Robert Shook knows how to pump up a crowd. As Storm Man, the mascot for the Melbourne Storm NRL team, the former stuntman, now a juggling and acrobatics teacher, has a fan-rousing weapon tucked up the sleeve of his muscle suit: he can cheer out loud. Unlike other mascots – most of whom are voiceless wild animals or birds of prey – Shook earned the right to speak up to match supporters in his third season as Storm Man, back in 2005. "Being able to talk allows me to engage with the fans more – and be a bit of a stand-up comedian," he says.
Like all football mascots, Storm Man has had his share of dignity-destroying moments, including being booed, yelled at, and occasionally punched. He's also been at the receiving end of a flying beer can or two, for which he's had to call security. Then there are the kids who like to poke and prod his padded muscles. "They think I'm like a big teddy bear. One even ran up and jumped on my shoulders, causing me to stumble." What did he do? "I put on my deepest Clint Eastwood voice, and said, 'Don't do that.'"
The first rule of mascot club, says Shook, is to have a big, open-hearted love of your team. The second is to rouse the competitive mojo of your supporters. "We're blue-collar entertainers," observes Shook. "I have to be at one with the Storm fans." Nothing beats the adrenalin rush of getting onto the field before a game – Storm Man is known for hooning about on a quad bike – or doing the victory lap after it. "There is an energy in a live stadium that you don't get anywhere else," enthuses the father of three.
Storm Man's hand-stitched costume costs more than $12,000 to make (he has gone through four since beginning the job 16 years ago) and he says it's among the most user-friendly costumes of all the mascots. "It allows me to move about easily."
Shook, who grew up in Illinois and met his Australian-born wife while working in Germany, moved to our shores in 1998 and fell in love with rugby league shortly afterwards. "I've got the best seat in the house for every game," he says. "What could be better?"