Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
With spring’s refreshing atmosphere — accented by soothing breezes and the fragrance of colorful blooms — gaining momentum, Russ, the Georgia mascot, is enjoying the outdoors on East 58th Street, where he lives in Savannah.
Life for him is relaxed and laid back. There’s ample room to romp around when he is up to it. Bulldogs function at a measured pace, especially if the bulldog in question is the official mascot of the University of Georgia. Celebrities are not without pampering and indulgence. Russ is actually Uga IX, emerging from substitute to starter last season, becoming the official mascot of record. There will be no asterisk by his name. His time won’t be documented by unofficial and official days. He will be interred in the Uga cemetery in Sanford Stadium, and his tombstone will carry a marker of the successes achieved by the Georgia football team during his tenure. After last season, potential tribute bodes well for his forthcoming epitaph.
Sonny Seiler, the patriarch of the Uga legacy, is wont to remind us that we should give Russ the respect he is due as Uga IX. We should start calling him Uga henceforth. That may be difficult to ordain. He was lovingly called Russ for so long that it may be the preferred name of the Georgia people, many of whom lobbied with the greatest of commitment to have Russ segue into Uga IX. In their view, he had waited in the wings long enough.
Makes one wonder if he felt a little like Theron Sapp, whose one-yard score at Grant Field in 1957 gave the Macon native legendary status as The Man Who Broke the Drought. Sapp’s career didn’t equal the achievements of Sinkwich, Trippi or Herschel. He didn’t set records that would stand forever, but he won the hearts of the Georgia people who were so appreciative of his touchdown that defeated Georgia Tech for the first time in eight years that they began lobbying to have his jersey retired. The People’s Choice.
Russ — excuse me, Uga IX — is different. To begin with, he is not an all-white English Bulldog, but Seiler notes that there is “nothing written” that the Georgia mascot has to be all white. However, that is the preference of the Seilers who have maintained the Ugas for the University since 1956 when Sonny was a law student in Athens. As Sonny relaxed in his law office in his native Savannah, he reflected on the lives and careers of the Ugas and now Uga IX.
“Fans,” he began, “identify with certain mascots like III, IV, or V. They seem to remember something special about each of them. They don’t always remember the kennel names. They refer to the mascot as Uga, which is the way it is for those across the country who follow football and know about the Georgia mascot.
“Russ has a lot of good qualities. He is one of our best mascots. The only thing that bothered us was that he is a little old. He is nine, which is old for a dog. He has no bad habits, he travels easy, he has a good figure and a good head, and he is durable. He is a ham and enjoys posing for photos, which is why I think that so many in the Bulldog Nation wanted him to gain official status.”
After calls and letters flooded the president’s office — fans lobbying for Russ to be given official status — Michael Adams called Sonny and began lobbying himself for Russ to be advanced from interim to official status.
With the spring game coming up, Uga will be on hand — as always — and the scene a familiar encore. Russ/Uga IX will arrive at Sanford Stadium in a big red Chevrolet SUV. He will be wearing a red sweater with the Nike swoosh and the Georgia G. Fans of all ages will rush to embrace him.
Uga will cavort with kids, he’ll be primed for photo-ops. He will soak up the abundant cheering and adulation. Leading a Dawg’s life! Russ/Uga IX is up for it.
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.