Uga won’t be the only bulldog not allowed this season. Count Mississippi State’s Bully XXI as one mascot that won’t prowl the sidelines. Other notables such as the Georgia Southern eagle, LSU’s Mike the Tiger, Auburn’s Aurea War Eagle VIII or Tennessee’s blue tick hound Smokey will all be missing.
Some might argue that Uga, once deemed as the greatest sports mascot in America by Sports Illustrated, as essential. The Seiler family of Savannah certainly does. They have owned the bulldogs since Sonny Seiler’s pet bulldog – “Hood’s Old Dan” -- became the official mascot in 1956.
But the Seilers are taking the decision in stride.
“Well, the dog is a magnet,” said Charles Seiler, who has raised the dogs as his pet since 2008 and is the son of Sonny Seiler. "The thing that makes Uga great is he is very approachable. Well, this is not a time to approach. We were trying to think of a way to keep him involved. … But there were problems in terms of congregation, too. So, it’s just not a good deal for us in what the dog typically does.
“Now we just have our fingers crossed for a vaccine coming down the line.”
The CDC established earlier this year that the coronavirus can be spread from animals to humans and vice versa, but reported that it is rare.
Seiler said the family considered several alternatives, including having Uga present somewhere around the stadium but protected behind barricades. But Seiler, who works in the insurance business, said he simply decided it wasn’t worth the risks.
“People always congregate around (Uga), and the last thing we need is to have somebody pet the dog and a week later they’ve got COVID and then they say, ‘Man, we got it from the dog,’” Seiler said. “So the only way to totally eliminate that scenario is not to be there. At this point, that’s the stance we’re probably going to take.”
Uga X – who known as “Que” to Seiler at home -- would not have been at Georgia’s opener Sept. 26 at Arkansas anyway. As it turns out, Arkansas is one of three SEC schools (Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the others) that does not allow live mascots inside their stadium. It’s a bit hypocritical considering “Tusk,” the Razorbacks' Russian boar mascot, gets to attend, though confined to a trailer behind the end zone.
As for Georgia home games at Sanford Stadium, this will be the first time since Nov. 21, 2009, when there hasn’t been an Uga mascot on the sideline. That year, Uga VII, known as Loran’s Best, died suddenly the Thursday before the final home game against Kentucky. “Russ,” who later became the full-fledged Uga, filled in the following week in a road game against Georgia Tech.
Since then, the Seilers have established a selection of replacement mascots should they be needed in the middle of a season.
“I have spare dogs now just in case we have to have a fill-in,” Seiler said. “Knock on wood, we haven’t had to do that. So, we’re ready for that. But we weren’t ready for COVID.”
Since the 1940s, Georgia almost always has had some kind of bulldog on the sidelines for home games. “Trilby” was the first in 1894, then there was “Mr. Angel,” “Butch” and “Mike.”
But the Uga line of all-white English bulldogs has been in place since the home opener against Florida State in 1956.
Ugas have actually missed several away games over the years. Uga VI wasn’t allowed to travel with the Bulldogs to Hawaii and the O’ahu Bowl in 2000. Increasingly in recent years, stadiums have restricted the presence of visiting mascots. Meanwhile, since Charles Seiler has been raising the Ugas, he has limited some early-season travel because hot-weather issues can create serious health complications for this particular breed of bulldog.
Uga utilizes an air-conditioned doghouse with a see-through glass door at home games. Before kickoff, at which time Uga will lead the team onto the field, lucky fans permitted on the field line up along the hedges to get their picture with the famous mascot.
In the meantime, Georgia fans will be able to see Uga virtually. Charles Seiler said they plan to make some remote appearances during games via the TV networks this fall and plan to conduct some digital conference calls from their home in Savannah. Also, UGA’s athletic website is establishing a feature where fans can click on a button and be able to see Uga – or Que, in this case -- doing everyday life at home.
“We want to be good folks,” Seiler said. “We don’t want anybody to get sick because they’re trying to get a picture with the dog. We’re staying put until things turn around. As they evolve or maybe they come up with a vaccine, we’ll go back to doing what we’ve always done.”