6 Dog Mascots from Popular College Teams
America’s much beloved canine college mascots embody their schools’ pride.
Ethan Mizer |
Posted: September 12, 2014, 11 a.m. PST
Wrapped in history, honor, and prestige, America’s canine college mascots may be some of the luckiest dogs alive. Living legends, they command attention and respect — at least from the home team’s fans. But there’s more to these dogs’ lives than we get to see while they’re on the field. Here is a look behind the scenes at some of America’s top college mascots.
Handsome Dan XVII
School: Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
Real name: Sherman
Breed and age: Bulldog, 7 years old
Mascots are all about tradition, and when it comes to venerable old-school institutions, Handsome Dan is one of the originals.
"Yale invented the mascot in 1889,” says Christopher Getman, president of Soundview Capital Management Corp. in New Haven, Conn., Yale alumnus, and current keeper of Yale’s iconic mascot.
Though there may have been other symbolic mascots in college sports before Handsome Dan — Harvard University, Yale’s great rival in sports, has its namesake John Harvard, the pilgrim, as it’s mascot — Yale’s old pooch is the nation’s first live dog mascot.
And judging by the popularity of Bulldogs serving as school mascots, the brain trust at Yale clearly hit on a winning idea. At least 42 colleges and universities have a bulldog as their mascot, either in the form of a costumed mascot, or an actual dog.
Being caretaker for Handsome Dan is a big honor, but Getman sort of fell into the assignment. "We’ve had the mascots since 1983,” he says. "They were looking for someone to keep the dog, and I raised my hand.”
A true national celebrity in his own right, Handsome Dan has been photographed with U.S. presidents, big-name human celebrities, and just about anybody else who can sneak into a shot with him.
At games, Handsome Dan is a force to be reckoned with. "Over the years, we’ve had several memorable moments,” Getman says. "Maurice, the first mascot we had, was hilarious. When he was a puppy, there was a Yale cheerleader with a Bulldog costume who would torment him. So, Maurice developed an intense dislike for people in costumes. He wouldn’t bite anyone, but he would head-butt them. I can’t remember the number of times he flattened the Princeton Tiger.”
There’s a bit Handsome Dan has been known to do when it comes time for the annual Yale-Harvard football game. "The announcer asks if he would rather go to Harvard or die, and he would play dead,” Getman says.
It isn’t all fun and games, either. Handsome Dan also does his part to aid various charities, including attending benefits for bone cancer awareness and juvenile diabetes, and events for people with disabilities, just to name a few, Getman says.
"He’s very friendly with almost anybody, and he enjoys his job.”
School: University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn.
Real name: Smokey X
Breed and age: Bluetick Coonhound, 2 years old
Since 1953, the University of Tennessee — whose sports teams are known as the Volunteers, or Vols, for short — has called Smokey its mascot. "Smokey was selected during a halftime competition at the homecoming game during the 1952-53 season,” says Joy M. Postell-Gee, head coach of the Tennessee Spirit Program and liaison for University of Tennessee Athletics. "At halftime of the Mississippi State game that season, several hounds were introduced for voting. Blue Smokey, owned by Rev. Bill Brooks, was the last, and howled loudly when introduced. The students went wild, and the Smokey line has been a valued member of the Tennessee family ever since.”
Ten iterations of Bluetick Coonhounds have served as the university’s mascot, and the current dog, Smokey X, is only 2 years old.
Postell-Gee and his handlers knew Smokey X would be great for the job when he demonstrated some characteristic tenacity very early on.
"When he was a puppy, we were walking through a pet store to get him some food,” says Evan Betterton, one of Smokey’s handlers. "We were walking down the toy aisle, where there was a large pail of stuffed toys. Smokey X was walking behind me, and I began to feel a tug on the leash. I turned around to find Smokey chewing on a stuffed gator toy, and from that moment on I knew that he would make the perfect mascot.”
The gator is the mascot of the Vols’ rival, the University of Florida.
At the university’s games, Smokey is all business, and though Smokey X hasn’t completed a full football season yet, when it comes time, he’ll have several official duties. "Smokey’s primary responsibilities involve leading the football team out onto the field before every game through the ‘T’ and after halftime, as well as staying on the sidelines,” Postell-Gee says. "Smokey also runs across the end zone after the Vols score.”
When not attending Saturday games, Smokey’s life isn’t that different from that of other dogs. "Smokey spends most of his time as a normal pet, playing in the yard, chasing Frisbees, and barking at squirrels,” Postell-Gee says. "He loves to go on runs and to be around people all of the time.”
School: University of Washington, Seattle
Real name: Dubs
Breed and age: Alaskan Malamute, 5 years old
At the University of Washington, the mascot tradition has been going strong for a long time. Though the school had unofficial mascots prior to 1920, by 1922, the university settled on a husky, which refers to a type of dog used to pull sleds.
"People sometimes want to know why we have an Alaskan Malamute for a mascot instead of a Husky,” says Jennifer McBride, a UW alumna and staff member. "‘Husky’ is actually a generic term that can be used for any type of sled dog, which includes Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, and Siberian Huskies, among others. Of all the husky-type breeds, Alaskan Malamutes are the strongest and largest. They also tend to be the most laid-back and friendliest.”
Dubs is the first UW mascot to both live with a family and have student handlers. "Dubs has the best of both worlds,” McBride says. "He gets to live in a home with a family as a regular pet, and has UW students involved in handling him for his official mascot duties.”
Dubs was a natural right from the start, and had an immediate impact for the university’s football team. "During Dubs’ media debut at 11 weeks of age, he walked onto the football field in Husky Stadium and immediately peed in the end zone,” McBride says. "He was marking his territory! It was good luck though — the football team went from a 0-12 record to a 5-7 record that first football season.”
Preparing mascots to handle the rigors of being in front of large crowds is something that all handlers and owners have to think about. "Dubs started training as soon as his family brought him home when he was 10 weeks old,” McBride says. "He was trained in basic obedience as well as how to handle noise and crowds, including children.”
At events and games, Dubs has a team specially trained to handle and escort him. "Handlers work in pairs,” McBride says. "The team consists of four to six undergraduate students who have experience working with animals. Dubs’ owners work with the student handlers to ensure that everyone is using consistent handling techniques.”
When not posing for pictures or attending games, Dubs lives with his owners like a regular dog, McBride says, but he gets to tag along to work at the university on most days. He goes on walks, takes naps on the couch, and just hangs out. "He gets about an hour of exercise a day, but sometimes a student handler will take him for a walk around campus,” McBride adds.
Though Dubs is all about his work, he also finds time to play. "This past winter, Dubs got the opportunity to learn to skijor,” McBride says. "He had a great time!”
School: Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
Real name: Reveille VIII
Breed and age: Collie, 8 years old
Of all the nation’s dog mascots, Texas A&M’s Reveille stands out for a special reason: "She is a full-on member of the Corps of Cadets; she is actually a five-diamond Cadet General,” says Parker Smith, an A&M freshman, member of the Corps of Cadets, and mascot corporal for 2013-2014.
Incidentally, this makes Reveille the highest-ranking member of the Corps of Cadets, which has led to some interesting traditions at the university. "If she barks in class, the professor has to let the class out,” Smith says.
Reveille is treated with a great deal of reverence at Texas A&M, a fact Smith knows all too well. "We wake up at 5:30 a.m. every morning,” Smith says. "Well, I wake up at 5:30, but she’ll continue to sleep.”
Though Reveille VIII doesn’t always rise promptly at the playing of her namesake bugle call, she’s part of a long tradition at the university, which started in 1931. "The first Reveille was adopted by two students,” Smith says. "The two students were coming back to campus, and they hit a dog, a black and white mutt. So they took it back to campus with them, and the next morning when reveille was played, the dog barked and the students were caught with the dog.”
That’s how the university mascot earned the name Reveille. Reveille III was the first Collie to hold the position in the early 1960s, Smith says. "It’s been a Collie ever since,” he adds.As for Smith, he had to try out to earn the honor of being Reveille’s caretaker. "There’s a tryout process for the mascot corporal position,” he says. "It’s an eight-week tryout period.”
The position comes with a lot of honor, but also a lot of responsibility. "I feed her, I take her to the vet,” Smith says. "She accompanies me to class, sleeps with me. I take her to all the games. She goes to every football game, and she’ll go home with me for the summer.”
School: Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh
Real name: Maggie
Breed and age: Scottish Terrier, 7 years old
Carnegie Mellon is a research university known for producing top-tier computer scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, among many others.
"Most of the mascots are from Division I schools,” says Larry Cartwright, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and the keeper of the university’s current mascot, Scotty. "We’re a Division III school, with a lesser emphasis on athletics. In the big schools, it’s a big PR thing. But we’re big-time academia. We’re a little mellower in that respect.”
At one time, the university was in Division I. However, in 1939, the university’s president banned the football team from competing in postseason bowl games, and since then, athletics have been de-emphasized in favor of academic achievement.
In 2008, due to popular demand and celebrity intervention, the school adopted a new live dog mascot to compliment the costumed Scottish Terrier who had graced athletic events since the 1950s.
"It was serendipitous,” Cartwright says. "I’ve had Scotties even before I started teaching here 36 years ago. Well, in January or February of 2007, Bill Cosby was speaking at graduation — he breeds Scottish Terriers — and he decided he wanted to show up with a Scottie, so the president (of Carnegie Mellon) called me and said he needed to borrow one of my terriers.”
Afterward, Cosby was able to donate Maggie, the current mascot, to the school. But Cartwright is responsible for her, and she fits in with his other two Scottish Terriers.
"I named Maggie after Andrew Carnegie’s mother, Margaret Morrison,” Cartwright says. "She’s mine, and she’s a show-quality dog. My two other dogs, Murray (14 years old), and Chase (11, Murray’s son), are both Scotties. Maggie still terrorizes the boys. She’s the boss.”
Maggie accompanies Cartwright into work once a week, when she isn’t attending a game or official function. "I bring all three of my dogs in once a week, and they walk around the campus,” Cartwright says. "Everybody knows her as Maggie. I take her to homecoming games, carnivals, things like that.”
However, there are a few things that rile her up. "We got kicked out of our first football game,” Cartwright says. "Maggie absolutely hates the costumed mascot. Sometimes when we go to games, if she sees another dog, she’ll go ballistic, so I have to walk her and wait for a while.”
School: University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.
Real name: Russ
Breed and age: Bulldog, 10 years old
One of the best-known and most recognized college mascots, Uga IX from the University of Georgia, or UGA, has an equally well-known and colorful owner. Sonny Seiler is as much a part of UGA history as his iconic line of Bulldogs.
A character based on Seiler is depicted prominently in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which in part tells the story of Seiler’s defense of Jim Williams for murder. Seiler was Williams’ defense lawyer in the actual court case. Seiler also appeared with Uga V in the movie version of the book, released in 1997.
"I started keeping the University of Georgia mascot in 1956,” says Seiler, who is a trial lawyer and UGA alumnus. "Russ (the current holder of the Uga title) is part of the same line all Ugas come from. He took over for Uga VII — who died unexpectedly — as the interim mascot for the last two games of the season at the end of 2009.”
Uga is treated like royalty on the UGA campus. "We bring Uga for all of the home games, and my son Charles takes him to away games,” Seiler says. "Charles has been handling Uga on the field for a long time now. When we’re going to Sanford Stadium for a home game, we stay in the Uga-themed suite in the Georgia Center for Continuing Education. They keep it open for us when we come into town. It has all the amenities we could ask for.”
Green Dog House Built for Uga>> On the field, Uga IX has a specially built abode to relax and enjoy the game. "Uga has a custom-built doghouse in Sanford Stadium near the cheerleaders’ bench, donated at no cost to the school,” Seiler says. "It keeps him cool during the first home games.”
The doghouse features air conditioning and insulation, which is a good thing, because it allows Uga IX — whose breed can be prone to overheating — to enjoy football games in style.
The Uga line is so revered on the UGA campus, all of previous holders of the Uga title are interred on-site in a specially built mausoleum located at the southwest corner of Sanford Stadium. Each of the Ugas has a plaque inscribed with the dog’s tenure and an epitaph. The first Uga’s epitaph is "Damn Good Dog,” which is also the title of a book and movie about the mascot line.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Uga. There’s an infamous incident in which Uga lunged at an opposing team’s player, But Seiler has some words to clear up the details. "Uga V wasn’t trying to bite (the Auburn University player), so much as catch him,” he says of the well-publicized event. "He was just going after him because he’d gotten too close. The receiver had just scored a touchdown, and he was close to the sideline where Uga was, so Uga felt he was trespassing (in the end zone).”
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