Only a few select super fans are wild and crazy enough to become as famous as the athletes they cheer for, such as the New York Jets’ “Fireman Ed” and Duke’s “Speedo Guy.”
“Wild Bill” can now be added to that list, and perhaps no fan has ever captured our imagination quite like him.
You probably don’t know which team he roots for and you certainly don’t know his real name, but if you’re a sports fan, you’ve undoubtedly seen a clip of Utah State fanatic Bill Sproat on TV or YouTube in the last year.
He’s the large, half-naked student that stands behind the basket at Aggie home games and distracts opposing free-throw shooters with his ridiculous costumes that look like he’s come straight from trick-or-treating without a shirt on.
“I love to be as close to naked as possible without going to jail,” Sproat said.
He most recently made headlines by dressing up as the teapot from the “Beauty and the Beast” during a Feb. 2nd game against Nevada, one of the many Disney characters he’s portrayed in the last two seasons.
Related: “Wild Bill” photo gallery
And you might see a whole lot more of Sproat in the near future, as Utah State is currently 25-3 and projected by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi as a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That’s the same seed Northern Iowa was last year when they toppled No. 1 Kansas in the second round.
Unfortunately, Utah State has been overshadowed this year by their in-state rival and arch-nemesis, No. 7 BYU, and its star player Jimmer Fredette, who handed the Aggies one of their three losses on the season in November.
“Everybody’s on this Jimmer train and you can’t help but respect his skills,” Sproat said. “He’s really good. It is a little overshadowing but that’s fine, we’ll just come up and show everybody what we got.”
Could the Aggies be this year’s Cinderella (go ahead, imagine that costume on Wild Bill)?
Sports fans can only hope that’s the case, as Sproat says he plans on traveling as far as the team goes in the Big Dance and has something special planned if the Aggies are fortunate enough to reach the Final Four in Houston.
Enjoy it while it lasts because once Utah State’s March magic is up, it could be the last we see of Wild Bill. That’s because the 27-year-old is contemplating retirement due to serious heath concerns he’s had in the past year, which includes flat-lining last summer (no, he didn’t see the light).
“If my health gets better and I’m doing better then I don’t see why I wouldn’t do it,” Sproat said. “But if it doesn’t get too much better, then health is first and I really should take care of myself.”
Yes, there’s much more than meets the eye with Sproat. So just who exactly is this guy and when did the legend of Wild Bill begin?
Born in California, Sproat spent most of his childhood in Utah and went on a two-year Mormon mission in Oklahoma City instead of going straight to college. Once he was finished, Sproat worked construction until at the age of 24, he finally decided to enroll at Utah State.
“I had some close calls with stuff falling on me and I just figured, I need a back-up just in case I got hurt,” Sproat said.
He was far from the school’s basketball super fan when he stepped on campus. In fact, he didn’t even like the sport.
“I didn’t understand it,” Sproat explained. “I wrestled in high school, I didn’t really care – we had a little bit of a rivalry with the basketball team.”
But he was persuaded to attend a game by a close friend: Aggie forward Tai Wesley, currently a senior captain that leads the team in scoring. Sproat started his antics during the 2008-09 season by taking his shirt off during a game. After that drew laughs, he expanded his comedy routine by writing funny lines on his stomach.
But when BYU rolled into town the following season in December of ‘09, Sproat realized he had to step his game up.
“Since they’re really conservative, I came in a Chippendale outfit, a Chris Farley tribute,” he said.
The Aggies won by 10, but it was a game last February that turned him into a star. Going with a Valentine’s Day theme, Sproat donned a barely-clothed Cupid costume, a stunt so ridiculous he ended up on SportsCenter and was flooded with calls and texts.
Using Chris Farley, Jack Black and Disney movies as his inspirations, Sproat has now donned 32 different costumes so far – a different one for each Aggie game he attends.
And it’s the same routine each time: After showing up in his custom “Wild Bill” Utah State jersey for the first half, he switches into his costume for every opposing free throw of the second half when Utah State’s visitors face the student section, balancing himself on a railing to distract the shooter.
Would Sproat prefer something more stable to stand on? Nonsense.
Said Sproat: “It’s the whole fun of it, not knowing if I’m going to fall on my head or not.”
His greatest hits include the Little Mermaid, Nacho Libre, Peter Pan, Batman, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. He was even going to dress up as a showgirl for a Nevada game before Utah State put its foot down (he’s also not allowed to wear a Speedo or do pelvic thrusts).
And the publicity he’s received just keeps growing. He’s already been mentioned on ESPN’s “Pardon The Interruption,” interviewed on “First Take,” profiled by Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis, turned into a YouTube sensation and even visited ESPNU’s offices in Charlotte – which he described as being a “kid in a candy store.”
Sproat became such a celebrity by the end of last season that he even got involved with a television show on Fuel TV called “Thrillbillies.”
But just when it appeared Sproat’s life was becoming a dream come true, things took a horrible turn for the worse last summer when his health seriously declined. Without insurance, he refused to see a doctor for months until his mother forced him to go to the hospital when Sproat started coughing up blood.
The doctors discovered an enlarged heart, numerous blood clots and massive kidney and liver failure. He was diagnosed with a heart condition called idiopathic cardiomyopathy. One day, Sproat’s heart even stopped beating and it took seven minutes to revive him with the use of a defibrillator (no, he didn’t see the light).
While he was holed up, Sproat used Wild Bill as a motivation to get healthy again.
“When I was in the hospital, that’s one of the only things that really got me through the hospital, that I could do it again and get healthy enough for it,” Sproat said. “And to be quite honest, I think I rushed things.”
At 330 pounds when he was admitted to the hospital, Sproat said he is about 270 right now and would like to lose another 60 pounds.
After considering retirement, Sproat was back at it in November and made the rounds on television and the internet three weeks ago when he dressed up as Mrs. Potts.
But the health problems have persisted. Sproat’s been back to the ER several times since last summer – including a trip just weeks ago – and the doctors have advised him against traveling or getting too rowdy at basketball games.
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The stress of college hoops doesn’t help, especially a double-overtime win in Hawaii at the end of January.
“The Hawaii game I thought I was going to have to go to the ER,” Sproat said. “I don’t watch the away games anymore. I get too worked up.”
And so Sproat finds himself at a crossroad where he might call it quits at the end of the season unless his health improves. Making the situation even more difficult, Sproat estimates that he owes $200,000 in medical bills from all his trips to the emergency room (a fund is being started on his website to raise money for him).
For now, he’s sticking to a strict diet that focuses on whole foods low in sodium and plans to consult his doctors before hitting the road for the NCAA Tournament to make sure they are OK with the travel and stress involved in March Madness.
As for the long term, Sproat estimates he’s about two years shy of graduating after taking last semester off due to his health issues. He’s currently majority in liberal arts and plans to get a masters in social work unless, of course, a career in entertainment were to arise.
Given his camera presence and constant flow of jokes, it’s not that far-fetched. Sproat even sounds like a pro already at handling the negative publicity that inherently comes with fame.
“There is stuff online, you know the YouTube (comments) and whatever and a lot of people that say, ‘I hope that fat (guy) dies,’ and stuff like that,” Sproat said. “Little do they know, I already did.”