Originally created 11/27/03

Jersey-clad canine charms Georgia fans



ATHENS, Ga. - It's nearly three hours before kickoff at Sanford Stadium, and the most famous member of the University of Georgia football team is lying on the ground, enjoying a cool autumn afternoon.

Without his famous red jersey, most people walk past his outstretched frame, but a few die-hard Bulldog fans recognize his hearty 60-pound physique as that of their beloved mascot, Uga VI.

In minutes, Bulldog fans of all ages gather around his resting spot for a look at the white English bulldog before them.

They want to look at him. They want to touch him.

And perhaps most of all, they want a photograph with him.

Such is a typical gameday modus operandi for Uga - "Whatchagot Loran" to family - who takes center stage as the hero of the Bulldog nation at each University of Georgia football game.

But Uga's home gameday itinerary requires the 5-year-old purebred to do much more than simply pace the playing field.

Before game time, the college mascot takes part in a cross-campus jaunt that puts him in the company of state dignitaries, MVPs and, of course, the fans.

It's shortly before 1:30 p.m., about two hours before kickoff, and Uga is finishing up a photo shoot on one of the Georgia Center's upper floors. In the lobby below, an energetic crowd of red-and-black fans are watching the University of Florida vs. Ole Miss game, waiting for their own team to take the playing field - and for their mascot to emerge.

At 1:30 p.m. the wait is over, as the main elevators of the Georgia Center lobby open to reveal Uga and Swann Seiler, the daughter of Frank "Sonny" Seiler, who began the Uga tradition at the university in 1956 with the gift of Uga I (Uga VI's great-great-great-great-grandfather) to his wife.

Uga works the crowd, and together with Swann Seiler and her brother, Charles, he moves swiftly, making several stops for fan photos. Ms. Seiler reveals that like tailgaters, Uga eats a hearty pre-game meal to prepare him for the hundreds of fans he'll meet en route to the stadium.

"He has a big breakfast before every game," she says. "He eats Science Diet food and then a dog bone, and then he has a contraband power snack that my brother gives him. I'm not at liberty to tell you what it is, but it's people food."

Just after 2 p.m., Swann and Charles Seiler, and their brother-in-law, Todd Story, take Uga inside the Tate Student Center for Legislative Day 2003, a festive Bulldog-themed party where state legislators are mingling over food and rebroadcasts of Georgia football games.

When Uga VI walks into the party, even university President Michael Adams seems impressed, and after greeting Ms. Seiler, he bends to greet Uga.

Inside, Uga and Ms. Seiler make the rounds. The dog poses almost perfectly for nearly 100 photos before his circle of the room is complete, and he is escorted out a side door.

At 3:15 p.m., Sanford Stadium seems filled to capacity, as fans cheer loudly in anticipation of kickoff. Most are wearing red and progress through a series of cheers in hopes of pepping up the Bulldog football team - and its mascot.

They go wild when Uga emerges from his air-conditioned doghouse wearing his trademark red jersey emblazoned with a large black 'G,' and he seems to feed off his supporters' energy, barking and rolling in the turf before the players take the field.

Like the five Ugas before him, Uga VI is a varsity letterman in football, and he wears a red jersey made of the same material as the players' jerseys.

Charles Seiler says the family coats Uga in baby powder under his jersey to help keep the bulldog cool - and smelling fresh to the hundreds of fans who reach out to touch him before the game.

Before the game starts, and into the first quarter, Uga takes several rolls in the turf before retreating to his 10-yard-line doghouse, a sturdy, sheet-metal structure that is kept ice-cold thanks to air-conditioning - and today, a bag of ice from City Ice Co. in Gainesville.

Charles and Swann Seiler both say Uga loves the doghouse, where he frequently receives bottled water breaks and cool air.

"He knows it's cool in there," Mr. Seiler says. "He pushes the door when he wants to come out and he pulls me toward it when he wants to go back in."

Eight minutes before halftime, the Seilers quickly take Uga to a side gate, which Ms. Seiler says is a midgame bathroom break for the star - but not a break from his duties as mascot.

"At the beginning of the halftime, we put him into a cart and take him up the hill," she says. "Then, he's off to the skyboxes for a host of official appearances. Then he goes into the (locker) room - some of the coaches request him to go in there, as he is a good-luck symbol to them."

Uga VI has indeed been likened as a good-luck symbol for the current university coaching staff. Since taking over duties from his father, Uga V, in September 1999, Georgia has made four bowl appearances and won the 2002 Southeastern Conference Championship.

At the dawn of the fourth quarter, Uga is still on the field and still charges out of his doghouse toward the 10-yard line.

The day's excitement weighs heavily on him by nightfall, Ms. Seiler says, but with rest, he's ready to return to his place at the helm of the Bulldog team.

"After the game, he crashes," she says. "He's pooped. He'll sleep through the night and all the next day. But in a couple of days, he's ready to come back. In fact, my mother has to be careful when she washes his jersey, because if he sees it, he gets all excited and thinks he's going to the game."