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Steve Cohen’s Tenure as College Mascot Fueled Political Career

Courtesy Rep. Steve Cohen
A photo of Louisiana State University standout and NBA Hall of Famer Pete Maravich shaking hands with then-student Steve Cohen hangs in the Congressman’s office. Cohen was elected as the Vanderbilt University mascot in 1969 and met many great athletes.

“I had never been a cheerleader in my life, but I was like a duck to water. I took the [microphone], led the cheers, gave speeches,” he said.

And he kept up morale. Cohen said he remembers a particularly rough football game at Tulane University in 1969 where he had to work to improve the spirits of even Vanderbilt’s chancellor.

“It was cold, drizzling rain, and there were very few people there from either Tulane or Vanderbilt,” he said. 

Fans were sparse, Vanderbilt fans sparser, filling only a portion of the stadium up to the 20th row. It looked like Vanderbilt had no chance. But Cohen, true to Mr. C form, held out hope for the team.

“I was sitting next to our chancellor, and I said to him, ‘We’re gonna win the game,’” he remembered.

And Vanderbilt did, 26-23. His morale-boosting efforts did not go unnoticed — he received a letter from the chancellor a few weeks later, commending him for his optimism.

But there were times when being Mr. C wasn’t so glum. When Vanderbilt beat the University of Alabama in 1969 — even though it seemed that there was no way Vanderbilt was going to compete — Cohen remembers the celebration being outstanding.

“After the game, I went around my frat and to other parties, and everyone wanted to wear the [mascot] hat,” he said.

As Mr. C, Cohen also got to meet some of the best college athletes of the time. When Pete Maravich, a five-time NBA all-star player and then a student at Louisiana State University, came to play the Commodores, Cohen couldn’t help but be starstruck.

“When he came in with his team to scope the court, I asked if he wouldn’t pause for a second when we shook hands so I could get a picture,” he said. 

That picture — Cohen in his white jacket and gold epaulets, shaking Maravich’s hand — hangs on the wall of his Longworth office.

Cohen relinquished the Mr. C uniform upon graduating, but his time as Vanderbilt’s mascot has stuck with him since, even informing his political career.

“It taught me about politics, campaigning, taking a demographic route that’s not always solicited,” he said.

But, most significantly, it got him accustomed to speaking in front of crowds in a way that would prepare him to speak on the House floor today. Cohen said his time as Mr. C gave him the confidence he needed to pursue his political aspirations.

“It helped me overcome being nervous” when speaking in public, he said.

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