When Uga VI went to that great puppy playground in the sky two summers ago, some folks wondered why such a fuss was made over his passing. “It is,” they sniffed, “just a dog.” And I thought to myself: Er, no.
I’m not a Georgia fan — and here we pause for all Tech backers to say, “Oh, really? — but I’ve been a fan of the Ugas since first I laid eyes on one. It was a rainy October night in Lexington, Ky. The year was 1976. Georgia was playing the Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium. My girlfriend (now my wife) and I were sitting in the UK student section. We wound up watching less of the game — Georgia won 31-7, Ray Goff throwing a long touchdown pass to Gene Washington — and more of Uga III, who was patrolling the sideline.
We loved his sweater. We loved his proud little walk. We loved him. Indeed, on my first trip to Athens — it was the summer of ‘77, and at age 21 I’d been dispatched on the old SEC Skywriters’ tour — I found a poster of Uga III in a downtown camera store and bought it for my wife-to-be, who displayed it in her apartment. (And she was, and is to this day, a ‘Cat fan.)
When finally I was allowed to cover games for the Lexington Herald-Leader, I would make a trek to Georgia sideline near the end of the game and seek out Uga for petting purposes. Once, at my request, I even had my picture taken with the honorable hound, and I turned to Claude Felton, then as now the Georgia publicist, and said: “This is the greatest moment of my life.”
And he said: “It’s the second-greatest. The greatest will be when he autographs it.”
As fate would have it, I wound up working at the ol’ AJC and hanging around Georgia on a semi-regular basis, and I’ve had the honor and privilege of meeting all Ugas from III through VII, who died today of a heart attack. I even met Otto, who spelled Uga IV for four games — going 3-1 — back in 1986. (Uga had hurt himself falling off his hotel bed. Seriously.) And I still remember what Vince Dooley said that year: “We’ve got good depth at dog.”
I try to be objective about most things. (Here I pause for Paul Hewitt and Greg Norton and Willie Martinez to scream, “Oh, really?’) But I am not at all objective about the Ugas. I believe they’re the most handsome canines in this world or the next. And I completely understand Bulldog Nation’s sense of loss when one is taken away.
Oh, and about here I probably should mention that I attended Maysville High School in Maysville, Ky. We were the Bulldogs. Darn right we were.