Being Pistol Pete: All have big boots to fill, but for one, he simply wanted to be like his dad
The father and son were sitting in the stands above what was then Lewis Field, watching an Oklahoma State football game when Mark Whitlaw motioned toward the Cowboys’ iconic mascot.
“I was Pistol Pete,” Mark said.
“No you weren’t!” Preston retorted.
After seeing pictures and memorabilia verifying his father’s claim, Preston knew he wanted to be Pistol Pete. He wanted to wear the head and chaps and spurs. He wanted to embody one of college athletics’ most recognizable mascots.
But as much as anything, he wanted to follow in his dad’s bootsteps.
Through 60 years of Pistol Pete – Frank Eaton’s “Pistol Pete” and Cowboys nickname were unofficial at OSU for nearly 35 years before the 1958-59 school year — the reasons young men have wanted to become Pete are almost as numerous as those who wore the head. Some thought it would be cool to represent a school they love. Some wanted to give back. Others have more personal reasons.
Preston Whitlaw wanted to be like his dad.
Mark Whitlaw was selected as Pistol Pete in 1974. In those days, there was a main Pete who filled most of the duties — games, appearances, functions, on campus, around the state, in other states — then there was a back-up Pete who stood in when the main Pete had a conflict.
Mark was an alternate at first, but the next year, he became the main Pete.
“I wasn’t athletic enough to play sports, but I wanted to do something” for the university, Mark said. “OSU means a lot to me.”
And he did as much as any Pistol Pete in those days. When his back-up was forced to step away from his duties, Mark was left with the entire load during the 1975-76 academic year.
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He made nearly 300 appearances as Pete during his senior year.
But he loved every bit of it, and that enthusiasm came across when Mark shared his stories with Preston. It only made the son more determined to follow his father.
When Preston got to OSU in 2012, he tried out as a freshman. He knew he faced long odds; most of the Pistol Petes are upperclassmen with impressive resumes and established credentials.
Preston didn’t make the cut.
Didn’t make it the next year either.
The selection committee is composed of former Pistol Petes, so they were aware of Preston’s lineage. They thought it was great he was trying to follow in Mark’s footsteps and be a Pete.
“But they weren’t going to hand it over if they didn’t think I was capable,” Preston said.
His junior year, they decided he was ready.
The first person Preston called was his dad.
“I guarantee you, he was way more excited than I was, which is hard to do because I was pretty over the moon,” Preston said. “I think he told twice as many people as I did.”
Preston cherished every moment during his two years as Pistol Pete. Doing his first football game at JerryWorld when OSU played Florida State. Putting the head on Lee Corso before the Bedlam football game in 2015. Going to weddings. Being the surprise at birthday parties.
“Nothing beats bustin’ through a door and firin’ off that pistol when nobody knows you’re coming,” Preston said.
“The great thing is, you can laugh because nobody knows you’re laughing inside that head.”
But of his 600-plus appearances as Pete — now, there are two Pistol Petes who share duties equally — the very best thing Preston did was visit people in the hospital. Kids. Adults. Pistol Pete is a regular at hospitals, but being able to provide a ray of sunshine in dark moments is something Preston never took for granted.
He knew from his dad being Pistol Pete would be a unique experience, but it was even better than he dreamed.
Not just then but always.
“It is something that my dad and I will be able to share,” Preston said, “for the rest of our lives.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.