The following article originally appeared in the July 16 version of the Red & Black.
At first glance, a bulldog already deserves an extra few seconds of staring because of his physique: the oversized head, short legs and scrunched skin. But there’s a hand-picked selection of bulldogs that unforgivably demand a second look, and with this group, there’s another pledge, another counterpart, an additional promise that must be documented.
For almost 60 years, a live bulldog has graced the sidelines of Georgia football games as the team’s mascot. So far there have been nine different bulldogs to hold the position.
And for the 2015 season, that number will grow to 10 as Georgia will introduce Uga X.
These bulldogs have something different, something notable — a deep, Southern marriage to the tradition of Georgia football.
The “bulldog” nickname was coined by Morgan Blake on Nov. 3, 1920, when the sports writer took to The Atlanta Journal to write his own opinions about university mascots.
“The Georgia Bulldogs would sound good, because there is a certain dignity about a bulldog as well as ferocity,” Blake said.
His idea stuck, and the name was eventually followed by the true bulldog, a relationship between the Uga dynasty and the football team marked at 61 years in September. Georgia alum Frank W. “Sonny” and Cecelia Seiler received what would become a national celebrity as a wedding gift in 1955, and Uga I officially debuted his mascot duties in 1956 with Dan Magill, former Georgia tennis coach and long-time member of the Georgia athletic staff.
“Coach “Wally” Butts said, ‘Get us another mascot,’” Magill said in an 2006 interview in The Red & Black, which was published in “Dear Old UGA,” produced by The Red & Black. “I put a story in the paper, we were looking for a new mascot. Well, immediately a law school student, Frank Seiler, came up to me.”
The dogs have also served as nine very public images of the evolving breed.
The breed has transitioned, and Seiler’s bulldogs are no exception to the health issues that have elevated in past years.
Since then, the bulldogs, the Ugas included, have been a testament to the evolution that has everything to do with the breed itself and not the specific Seiler dogs.
The dogs are a brachiocephalic breed, which means they have a scrunched nose.
This trait can lead to health issues.
“Any of those breeds can have respiratory problems because everything is sort of crammed in there,” Savannah veterinarian Dr. Stanley Lester said of the bulldog’s problematic attributes. “It starts with the nose.”
Their short airwaves make it harder for the bulldogs to breathe, according to Marietta veterinarian Dr. Scott Richter.
Exercise, coincidentally, isn’t their number one hobby, hence the air-conditioned dog house on the field of Sanford Stadium.
Uga,the top-ranked college mascot by the Associated Press in 2014, and the second-best ranked college mascot by Sports Illustrated in 2013, hangs out in his doghouse during games in his Nike jersey.
His uniform is equipped with the same light and breathable material as the jerseys on the field.
The health issues also span to the heart, hips and knees.
Uga I, a poster child of bulldogs, has a different body from the more recent Ugas in the size of his head and the number of wrinkles, a testament to evolving re-selection, Dr. Richter said.
Bulldogs’ bodies, quite simply, have changed, and the Georgia mascots’ have been direct results.
After Uga VII’s death from heart issues at age four, PETA published an open letter to Georgia in 2009.
The group asked the University “to honor Uga VII by replacing him with an animatronic or solely using their costumed mascot, Hairy Dawg.”
PETA brought up “inbreeding to preserve bloodlines” and “years of genetic manipulation” in the bulldog breed.
Yet, although all of the Georgia dogs’ fathers remain in the same bloodline, Seiler told the Ledger-Enquirer the mother is “totally remote from the Uga line.”
The Ugas are not in-bred according the Seiler, but as one of the most advertised mascots in the country, the lineage has been a well-documented source of how the breed has evolved.
With those changes come health issues that run across the bulldog board.
The most recent Uga, Russ, began his reign as number nine at a late age.
He was already six when he took the job as the interim mascot when Uga VIII died of cancer in 2011, and he retires at age 11.
Russ served for 25 games as the interim from 2009-12 before getting the job full time at the start of the 2012 season.
Each Uga is remembered by the record of the Georgia football team, as Russ, Uga IX retires with a 44-19 record.
The mascots’ positions on the side of the field, however, have not kept the dogs from finding the limelight in other historic Georgia moments.
Uga V accompanied Herschel Walker to his Heisman Trophy presentation in a tux and made an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The same bulldog, named in honor of Magill, bit at Auburn wide receiver Robert Baker in the Georgia comeback win 56-49 with four overtimes in 1996.
The rumored front-runner is Russ’s grandson, Que. However, the official announcement will take place in the fall with Georgia’s traditional “passing of the collar.”
“We look forward to celebrating the reign of Russ who has served the University and our sports program in magnificent fashion,” Georgia President Jere W. Morehead said in a press release. “He has truly endeared himself to fans all over the country.”
The bloodline represents the University and images of the bulldog have directly impacted the popularity of the breed as a pet, specifically in young potential Georgia graduates.
“I think something that has made the Bulldog more recognizable is the HOPE Scholarship, as Georgia has gotten much more difficult to get into, ” Dr. Richter said. “If you’re from Georgia, you identify with the school, you want to go to school there as a kid, and what we’re seeing is a huge wave over the last 15, 20 years of younger people being interested in the breed, too.”
Now, the to-be-selected Uga X will occupy the throne at the height of Georgia football, amongst all the Georgia faithful and in the middle of a half-century Georgia tradition.