Sonny Seiler, patriarch of Uga mascot tradition, dies

Former UGA coach and athletics director Vince Dooley talks with Sonny Seiler, the long-time owner of the Georgia mascots, and Seiler's daughter Swann.

Credit: Brant Sanderlin/

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Former UGA coach and athletics director Vince Dooley talks with Sonny Seiler, the long-time owner of the Georgia mascots, and Seiler's daughter Swann.

Credit: Brant Sanderlin/

Credit: Brant Sanderlin/

ATHENS – The great Sonny Seiler has died.

His real name was Frank W. Seiler, but everybody called him Sonny. He was a successful attorney in his hometown of Savannah and longtime servant to his city, his state and his state university. But he’ll forever be known as the man who started the line of mascots known as Uga.

Seiler passed away Monday in Savannah after a short illness. He was 90.

“I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to the Seiler family on behalf of the entire Bulldog Nation,” UGA President Jere W. Morehead in a statement released Monday night. “Sonny’s contributions to the University of Georgia as a student and alumnus were innumerable, and his loyalty to his alma mater was unmatched. His legacy will live on forever in the history and traditions of this great institution.”

Seiler’s pet bulldogs have patrolled sidelines as the Georgia Bulldogs’ official mascot for the last 67 years. The tradition started quite unintentionally.

Seiler bought a pure white English bulldog as a gift for his wife, Cecelia. At the time he was working for the Georgia athletic department while attending UGA’s law school.

Spotting the handsome puppy one day at practice, then-Georgia-football coach Wally Butts asked the Seilers to bring the dog onto the field for the home opener against Florida State that season. “Hood’s Ole Dan” then became known as Uga I, and there has been an Uga on the field ever since.

Sonny’s son, Charles Seiler, has been raising and handling the mascots for the last several years. Uga XI, whose given name is “Boom,” was sworn in as the latest Uga in a “collaring ceremony” at the G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium on April 15. Boom’s first official game as Uga XI is slated for this Saturday when Georgia plays host to Tennessee-Martin.

But there was so much more to Sonny Seiler than raising these famous dogs. He enjoyed a distinguished career as an attorney and became a senior partner of the Savannah law firm Bouhan Falligant, which he joined in 1960. Seiler was well known for serving as lead defense counsel in the Jim Williams murder trials that were later made famous by their inclusion in John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. When that book was later made into a movie, Seiler got an acting part as a judge.

Seiler was a longtime member of the UGA Athletic Association’s board of directors, served as president of the UGA Alumni Association, was on the board for the Georgia Student Educational Fund, chaired the UGA School of Law Board of Visitors, was a member of the Presidents Club and of the Board of Trustees of the University of Georgia Foundation.

“Mr. Seiler was a dear friend who I cherished and will miss very much,” Georgia Athletics Director Josh Brooks said. “He was an iconic figure at the University of Georgia for the past almost 70 years. Because of his generosity, Uga is the most beloved and recognizable mascot in all of college athletics. We owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for building a legacy that will continue for years to come. Please join me in lifting the Seiler family up in prayer during this difficult time.”

Seiler’s wife of 59 years, the former Cecilia Gunn, preceded him in death. He is survived by four children, Cecelia Swann Seiler and Charles Wilkins Seiler (Wendy) of Savannah, Bess Seiler Thompson (Shannon) of St. Simons Island, GA, and Sara Seiler Story (Todd) of Athens, GA. He leaves seven grandchildren: Margaret Chapman Story, Sara Thompson McKinnon (Bryce), Anna Gibbons Story, David Tennyson Thompson, Seiler Burnette Thompson, William Gunn Story, and Cecil Wilson Seiler. He also leaves one great grandchild: Whit Bardwell.

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