ATHENS - Russ is no longer the interim Georgia mascot: He has been promoted to be the new Uga.
Georgia announced on Thursday that Russ, who has served as the interim mascot on and off for the past couple years, has received what the school called a "battlefield promotion."
Russ, who is eight years old, will be officially crowned as Uga IX on Sept. 15, prior to the Florida Atlantic game.
"He's in good health. He's a pleasure to be around. He looks great," said Sonny Seiler, whose family has maintained the Uga line for more than a half-century. "And finally after a number of telephone calls, we all agreed that it would be proper to name Russ now. Since we didn't have an immediate heir to the throne, so to speak, but we had some in the works."
The move is a bit of a surprise because the Seiler family has said that Russ was too old to be the next Uga, and they preferred having a dog that would serve for a long time.
Sonny Seiler said the move came in consultation with UGA president Michael Adams. Seiler and Adams received many e-mails, letters and cards from Georgia fans requesting that Russ have the interim tag removed.
"I think people like underdogs, and they consider him an underdog," Seiler said. "And I think people get attached to mascots. We know that just from having them for 50-something years."
Seiler said Russ is very similar to the others in the line. He does have brown markings, but so did the previous two Ugas.
The only thing keeping him from being Uga IX was his age. Seiler said 10 years is a "good" lifespan for an English Bulldog. But Seiler and UGA believed it was better to remove the uncertainty from Russ, rather than rush into crowning a new Uga.
"The paramount concern was his age. Would we have to do this again in two years, or three years," Seiler said. "But we are thrilled. I can't tell you how many people have called us to say how happy they are. I've had people tell us they weren't coming to the Florida Atlantic game, but now they are to see Russ collared."
"Like many great and memorable Bulldogs, Russ has earned the opportunity to serve in this capacity,” Adams said in a statement. “I am confident that he will represent the Bulldog Nation very well and continue the grand tradition of Ugas."
Russ stepped in as the interim mascot following the early death of Uga VII on Nov. 19, 2009. He served as the interim mascot for the next eight football games, stretching into 2010, until Uga VIII was introduced. But when Uga VIII came down with leukemia, which would eventually end his life, Russ stepped in again.
Russ' official record is 14-9. During his time as mascot he "endeared himself" to fans, according to athletics director Greg McGarity.
"We have such a high level of trust and confidence in the Seiler family to provide leadership in this area. To really be our expert in the mascot," McGarity said. And so really that level of trust is really unconditional, to where we trust them to know what's best for the breed and what's best for the University of Georgia."
McGarity said the unveiling was put off until Sept. 15 because of logistics: The opener already has a game-ball relay event planned to benefit charity. The Redcoat band also has to be involved in the ceremony, and it has been planning its own season-opening renditions.
"There's so many logistics that have to come into play," McGarity said.
Even though Russ doesn't get crowned until Sept. 15, he is now Uga IX on his tags. Seiler didn't know if the new name would be on his doghouse yet.
"I know from habit, people will be calling him Russ forever," Seiler said.