Rameses XXII: From the farm to the football field

By Audrey Selley

Three hours before the game. Six miles from the doors to Kenan Memorial Stadium, Otis is swarmed by family and friends in a frenzy to get him polished and prepped for his awaited appearance, first at the UNC Bell Tower for pictures and autographs, then on the field at the stadium.

Every UNC student knows Otis, but they don’t know they do. The 3-year-old, 225-lb hunk of wool could easily pass as any other sheep — except for the handmade, monogrammed blanket wrapped around him and the paint on his horns (which sticks on for months like fingernail polish), both Carolina blue.

As soon as Otis barrels out of the stadium’s tunnel and onto the field, he transforms into Rameses. The booming from the cannon, fans screaming and the band’s fight song are so loud they vibrate the field underneath him, the same field his predecessors have run across for one hundred years.

Rameses’ roots

Behind it all is the Hogan family, with roots in Orange County stronger than Otis’ horns. Henry Hogan began Carolina’s live mascot tradition back in the 1920s as a way to emulate the star quarterback of the UNC Football team, Jack Merritt, who was known as the “battering ram.”

Back then, the Lake Hogan Farm was the name of his dairy farm and not a real estate development. There were more than 50 family farms in the area instead of the handful left today, and store-bought food, not farm-grown food, was a luxury. 

Otis made his debut as Rameses XXII during the 2021 football season, following in the steps of Rameses XXI, who spent a decade on the throne.  

Out of earshot from the Bell Tower and away from the hustle and bustle of UNC’s campus, Otis enjoys his tranquil reprieve at Hogan’s Magnolia View Farm in Carrboro, where the sounds of cicadas and wind provide a welcome solace from the 50,000 screaming people and stadium fireworks.

Until it was sold in the mid-1990s, every Rameses lived on Lake Hogan Farm along with a hodgepodge of cows, horses, pigs, chickens and dogs. Hogan’s Magnolia View Farm was initially where the Hogans grew food for the animals at Lake Hogan Farm, but now it’s where the few remaining farm animals, including Otis, live.

Chris Hogan, Henry’s grandson and one of the fourth-generation caretakers of Rameses, grew up on Lake Hogan Farm. Chris remembers loading up Rameses in a pick-up truck on every Saturday home game and driving to the stadium, holding him steady in the back alongside Chris’ cousins and siblings.

“It’s always fun when we take him slowly through Carrboro and then down Main Street and Franklin Street with all the blowing horns, and everybody’s just hooting and hollering and having a good time,” Chris said.

Times were less strict then. Anyone who managed to place a hand on Rameses while he ran through the tunnel was allowed to stay with him on the field, and now only four people are allowed.

To the Hogan family, it’s a family tradition more than a UNC tradition. To this day, flocks of family and friends gather at the farm hours before the game. Everyone takes a turn to paint his horns (endearingly now deemed “Hogan Blue” by the local hardware store).

At the Bell Tower, a line quickly forms where little kids jump up and down waiting for their turn to touch Otis and get a picture like he’s Santa Claus.

“I don’t care if you’re two or 92, the first thing you do when you see him is smile,” Chris said.

Straying from the pack

Instead of hailing from the farm lineage like previous Rameses, Otis is from a breeder in Virginia. He’s one of the few horned dorset sheep left in the U.S., because more and more wool breeders remove the sheep’s horns.  

While fans are used to the golden-retriever-like friendliness of Otis, past mascots haven’t all been as fluffy and warm as their wool. Horned dorset sheep are known to be an aggressive breed.

Hugging and petting Rameses and getting photographs with him wasn’t even a thing for earlier mascots. Some who were so belligerent they had to be chained up during games.

The key to Otis’ congenial, easygoing nature? He grew up without other male dorset sheep around. This was intentional, because male dorsets can be competitive and aggressive with each other.

“While they are domesticated, they’re not pets. Otis has done wonderful, but he knows exactly what those horns are for. It doesn’t take but a flick of his head to hurt somebody,” Chris said.

Anytime he’s invited to alumni events, fraternity houses or parties, his appearance unleashes an electric energy in the room, as kids, students, and alumni of all ages become one, brought together by an unspoken connection to Otis.

The tension in traditions 

But being in the spotlight also draws some unwanted attention. 

As kids, Chris and his cousins would sleep in the barn before rival home games, hide themselves in the hay and keep quiet. They propped their BB guns up on the hay barrels for a good aim if they caught any potential ram-nappers.

One time, a group of Duke fraternity brothers successfully stole Rameses and spray-painted ‘Duke’ on his wool before a football game (thankfully the blanket covered it up).

Another time, some students from an out-of-state school tried to sneak up on Rameses in broad daylight. But Chris, laughing, said he snuck up on them first.

“It was all in good spirit. And that’s what all this is about and why we do it, just team spirit and having fun,” Chris said. “It’s just always a wholesome event, where people of all ages can touch and hug him and get pictures with him.”

Continuing the Rameses tradition is also a way for the Hogan family to expose an increasingly urbanized and developed Orange County to the small part of family farming that remains.

“There’s a real disconnect with the agriculture community and the urban community, and that’s all part of what this is about too, keeping that connection,” Chris said. “It’s really very important. My family is a perfect example of it. I mean, there’s nobody that’s going to go back into farming. It’s just not feasible financially to do it.”

Since it began, the Rameses tradition has stayed constant for the Hogan family — a reminder that some things never change, and you always have your home to fall back on.

Like the paint on Otis’ horns, some things just stay the same.

Edited by Emily Gajda and Annie Gibson


Veteran becomes first Green on NC ballot for US Senate

By Kyle Ingram

“I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on, I’ll be mad.” 

This quote from 13th century poet Rumi, a mantra learned after over a decade of working within a system at the expense of his own morals, is tattooed in a circle of Arabic over Matthew Hoh’s heart. 

Running as a Green in North Carolina (or anywhere in the country) is certainly not a prudent choice — but Hoh, disillusioned from decades of failures by Republican and Democratic administrations, is unwilling to pursue any other path.

After a highly public resignation from the State Department, intensive counseling for PTSD and the disastrous end to the war he lost so much to, Hoh is the first ever Green Party candidate to make it on the ballot for U.S. Senate in North Carolina. 

From Iraq to Afghanistan

Although he was active in leftist communities throughout his early adulthood, Hoh wasn’t always the anti-war activist he is today. When he joined up with the Marine Corps in 1998, he thought he could do good in the military. 

He rose ranks quickly and found himself working for the State Department in 2004 with a reconstruction and governance team in Iraq. 

Hoh was working on a project to rebuild athletics facilities and youth centers and was given a $20 million budget. But only a few weeks into the planning phases, he was told that money would be redirected to security. 

It ended up going to militias, just as the Iraqi civil war was beginning. 

“$20 million buys a lot of Kalashnikovs and RPGs,” Hoh said, grimacing. 

By the end of his first year, Hoh no longer believed in the government’s mission, but he thought he could at least do some good by saving lives as a commander. 

But after another year, Hoh was suffering from severe depression and alcohol misuse. When he was offered a job as a political officer in Afghanistan, he had no illusions that it would be any different than Iraq. 

“My attitude was like ‘it’s better I die over there than just die here,’” he said. 

Though the Obama administration had promised to handle things differently, Hoh saw the same pointlessness and political motivation.

“You had that type of arrogance and chutzpah, if you will, this hubris that ‘because we’re not Republicans, we’re going to do it better,’” he said. 

Then came the final straw that made him leave behind what could have been a promising career in civil service. In September 2009, in the Zabul province of Afghanistan, he received an email from his dad. 

“If you don’t believe in this,” his father wrote, “then what are you doing?”

Over the course of several weeks, he drafted a four-page resignation letter.

“Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time,” Hoh wrote, “The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made.” 

Nearly two weeks after submitting his resignation and resisting the government’s repeated attempts to convince him to stay, Hoh flew home. Upon his return, most of his possessions were still in storage, but his resignation letter was in his pocket. 

After the Resignation

While watching Monday Night Football at a Virginia bar, the bartender introduced Hoh to the man next to him, an editor at the Washington Post. 

Eight hours of interviews later, Hoh’s story, as written by Karen DeYoung, was on the front page of the Post. 

The following few weeks were Hoh’s “big celebrity moment,” as he remembers it. He appeared on The Today Show, spoke with Fareed Zakaria on CNN and fielded 75 media requests in one day. 

But eventually, the attention died down.

The war did not end, and Hoh was left to deal with PTSD, alcoholism and a traumatic brain injury. Those days, after the initial shock and media frenzy of his resignation died down, were some of the darkest of Hoh’s life. 

“It gets to the point where I’ve gone from trying to drink myself to death to I’ve actively got a suicide plan,” he said. 

Hoh’s then-girlfriend helped get him into counseling. He stopped his anti-war work and moved to North Carolina to be with his family. He spent a few years distanced from anything to do with his past life: working the front desk at a YMCA or spending a few months as a car salesman. 

He couldn’t stay away forever, though. 

Turning Green

By 2014, Hoh was a member of Veterans for Peace, protesting the war. His activism expanded — a few years later he was arrested protesting the construction of the DAPL pipeline through indigenous lands. He was losing his faith in the ability to make any change via conventional means. 

“I started to have the understanding that you really have to be outside to effect change, and you have to put that pressure on a system where it hurts,” he said. 

It takes a mindset like that to decide to run for the U.S. Senate as a Green Party candidate. 

The N.C. Green Party had a massive uphill challenge ahead of them just to get on the ballot in 2022. Tony Ndege, the party’s co-chair, said they needed a candidate who could energize people — 13,865 people, to be exact — the amount of petition signatures required to make the Greens an official party in the state. 

“I was hoping that with his background, he would be able to bring in another layer of recognition, but also excitement about getting on the ballot,” Ndege said. 

It worked, though not without a series of well-funded legal challenges from the state and national Democratic party. 

Hoh is aware the race is more than a long shot. 

“If someone like Matt really wanted to increase his political ambitions, there were better ways to do it than this,” Rose Roby, Hoh’s campaign manager said.

It’s not really about winning, though. For Hoh, this may be the first time he’s ever been able to act fully in accordance with what he believes, the first time he can make the things he cares about front and center without equivocation. 

“I’ve disavowed my principles, my values, I’ve allowed my agency to be used for others’ purposes  — even when I didn’t fully agree with it,” he said. “I think that’s brought me here.”

Edited by Emily Gajda and Annie Gibson