ATHENS, Ga. — Meet the new old face of Georgia football.
Russ, the 8-year-old English bulldog and frequent stand-in mascot for the Georgia football team, trades in his interim tag for the real thing today when the university will appoint him Uga IX before kickoff against Florida Atlantic at Sanford Stadium.
Russ will become the latest in a line of English bulldogs serving in the role going back to the first Uga, who took over as the team’s official mascot in 1956. But Russ is a bit of a break from that tradition.
He’s part of the original Uga bloodline, but he was not groomed to be the full-time mascot.
After serving as an interim three times during a tragic run for the official Ugas, the university and Savannah’s Seiler family which has owned and raised each of the dogs, decided to do something they had not done and promote one of them.
“When it came out that we were going to use him again as an interim, it caused a groundswell of fan support and student support that we did not anticipate,” said Frank W. “Sonny” Seiler, the prominent attorney who started the Uga tradition when he was a second-year law student at Georgia. “They started calling the athletic department and president’s office suggesting we go ahead and make Russ Uga IX.”
It’s a special opportunity for Russ, who takes over a special role for the university. It’s hard to imagine a more iconic image to generations of Georgia fans than the bulldog in a red sweater trotting around between the hedges in Sanford Stadium.
For nearly a dozen years as its head coach, Mark Richt has been the man at the top of the Georgia football program. But he might not be its most popular image.
Richt tells a story about a time he and Vince Dooley, then Georgia’s athletic director, went to Washington, D.C., with Uga in tow. Lines formed for autographs from Richt and Dooley, the former national championship coach, but none as long as the one to snap a picture with a jowly beast at the other table.
“It was like 10 to 1,” Richt said of the ratio of fans interested in the dog compared to those waiting to meet the coaches, “and that was all of us put together versus Uga.”