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September 23, 2011

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These Dogs Sure Have Team Spirit

What do a majestic eagle, a ferocious tiger, a bold knight and a fighting artichoke have in common? They're all university mascots! While some of these may be wise, and some a bit silly, mascots have come to represent the spirit of college sports.

Between living in one of the most passionate college towns in the U.S. and attending a South Eastern Conference school, I’d say I know a bit about the importance of mascots! When your team is winning your mascot is there to pump you up and get you even more excite. When you’re losing they are there to build up hope that you’ll pull through. And, hey, if you do lose at least your mascot is so much cooler than the other team’s!

It can be hard to understand why or how mascots are chosen but one thing is clear: dogs reign supreme. While eagles, tigers and knights are pretty popular, you can combine those numbers to get the amount of dog represented in college sports. Since college football season is upon us, I thought it would be fun to find out how and why some of these mascots were chosen. While we don’t have time to go over every canine mascot in college sports, here’s a look at the story behind four classic dogs.

The First

Yale's Handsome Dan

Back in the late 1880s a few Yale students noticed that Princeton’s teams travelled around with a tiger cub and decided that they needed a live mascot too. Legend has is that a player saw a bulldog by a blacksmith’s shop and bought him for $5. After parading the newly dubbed “Handsome Dan” around the field, a Philadelphia newspaper reported that fans loved to tell Dan to “Speak to Harvard.”

Handsome Dan would respond by going into a fit of rage and bark as loudly as he could. While not as “ferocious” as earlier Dan’s, the Dan Dynasty has produced 16 other Handsome Dan’s. In 2006, a bulldog named Sherman from Johnson City, Tennessee took over as Handsome Dan XVII.  

Mr. Congeniality

University of Georgia's Uga

While Dan was the first live canine mascot, he’s got some competition in the race for most popular mascot: Uga. In 1956 the University of Georgia introduced fans to and English Bulldog they named Uga.

Tended to by the Seilers family of Savannah, all eight Ugas are descendents of a bulldog that travelled with the team to its 1942 Rose Bowl Victory. Donning a spiked collar and his own varsity jersey, Uga is the embodiment of UGA’s spirit.

Not only is this “Damn good dog” a member of the student body, he has his own student id card, he’s also started many long standing UGA. traditions. Before each home game many visit the mausoleum at Sanford Stadium where Ugas I-VIII are buried to pay respect for their fearless mascot. An elaborate pre-game ceremony was even created called the “Passing of the Bone” in which an old Uga is retired and the bone is passed onto to a new Uga.  

The Aggie Texas A&M's Reveille

In 1931, members of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie’s Band where returning home from a party when they accidently hit a small black and white mutt. While pets where not allowed on campus, the students brought her back with the intention of bringing her to the vet school the next morning.

However, her presence became obvious when a bugler played “Reveille” the next morning and she began to bark. After falling in love with the dog, the newly dubbed Reveille was named the official mascot of Texas A&M when she led the band onto Kyle Field during the half-time show of the season opener that year.

A few years later Reveille became the highest ranking member of the Texas A&M Cadet Corp when she was named a Cadet General by the US Army as a thank you to the school for its contribution to World War II. It wasn’t until Reveille III that the university decided on its mascot’s breed. In 1966 a pure-bred Collie was introduced to fans at Kyle Field and all Reveille’s since have been Collies.

The Volunteer

University of Tennessee's Smokey (courtesy of Bleacher Report)

Last but not least, the greatest canine mascot in all of college football (what can I say, I’m a bit biased)! During a halftime show in 1953, University of Tennessee fans were asked to select a live mascot for the school.

A number of hounds were brought out on the field and introduced one at a time. The last one introduced was a Bluetick Coonhound named Smokey. When his name was called out, he barked. When the students cheered, he howled. In that moment, Tennessee fans knew they had found their mascot.

Since then eight other Smokeys, all descendents of the original have reigned over Neyland Stadium’s sea of orange and white. Filled with Volunteer spirit, Smokey has been the center of controversy over the years. In the 1950s Smokey II was stolen by Kentucky students and later got into an altercation with Baylor’s live bear mascot. Other Smokeys have been charged with biting players from opposing teams and going after other school’s mascots, including Uga.

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