SEATTLE (AP) — R?yan Asdourian can walk down the?halls of his office building on Microsoft’s Redmond campus and nary a head will turn.
Put him in his Sunday outfit, though, and heads pop out of offices, smartphone cameras appear and one person after another stops to greet him — especially in these days of Seahawks playoff fever.
Such is the double life of Asdourian, 32, a Microsoft employee who is also the man inside the costume of “Blitz,” the Seattle Seahawks mascot.
Most days of the year, Asdourian, a 10-year Microsoft veteran, works on getting developers to create apps for the Windows platform. He’s also become a go-to guy for product demos and presentations at company events, most recently at Microsoft’s annual shareholders meeting last November.
On game-day Sundays and for charity events, Asdourian dons the blue fuzzy-headed, big-beaked Blitz costume, which adds muscular padding and 3 inches to his already 6-foot-tall frame. His weekday presentation patter goes silent while his physical antics grow bolder and bigger.
“When I’m in the costume, there is a character for Blitz,” Asdourian said in an interview this week at his Microsoft office. “You transform.”
Blitz, he said, “is the Seahawks’ biggest fan. He pumps up the crowd, loves kids, loves to be goofy, has a lot of fun. You’re excited and you’re representative of the team, so you end up walking a little bit differently, carrying that excitement with you.”
Asdourian, who has been Blitz since 2006, was revealed to the public as the man behind the mask several years ago when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer mentioned it while both men were presenting at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Since then, Asdourian’s personal life has crossed over with his Blitz persona a bit more as he, with the Seahawks’ support, started Team Blitz to raise money for research and education on multiple sclerosis. Asdourian was diagnosed with MS in 2008.
And he was recently featured on a Microsoft website that highlights interesting employees and projects.
But, clearly, not all employees had heard of Asdourian’s double life.
Earlier this week, as Asdourian strode through the lobby of his Microsoft office building in full Blitz gear on his way to a photo shoot, a co-worker excitedly stopped him, hoping for a photograph.
“We have a huge party this weekend,” Mike Morton, a senior program manager with Visual Studio, told Blitz as they posed for the photo. “This is going to be the bomb!”
Morton later expressed surprise when his manager told him Blitz was actually a Microsoft employee. He had assumed the mascot was a member of the Seahawks back-office staff.
“I thought: ‘Dude! That’s totally cool!’?” said Morton, who plans to print copies of the photo and hang them all over his house this weekend.
Began as a Gator
Asdourian grew up watching football with his family in Florida. But it wasn’t until he got to the University of Florida, where his roommate was a cheerleader, that Asdourian gave any thought to being a mascot.
“It looks like a lot of fun,” he remembers thinking.
He auditioned — and thus began four years (in rotation with a few other students) as the University of Florida’s Albert E. Gator.
His Microsoft connection began with internships at the company while he was studying for a computer-science degree. He returned to Microsoft after graduation, starting as a software test engineer for Office.
As he worked in various positions and divisions within the company — including as a senior product manager for Windows and in marketing — he gained a reputation as a good showman.
He has since presented at CES, shareholders meetings, and at various events when Windows 8 launched.
“I love the excitement of any crowd, whether at the Seahawks stadium or at our shareholders meeting,” he said.
Asdourian landed the Blitz job after contacting the Seahawks about a year after arriving in Seattle.
His predecessor had decided to pursue other opportunities, said Suzanne Lavender, spokeswoman for the Seahawks.
“The mascot community is relatively small, so word had gotten out that we were interviewing,” Lavender said.
Asdourian interviewed out of costume and auditioned in costume.
“He had experience and he had an exuberance,” Lavender said of why the team chose Asdourian. “He’s really helped define the character — very welcoming, exuberant, fun-loving.”
Asdourian has a certain routine he likes to follow before each game.
“I walk around the field at least once before getting into costume to get the excitement,” he said. “I totally feed off the fans’ energy. The more excited they get, the more excited I get, which excites them. We feed off each other.”
And definitely during the playoffs, he said, “you feel a lot of energy.”
In general, Asdourian keeps quiet about his Blitz gig.
When he met his future wife, Lucy, for instance, it was their mutual friends who told her he was Blitz.
“When they told her that, she said: ‘No, you’re not. They’re lying,’?” Asdourian recalls.
One arena in which he’s very public about being Blitz is in fundraising for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Asdourian sits on the board of the Greater Northwest chapter of the society.
MS is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system. There is no cure and symptoms can range from numbness in the limbs to loss of balance to paralysis or vision loss.
After Asdourian was diagnosed with the disease about five years ago, he formed Team Blitz, raising money for the society through its annual MS Walk and a pub crawl that he hosts.
In the past four years the team has raised a total of $300,000, and Asdourian has just started his fifth year of fundraising.
Raising the MS flag
The NFL’s 26 mascots, for whom Asdourian created a Listserv, are all good friends, he says. Three years ago, 11 of them came to support Asdourian in the MS Walk. This year, Asdourian is hoping to get all 26 in Seattle for the walk on April 13.
He is also organizing a fifth annual pub crawl fundraiser to take place April 12 in Belltown.
Last year’s pub crawl attracted 450 people and raised $23,000.
Asdourian says that while he has some symptoms, “I feel quite lucky and blessed that nothing has really affected either one of my jobs.”
It’s absolutely exciting to be a part of this extraordinary Seahawks season and its push toward the conference championship, Asdourian said.
But he treasures just as much “these magical moments when — whether it’s meeting kids or meeting members of our military or being on the field during a game, hearing the noise of the crowd — any and all of those things really make it the most exciting thing in the world.”