COLUMBIA — The face of Georgia stands 12 inches high, weighs approximately 50 pounds and is a constant poop threat on the football field.
His name is Uga IX. He’s an English bulldog, the ninth in his family to be named the official mascot of the University of Georgia.
Short and bulky with white fur and brown spots spread across his back and belly, he stands in the lobby at the Holiday Inn in Columbia as fans of the team gather around him, ushering their kids to come forward and pet the famous dog. In a couple of hours, he will be patrolling the sideline of Faurot Field, watching his Bulldogs take on Missouri in its first SEC game of the 2012 season.
But for now, he just stands in the lobby, yawning. It’s just another game day for Georgia’s favorite canine.
Frank “Sonny” Seiler, 79, has owned every Uga since “Uga I” began its reign as Georgia’s mascot in 1956. Fifty-six years ago, he was a student at Georgia, studying law and working at the athletics department’s ticket office in his spare time.
Shortly after marrying his wife, Cecelia Seiler, in April 1956, a friend gave the newlywed couple an English bulldog as a wedding present. Looking back on it all these years later, Sonny Seiler says his first impression wasn’t a fond one.
“We could hardly afford to feed ourselves, but we took the dog. And frankly, I was not impressed,” he said. “He didn’t really look like the bulldog that we pictured, but we took him. But by September he had broadened out, looked great. I said, ‘Gee, this is really the epitome of the Georgia Bulldog.’”
Georgia’s first home game of the 1956 season was played against Florida State. Seeing the opportunity to turn the family pet into a symbol of collegiate support, Cecelia Seiler went shopping prior to the game, buying a children's-sized red t-shirt. After cutting it down, attaching elastic bands to the waist and sleeves and sewing a black “G” to the chest, “Uga I” had a new uniform.
Needless to say, Georgia’s student body took notice.
“We took him over to the Sigma Chi fraternity house before the game,” Sonny Seiler said. “And after several ‘ice teas,’ everybody said, ‘Take him to the game! Take him to the game!’”
And so, the family of Sonny and Cecelia Seiler and their dog “Uga I” sat in the bleachers of Sanford Stadium and watched the Bulldogs take on Florida State. Newspaper photographers took advantage of the scene, shooting photos that would appear in the next day’s paper.
After the game, Georgia coach Wally Butts was even made aware of his team’s newest fan. Thinking fast, he decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
“The next working day I had a note in my box that said, ‘See Coach Butts in his office immediately,’” Sonny Seiler said. “So he says, ‘Come in, Sonny! Come in! They tell me you’ve got a bulldog that would make a good mascot. What do you say you let us use it for the rest of the season?’
“I said, ‘Coach, if you think it will help our team, I’m all for it.’ He said, ‘Good. Have him at every game.’ That was it. End of the conversation.”
Just like that, Georgia had a mascot.
The passing of the collar
In the 56 years since Uga I attended his first game inside Sanford Stadium, there have been eight other Ugas. Each dog is from the direct lineage of the original Uga, a feature that Sonny Seiler says is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the mascot.
When one Uga dies, the red, bedazzled collar that he wears is ceremoniously passed on to the next dog in line. As the name of the newest mascot is announced before his first home game, the crowd chants “Damn good dogs!” in unison.
Each dog who dies rests in a mausoleum inside Sanford Stadium near the entrance on the southwest side. Although they’ve passed on, Georgia faithful make it clear they’re never forgotten.
“It shows that from an early start the fans, students and the university not only accepted them and appreciated the dogs, but it meant enough to them that they didn’t want them to just go away when they died,” Sonny Seiler said, referring to the mausoleum.
“A lot of people visit the campus who aren’t remotely interested in football, but they want to go inside the stadium and see that. They let them in.”
Game day in Columbia
Outside the Holiday Inn on Saturday, Uga IX (formerly Russ) stands in the grass, patiently waiting to relieve himself. Sonny Seiler’s son, Charles Seiler, stands behind him, holding a red leash and wearing a black hat with a red block “G” adorning the front.
Two young fans, one wearing a red shirt and the other a white Georgia jersey, are the first to notice him, pointing and frantically scrambling for their phones. Once their phones are out, they begin clicking photos, smiling and whispering to each other.
Then, another man notices Uga IX. Then another, and another. Soon, more than a dozen Georgia fans stand outside the Holiday Inn, each taking photographs and pointing at their favorite mascot. All the while, Uga IX stands there obliviously, pooping on the hotel’s front lawn.
Throughout the display, one thing became clear: Georgia fans love their bulldog, quirks and all.
“He just has a heart. As you know, we’ve lost several of our Ugas in times past because their heart just gave out on them because they were so into it. And I think that makes Uga a great, great mascot,” Georgia fan Larry Barkley said, most of his head hidden behind a red, floppy Georgia cap. “He does it to the point that he hurts himself.”
Once he finishes his business, Uga IX scampers up the steps and onto the team’s white coach bus, dragging Charles Seiler behind him. Shortly after 4 p.m., the team leaves the hotel for Memorial Stadium, the bus packed with athletes, coaches and training staff.
Uga IX is among them, just another part of the team.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.