When it comes to college mascots, Uga — the four-legged embodiment of University of Georgia athletics — is in a class all his own.
From Uga I’s almost accidental debut in 1956 to Uga X’s victory in the 2017 SEC championship football game, the generational line of white English bulldogs owned by the Seiler family of Savannah has each worn celebrity with the casual ease of a superstar.
Uga III reigned during Georgia’s 1980 national championship season. Uga IV donned a tuxedo to attend Herschel Walker’s Heisman Trophy ceremony at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York, and Uga V graced the cover of Sports Illustrated — the first and only college mascot to be so honored.
Perhaps the most famous of the bulldogs, Uga V, was recruited by director Clint Eastwood to appear in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” strolling the red carpet at the film’s debut.
The usually gentle dog was also famous for his lunge at Auburn receiver Robert Baker in 1996 when the player taunted him after scoring a touchdown. A photo of the encounter made national sports pages and was copied so often the negative wore out.
On this New Year’s Day, Uga X — named the top college football mascot by USA Today in September — will make more canine history as the first in the storied bulldog dynasty to appear in the equally storied Rose Bowl, known as “the granddaddy of all college football bowls,” when Georgia plays Oklahoma in a College Football Playoff semifinal game.
All about logistics
Charles Seiler, who took over management of Uga from his father, Sonny, several decades ago, says traveling across the country with a 72-pound bulldog is no mean feat.
Most airlines have banned bulldogs and other stub-nosed breeds from flying in cargo because of the health risk to the animals, and animals in the passenger cabin are generally limited to 20 pounds or less.
“Uga hasn’t flown commercially for more than 15 years,” Seiler said.
Instead, the bulldog and his owners fly to away games with UGA personnel and support staff on a chartered plane, usually from Atlanta. That, too, can be tricky, even with a seasoned four-legged flyer.
“We have to board last,” he said. “I have to carry him, even down the narrow aisle, because once I put him down, he heads under the nearest seat — no matter who is sitting there — and that’s it until we land.”
Those same logistical details are in play in deciding whether Uga will ride in the famed Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.
“We’re talking with parade officials but we’re still not sure how that might work,” Seiler said. “We generally don’t let him do anything else on game day. His job is to be in the stadium supporting the team and the fans.
“We don’t want him worn out before he gets there.”
How it all began
The legend of Uga was born in 1956 when Georgia law student Frank “Sonny” Seiler and his bride Cecelia, also a UGA student, were given a white English Bulldog puppy for a wedding present. The following football season, Cecelia made the pup — now a full-grown bulldog — a red jersey with a white G on the chest and they took him to Sonny’s fraternity house for a pre-game party.
Someone jokingly suggested they take Uga to the game and, to their surprise, he was ushered right through the stadium gates. He was such a hit in the stands that coach Wally Butts asked if he could be the team mascot.
The rest, as they say, is history.
For the last 60-plus years, a descendant of that first Uga has roamed the sideline at Sanford Stadium in Athens as well as traveling with the team to stadiums across the country.
The iconic mascot has led his team onto the field in every major college bowl game except one — the Rose Bowl.
That will change Jan. 1.
And while, technically, it will be the first Rose Bowl for the Uga mascot dynasty, there is a connection that many Georgia fans hope proves a good omen.
In the 2002 book, “Damn Good Dogs!” by Sonny Seiler and Kent Hannon, the authors write that Uga I was said to be the grandson of a white English bulldog that accompanied the team on its last trip to the Rose Bowl.
That was in 1943, where Georgia legends Charlie Trippi and Frank Sinkwich led the team to a 9-0 shutout of UCLA, clinching the Bulldogs’ first national championship.
“We’re looking for a repeat this year,” Charles Seiler said.