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Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo on Mon, 06/30/2008 - 7:03am.
For many people, the loss of a pet can be like losing a family member. But when the Seiler family of Savannah, GA, loses a pet, countless people mourn.
Since 1956, the Seilers, led by dad Sonny, have owned the line of English Bulldogs called Uga that have served as the mascots for the University of Georgia. In fact, the Ugas have gone far beyond mascot status, becoming an icon of the school and its sports teams and earning the love of Georgia fans across the nation and around the world. How loved? Today, the sixth of that line, Uga VI, will be interred alongside his forefathers in a marble vault in the southwest corner of Sanford Stadium on the University of Georgia's campus in Athens. UGA is the only college that buries its mascots in its football stadium, where reverent pregame visits are common for many fans.
Uga VI was a big bundle of joy, tipping the scales at a portly 65 pounds. Of course, that weight may also be the best example of how bulldogs are bred too big nowadays, and perhaps a contributing factor to his death from congestive heart failure a month shy of his tenth birthday. All you have to do is look at photos of each Uga to see the evolution from trim and tough to big and rough. But Uga VI also had an unprecedented energy. Unlike his dad, who spent most of his time on the sideline at Georgia football games sitting on a bag of ice or in his air conditioned doghouse, Uga VI was more frequently seen pulling at his leash and barking for the cameras. I once stood next to Uga VI on the sideline at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY, as Sonny's daughter Swann tried with all her might to keep him from taking a chunk out of the University of Kentucky's mascot that was taunting Uga.
For those of you outside of Bulldog Nation, the attention paid to the Ugas probably seems a little much. But that's because you just don't understand the tradition involved. Each successor has been an all-white son of the previous mascot, including Otto, who filled in while his brother Uga IV recovered from knee surgery in 1986. Uga V may be the most famous of the six. He was the first college mascot ever to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And if there's a Georgia fan or student who does not have a framed copy of that issue somewhere, I don't know them. In November 1996, he made headlines across the country when he jumped up and tried to bite an Auburn player who tried to taunt the dog after scoring a touchdown in front of him. (Georgia went on to win the game in the SEC's first overtime game ever) Uga V also appeared in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (and wore a tuxedo to the premiere) playing his father, Uga IV (Sonny Seiler was Kevin Spacey's lawyer in the movie, and the real Sonny actually made a cameo in the film). Uga IV had the distinction of being the only mascot ever to attend the Heisman Trophy presentation, when he accompanied 1982 winner Herschel Walker.
In recent years, Uga has transcended even his role as mascot, icon and star. He's also become a philanthropist of sorts. In 2006, to honor the 50th anniverary of the Uga line, UGA alums began a program called "Dawgs Feeding Dogs," which collects and donated pet food for animal shelters across the country. In the first year alone, the program collected more than five tons of food. The campaign will continue this year in honor of Uga VI.
Some time soon the Seilers and the UGA Athletic Association will anoint one of Uga VI's offspring with the mantle Uga VII. Bulldog Nation will turn its love and attention to the new mascot, who will be surely don the collar fitted with a camera to produce Uga Cam (a true fan favorite) at Georgia's home football opener against Georgia Southern in August. Perhaps a couple weeks before that, if he's made available, fans will stand in line for hours under the hot Georgia sun to get a photo with Uga VII, as I did as a student for a snap with Uga V. Souvenir stores in Athens will begin stocking new Uga VII merchandise and new sets of photos that show all seven dogs. The Seilers will update the personalized license plate on the red and black station wagon Uga travels in. No. I'm not kidding.
To Bulldog fans, Uga is more than a mascot. He is the embodiment of the spirit of our school and our teams. We are suckers for his puckered, wrinkled mug.
I've always thought Spacey's character Jim Williams put it best to John Cusack's John Kelso in Midnight after they stop to fulfill a passerby's request to get a photo with the pooch: "No matter what you and I ever do in our lives, Mr. Kelso, neither of us will be as famous as Uga."
Amen to that. And amen to Uga VI.
By: Kevin Wuzzardo