UGA Football

How Uga became more than a dog

Uga X.
Uga X. Georgia Sports Communications

All of the room number signs in the Georgia Hotel are a small, beige rectangle — except for one.

At the end of a hallway on the third floor, there’s a room sign shaped like a dog house. Painted red and black, it announces the entrance for “Uga’s Suite.” Upon entering the room, a soft growl can be heard near the floor. The grumbling comes from Uga X, Georgia’s English bulldog mascot.

It is 11 a.m. on April 22, three hours before the start G-Day, Georgia’s annual spring football game, and Uga isn’t wearing his customized Georgia jersey or spiked collar yet. Typically, when Uga is seen in public, he is wearing the tailored jersey. Without it, the dog somehow looks naked. A second later, Uga X retreats to a towel under a windowsill for a pre-game nap. When the game begins, this dog will re-assume his role as the symbol of an entire fan base.

“If I walked him outside right now, he’d draw a crowd,” said Frank W. “Sonny” Seiler, the owner of the first Uga.

In 1956, Seiler was in his first year of law school at Georgia. In the afternoons, he worked on the first floor of the athletic office selling tickets. The year before, Georgia’s bulldog mascot, Mike, had died. Heading into the first home game of the 1956 season, Georgia didn’t have a live bulldog.

The week before the game against Florida State, Seiler and his wife, Cecelia, decided to make a shirt for an all-white English bulldog they had received as a wedding present.

Cecelia cut a block G out of black felt and sewed it onto a red T-shirt. Then, she attached elastic to the shirt’s bottom and the cuffs, creating Uga’s first jersey.

“Suddenly he took on the appearances of a real Georgia Bulldog,” Seiler said.

Before the game began, the Seilers took their dog — not officially Uga yet — to the Sigma Chi fraternity house, which Seiler said was across from Sanford Stadium.

“He was a hit over there,” Seiler said. “After several iced teas, everybody said, ‘Let’s take him to the game.’ We hadn’t planned on it, but we did take him to the game.”

The Seilers took the dog into the stands to watch Georgia defeat the Seminoles. Seiler thought that would be the end of it, and they returned to the fraternity house after the game.

The following Monday, Seiler arrived at his ticket booth to see a note from his boss telling him head coach Wally Butts wanted to speak with him. Seiler said Dan Magill, who was Georgia’s athletics publicity director at the time, had asked Butts if they could request Seiler’s permission to use the dog as the team’s mascot. When he saw the note, Seiler thought his job was in jeopardy.

When Seiler arrived in Butts’ office, he found the coach looking out a window toward Sanford Stadium.

“Sonny, Dan tells me you have a bulldog that might make us a good mascot. What do you say to let us use it? I don’t seem to be furnishing much entertainment here,” Seiler recalled Butts saying.

“Coach, if you think it’ll help the team, I’d be glad to do that,” Seiler said.

“Good,” Butts said. “Have him at every game.”

Butts returned his gaze to the stadium, Seiler left, and Uga officially became Georgia’s mascot. When Uga started, the dog was instantly popular among Georgia fans, Seiler said. But the mascot’s fame has risen to national levels in the 61 years since that first game.

Although Uga now has a personalized suite, when the Georgia Hotel was built in 1957, pets were not allowed. Charles Seiler, Sonny’s son, said when the family arrived at the hotel from their home in Savannah the day before games, they left the car running with Uga inside for a few minutes. Then, they’d smuggle him up the fire escape.

By the late 1970s, the hotel, which is conveniently located near Sanford Stadium, changed its pet policy — but only for Uga. An employee at the hotel said the hotel still doesn’t allow pets, except for Georgia’s famous mascot. Now, the hotel designates a parking spot for the Seilers’ red Chevy Suburban, which reads “Mascot” on the front tag and has an “UGA X” license plate.

In the years since Uga’s beginnings, the mascot has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and appeared in multiple movies. When Georgia won the 1980 national championship, Uga III received an inscribed championship ring.

“He didn’t have a finger,” Seiler said. “So I wore it for him and still do.”

When the dogs die, they are buried in a marble mausoleum in the southwest corner of Sanford Stadium. Uga I and Uga II were buried in the eastern side of the stadium, but their bodies were exhumed after the grave was constructed. In the marble mausoleum, all the bulldogs see their final resting place.

Having lived with the mascots all his life, Charles said he had to get used to death. In 61 years, there have been 10 official Georgia mascots.

“I’m going to have to do this every 10 years,” Charles said. “That’s just part of it.”

At G-Day, Uga X seemed to smile for photos and embraced the attention he has become accustomed to as fans gathered around his air-conditioned dog house located on the sideline. Camera shutters snapped, and Charles’ 9-year-old son, Cecil, who will one day take over Uga’s handling duties, observed.

On the other side of the stadium, fans passed by the dogs’ graves. Some looked, others stopped briefly, and by a bulldog statue, a line of people wanting to take pictures formed. There has been an Uga at nearly every Georgia game since 1956, and the Seilers intend for that to always be the case.

“I don’t know what I’d do without an Uga,” Seiler said.

Neither do Georgia’s fans.