A Smile with that Slobber

SAVANNAH – Russ, Georgia's official mascot, doesn't go to all of the Bulldog Club meetings.

But here in Savannah the most famous mascot in college sport sits outside a meeting of boosters, alums and supporters. Having been around Georgia for more than three decades and covering the team for the last 14 years, it is obvious to me that more than any one thing Georgia people love their mascot more than anything else associated with the school.

Need proof? Just sit still with Charles Seiler, who now handles the bulldog on the sideline for games, for a minute as people walk by to go into the event. Coaches? They can be fired. Players? They grow old.

UGA (or Russ in this case), he just sits – sometimes with a bag of ice – and gets all the attention a dog could ever need. I've been an acquaintance of Charles' because we both are on the sideline for nearly every Georgia game. We talked last week about people's reactions to the dog, other mascots around college sports and the percentage of non-Georgia fans in Savannah (not many).

But while we were talking I mainly watched the way people acted when they saw Russ.

Couple of things first – hardcore fans knew Russ was Russ; more casual fans called him Uga. But they were all eager to see him and not nearly at all embarrassed about trying to coax the dog into licking them on their face… I bet you don't see South Carolina fans trying to get that chicken to give them a peck on the face, or Arkansas fans rolling around with that giant hog.

Georgia fans love Russ, or any version of dog that is fitted with the red or white jersey at that given time. Their faces light up when approaching the dog. They are not the least bit concerned that it could possibly bite them… that thought does not enter their mind until they are inches away from his giant and slobbery snout.

Even random tourists (Savannah has tons of them) spot the dog and know immediately what it is and what it represents. The Uga line is the most fascinating thing I see all of the time. The poor thing consistently has more fans at picture day than any player or coach. I have friends who are Kentucky, Clemson and South Carolina fans who all have picture with Uga up in their house. They, too, are part of the cult of Uga.

But the best part about Russ, or any of the Uga dogs, is that they can do no wrong. They are not judged by using the bathroom on the field. I would argue that fans would encourage that on the road. Dogs are not like players and coaches, who can lead Georgia to glory, but almost always disappoint because in this day and age team inevitably lose – there is no perfection in college sports any more.

Except for maybe the Uga line. Even though with Russ it has taken a slight right turn from its original decedents he is about as perfect a thing as we have in college sport today. I've never seen an adult leave Uga without a smile.

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