ATLANTA -- To understand the hysteria surrounding a team and a dog in this state since the University of Georgia sits two victories shy of a national championship in college football, let's go back a decade. There I was, rushing across the field after a Georgia football game against Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., and I came within a millisecond of crushing Uga.
It didn't happen, because Georgia's English bulldog mascot trotted away from underneath my dropping shoe, but I'll tell you what. I still have nightmares over the likely headlines.
Reckless Atlanta reporter maims mascot
Uga gets ugly greeting after game
"In that situation, you could have stepped on him, but if you did, it would have been my fault, not his or yours," Charles Seiler told me over the phone Wednesday from Savannah, Ga., where he and his family have raised the current Uga and the nine other ones since 1956.
Every game, Seiler puts this Uga known as "Que" in a specially designed van for the five-hour drive from Savannah to the Bulldogs' home of Athens for either a game or a trip on a private jet when Georgia plays away. Added Seiler, Georgia Class of 1983 and an insurance agent between serving as Mr. Everything for two-year-old Uga X, "It's my job to keep the dogs safe, so if you would have stepped on (Uga VI) that day, you wouldn't have been blamed."
Yeah, well. I'm not sure about that, especially since Uga represents the obsession that stretches across the state from Blairsville through Valdosta over anything related to those other Bulldogs who operate Between The Hedges on campus. The average home game for Georgia features 90,000 of the loudest people you'll ever hear inside of an outdoor stadium, and most of the barking during those six, seven, 12 hours (you know, including the tailgating constantly blasting the Georgia fight song) comes from humans instead of canines. Which means, with the Bulldogs preparing to meet Oklahoma in Pasadena on New Year's Day for a semifinal matchup during the College Football Playoff, there aren't many cats in sight around Georgia this week due to the epidemic of the woof, woof, woofing. Which also means Seiler is worried about transporting Uga X from Savannah to southern California this weekend. For starters, he said Que is good inside of his cart for about five hours.
From Atlanta to Los Angeles, the flight is 5 ½ hours.
"OK, I'm thinking I've got to drive to Athens, then put the dog on a bus that goes from there to Atlanta for an 1 ½-hour drive, because the Athens airport can't handle the equipment that Delta is going to use to get us out there," Seiler said. "Then I've got that long flight to LA, and I don't know how long it's going to take me to get from the airport to the hotel. You got to remember the dog is good with staying in that box for five hours, and anything over that, you risk him having an accident or being uncomfortable. When he needs to use the facilities, there are none on the tarmac at Atlanta Hartsfield or LAX or that kind of thing.
"We're also very appreciative that he's been invited to be in the Rose Bowl parade, and we're somewhat used to doing parades, since Savannah has the second-largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the country. The difference is, the Rose Bowl parade is before the game. We typically don't have Uga do anything in that situation, because we want him to be alert. If he does any of that stuff, there's a strong chance he'll be sleeping in the second half.
"We try to keep him in the same routine. I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping he can make that long trip and be of service to the university when they blow the whistle for the game."
He will. Even when dozing, Uga X is the University of Georgia's mascot, and the majority in this state views anything involved with the Bulldogs as huge as eating and breathing. Here's some perspective. Whenever Awesome Bill from Dawsonville won NASCAR races during his prime, locals went nuts. Bill Elliott was one of them, and his Daytona 500 victories were about as good as they got in a state with few successes in sports back then until word came during the fall of 1990 that Atlanta got the Summer Olympics over the likes of Athens (the one in Greece, not Georgia), Belgrade, Toronto and Melbourne. Atlanta native Evander Holyfield also spent those years on either side of the turn of the century becoming the only four-time world heavyweight champion in history. Bigger yet, the 1995 Braves evolved into the first and only professional sports team in Georgia to win a world championship. Oh, but none of those things topped the Falcons reaching the Super Bowl after the 1998 and 2016 seasons.
The Falcons don't have Uga, though. You know who does. In fact, on an emotional scale of one to 10 for Georgians, the Falcons' spurts of success and those of other state-related teams and athletes over the decades rank below zero behind the 37-year-old memory of Herschel Walker running and Vince Dooley coaching the Bulldogs to a national title. Now former Georgia player Kirby Smart is channeling Dooley while Nick Chubb is doing the same as Walker. Their No. 3-ranked team possess rushers, defenders and a freshman quarterback in Jake Fromm who resembles a senior.
Through it all, Smart, Chubb and the rest of the Bulldog Nation are inspired by the most popular animal in sports.
Uga has the fan mail to prove it.
Not only that, but each of the Ugas are invited to weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs and even funerals. They also have so much other stuff happening that Seiler says football for his bulldogs in red sweaters with the large "G" is a "nine-month commitment" that keeps expanding. Take, for instance, an event in Atlanta earlier this month sponsored by a Georgia women's alumni group. They wanted Uga to attend, but the logistics didn't work for Seiler with a tight turnaround back to Savannah after a home night game for the Bulldogs.
"For their event, they invited mothers and their children to come, and they had a full house, and instead of having the kids write letters to Santa, they were given crayons and pictures to write letters to Uga," Seiler said. "About a week and a half ago, I got a FedEx package from the guys in the alumni office, and they sent us a package that looked like a Sears catalogue. It was about two inches filled with all of that stuff from the event they held, with various pictures and comments and lists of things the children wanted for Christmas. They asked us to present the items to Uga and to take a picture with him with the items, to send back to them to send to all of the folks who attended."
As for other Uga appearances, he'll spend a 20th year next month packing hotel rooms around Savannah by attending a hockey event to help promote sports in the city. He'll also return to Athens to get Bulldogs fans psyched for the annual hockey game between Georgia and Georgia Tech. To hear Seiler tell it, that's for starters, because, "We try to support every Georgia sport the best we can. We have to stay within the rules and the guidelines of recruiting and things like that, but we're getting more of a year-round calendar of events for Uga. We try to do the best we can to accommodate as many people as possible when they call and ask us to do any kind of function."
Still, when you hear Uga, you think Georgia football.
I think, "Whew!"