On any given Saturday at the University of Michigan in the fall, students flood to the Big House for a game of football, filling the Ann Arbor streets with a rousing chorus of the University’s fight song, “The Victors.” But during media timeouts, fans can hear calls for a different type of victor: Victor The Frisbee Dog. Victor has joined the Wolverines on the field at every single game so far this season, catching frisbees seamlessly and effortlessly. Though the 4-year-old black Labrador has quickly become a canine celebrity on campus, many students do not know who Victor is when he’s not being ‘The Frisbee Dog.’
U-M alum Bruce Lee is Victor’s owner and the man who throws the bright yellow frisbee across the field to Victor every game day. Lee told The Michigan Daily that he has a long history with U-M football. Beginning when he was 12 years old, Lee said he started going to the Big House to watch games with his family, many of whom graduated from the University. Since 2007, Lee and his family have had football season tickets, but in 2020 Lee wanted to start bringing his young, energetic pup to campus for game days.
At that time, Lee said he and Victor would play with a frisbee in front of Lee’s house near Traverse City several times a day. They didn’t have a crowd of over 100,000 people watching them back then, just Lee’s wife and children, who would watch Victor chase the frisbee back and forth across their yard.
“I was throwing for him (twice a day), which is kind of a lot of time to be standing there doing that,” Lee said. “I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if U of M would ever want a dog involved with catching frisbees at any of their events.’ So, I looked up, on the internet, phone numbers in the Athletic Department. I found a likely phone number. I thought it was sort of a silly idea to call, but I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll give it a try.’ ”
Once he got into contact with the University Athletics Department, Lee decided to send videos of Victor performing his frisbee routine on a local high school football field to the Fan Experience department, who got to decide whether Victor could join the Wolverines on the field. That was where Victor hit his first obstacle — artificial turf.
“I went to the local football field … to get some video and found out immediately Victor did not like artificial turf,” Lee said. “But with short throws and a little time, he got over that real quick.”
After Victor got used to running on turf, the University invited him to make his Big House debut during the 2021 pep rally for new students. Lee said Victor was not fazed by the 4,000-person crowd or the large stadium and caught almost every frisbee that was thrown his way — much to the excitement of the crowd.
However, the Athletic Department did not have a spot for Victor and Lee during the 2021 football season. The University reached back out in 2022 when Victor’s presence was requested at the University of Connecticut versus Michigan football game, which became Victor’s first chance to impress a full crowd of Wolverine fans. Based on the reaction at that game, the Athletic Department would ultimately decide whether Victor would return to the Big House.
“So we did that Connecticut game, and then it was up to the Athletic Department,” Lee said. “It’s (about) what fits in their program for the day as far as what they need to have in their media timeouts. If they say, ‘This is a good game for Victor, we can fit him in. Would you like to come?’ We say yes every time. Last year it was only three games, but this year they said they could take Victor every game.”
Ever since the Connecticut game, Victor has become some fans’ favorite part of the football season. Lee said students and visitors alike often stop him on the street and ask to take pictures with Victor while tailgating or en route to the Big House.
“The normal 10-minute walk from the stadium back to our tailgate spot now takes almost two hours because fans want to stop and say hi to Victor and pet him and get their picture taken with him,” Lee said. “We love it.”
Once it’s getting close to game day, Lee said he and his wife now take separate cars on the 4-hour commute to Ann Arbor to make sure the black Lab celebrity has a comfortable ride. One of their cars holds items necessary for the family’s weekly tailgate while the other car is just for Victor, his crate and all his gameday accessories, including a cooler full of water to keep him cool during the game.
When Victor is off the field, he spends time at home with his family, and he and Lee still play frisbee in the yard together as much as they can. Lee, who works as a dentist, said when he comes home from work, Victor is usually lounging around the house with his older brother, Rocko, who is not as interested in frisbee. Lee said Victor particularly enjoys going to the beach and playing frisbee in the water.
Engineering junior Tobi Farbstein said she has seen Victor at football games and tailgates this season, including a tailgate Lee’s family hosted. Farbstein said she loves Victor’s ability to unite everyone in the stadium the moment he takes the field. Regardless of what team they are cheering for, Farbstein said, there isn’t a single person in the stadium who isn’t rooting for Victor the Frisbee Dog.
“Last week, we weren’t doing so great (against Rutgers at the beginning of the game), but then they brought Victor out and everyone started cheering from both teams,” Farbstein said. “I think it’s one of those times where you can see everyone in the stadium cheering.”
As a result of Victor’s rise to fame, Lee’s family recently started selling Victor-themed merchandise and donating some of the proceeds to charity. The pop-up sales, which are announced on Victor’s Instagram page, often occur around campus in the days leading up to football games with a portion of the proceeds going to animal rescue nonprofits across southeast Michigan. Farbstein said she bought a hat with Victor’s furry face embroidered on it and was happy to know that her purchase was supporting a good cause.
“I like that the family has recently made some merch with Victor’s face on it and give the proceeds to charity,” Farbstein said. “They give students a discount (and normally) sell them for like $25 a hat and $20 if you’re a student.”
Lee said the Athletics Department has not yet confirmed whether or not Victor will be back for the 2024 football season. Lee said he and Victor are more than happy to keep entertaining the stadium for as long as they can.
“We don’t know the Athletic Department’s take on (continuing the performances),” Lee said. “We would definitely be interested. We enjoy helping people pass the time during media timeouts … as we all know that media timeouts can be pretty dreadful to sit around and wait for when you’re a fan in the stadium.”
In spite of the large crowds and loud atmosphere of the Big House, Lee said Victor never seems nervous to go on the field and play. Instead, Lee said Victor is excited to do his favorite activity and is proud that Victor is making such an impact on the U-M football community.
“It’s so funny that Victor doesn’t feel (nervous),” Lee said. “He’s just there playing frisbee and he doesn’t even realize how big of a deal it is. To him, it’s just a field. … We think it’s really neat that Victor can do a small part in enhancing people’s game day experience.”
LSA junior Sabrina Sugg has been watching Victor on the field since the beginning of the 2023 season and also attended the tailgate Lee’s family hosted. Sugg said she has tried to explain the excitement the crowd feels when Victor comes out during media timeouts to her family, but there are no words to properly express the enthusiasm fans feel from the simple pleasure of watching a dog catch a frisbee.
“You’ll be in the stands and everybody’s on the same page with how entertaining this is,” Sugg said. “We’re all students. A lot of us do have dogs at home and we miss our family dogs … (At the game,) the energy is high already, (and Victor) just raises the energy level even more.”
Daily News Editor Rachel Mintz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.