My hope is that we’re planting trees now that provide shade of love and respect and appreciation that people enjoy for...”

A noise stops him mid-sentence.

“Sorry,” he says. “That’s our rubber chicken going off in the background. That’s the most mascot statement ever.”

For years, as the trophies and plaques have mounted, people have asked how long he’ll do this.

“Long enough for my kids to be Junior Blue,” he’s always answered, and Gunnar made it into the pint-sized costume last season. Tegan will be Junior Blue this season.

Blue has more than 8 million followers on TikTok, nearly 3 million more than any North American mascot, and in 2023 won his third NFL Anchor of the Community award. He served as the face of the Indiana Donor Network and the Indiana Blood Center, provided Christmas gifts for 12 families in need, and led the franchise’s 21 Days of Kindness initiative. That was Blue, showing up at random places to pick up the bill for families at gas stations and grocery stores, at drive-thru restaurants, at shoe stores.

Just another year for the fluffy blue horse, and the community showed up in force June 14 to celebrate his birthday at the Children’s Museum. Before the night is over, the card on the fence has hundreds of personal notes.

I love you Blue, writes Kinsey.

bLue is the best, says one.

HABEC, says another.

The notes are for Blue, but they are for Trey Mock too. His is the face behind the mask, and the heart beating inside the mascot. Superman and Clark Kent? They are one. They are the same.

HABEC, Blue. Same goes for you, Trey.

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at@GreggDoyelStaror atwww.facebook.com/greggdoyelstar.

More:Join the text conversation with sports columnist Gregg Doyel for insights, reader questions and Doyel'speeks behind the curtain.

Meet Trey Mock, the face behind Blue's mask and the giant heart beating inside the mascot (2024)

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