Then the king said to his servants, "Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?"
II Samuel 3:38
It had been my intention this evening to bring you the national games of interest. After presenting my SEC picks last night and going 4-0 in last week’s national forecasts, I actually had been looking forward to such an endeavor.
Needless to say, there has been a change of plans. There will be no national games of interest or disinterest this week. Now, the state of Georgia is in a state of shock and all of us are in mourning.
It goes without saying that these are not the best of times in Bulldog Nation. Not even a four-game winning streak over our oldest rival can change the fact that our football program is mired in malaise and shows few, if any signs, of improvement. In the midst of the dismal present, we have seen our storied past eroded: Tim Tebow topped Herschel Walker’s conference touchdown record, Steve Spurrier passed Vince Dooley on the all-time SEC victories list, and, this Saturday, Colt McCoy almost certainly will eclipse David Greene as the winningest quarterback in Division I-A history.
Now, as Mr. Sanchez and mizzousundevil have informed those among us who had not heard the sad news already, Uga VII died suddenly and unexpectedly this morning.
There will be no Otto to serve as understudy and stand in for the departed mascot during an interregnum which will last until 2010. When Uga IV was injured in the midst of the 1986 season, his older brother donned the red sweater for a four-game stretch during which Georgia went 3-1. Such situations as this are precisely why I have advocated having a Vice Uga at the ready, but, instead, there will be a wreath adorning the empty doghouse on the Sanford Stadium sideline this Saturday night.
Uga VII’s tenure lasted just 23 games and he presided over a 16-7 stretch in Red and Black football history. While the Bulldogs sent him out a winner last Saturday night, the sizeable mascot strode the sidelines during a tumultuous time and left his post far too soon. Uga VII’s abbreviated stay in office was by far the shortest of any member of his regal line; that his time on the throne was so brief is doubly shocking after he followed the longest-serving of his six predecessors: Uga VI, his father, reigned over 114 games. Prior to today, the shortest-tenured Uga was Uga II, who lasted only 61 games but was present for two SEC championships.
Soon, there will be a new occupant interred in the marble vaults located in the embankment of the south stands of Sanford Stadium. A plaque will be placed bearing Uga VII’s name and an individualized epitaph engraved in bronze. While, obviously, he is just a dog and not a human being, he was---he is---the symbol of the dignity and ferocity which earned the Georgia football team its nickname. As a mascot, it was his lot to embody the traits we hope to see our athletes emulate.
The disrespectful outsider and the hardened cynic might argue that Uga VII fulfilled that role too well, exhibiting a languor which infected lackluster Georgia football teams in 2008 and 2009, but the man who knew Uga VII best, owner Frank W. "Sonny" Seiler, knew better: "Uga VII was not as active or mischievous as his father but more distinguished. He realized his role when he put his shirt on. He was well-behaved and always appreciated the significance of his role."
Distinguished. Well-behaved. Mindful of his role. Appreciative. As Mark Richt might have put it, those are not the worst characteristics of which to be accused. There has been some discussion of the best way to pay tribute to our fallen mascot; black, after all, is the color of mourning, and the Bulldogs lately have trotted out, by turns, black helmets, black jerseys, and black pants. A decade ago, following the sudden passing of assistant coach Pat Watson, the Red and Black donned white pants for their clash with Louisiana State between the hedges.
Having already cheapened the coin by using unorthodox attire as mere gimmickry, let us not compound the error by deviating further from the unwavering standards and verities of which Uga is intended to be emblematic. A helmet sticker for the players and a black armband for the patrons will suffice nicely as an understated memorial in tangible representation of our shared sorrow. Saturday night ought not to be about the atypical color we break out, but rather the overly familiar color we shelve for the occasion.
Consider again the words of Sonny Seiler: "He realized his role when he put his shirt on. He was well-behaved and always appreciated the significance of his role." Let us profit by Uga VII’s example. Let each of us be appreciative, recognize our role, and behave ourselves well. For the players, the show of dignity amidst ferocity---of what Erk Russell termed "intelligent fanaticism" during the heyday of the Junkyard Dogs---should take the form of efficiency in execution. Let the team pay its tribute not by donning black jerseys, but by drawing no yellow flags. The best way to honor the memory of the fallen is by being what the departed was. We show respect for the well-behaved by behaving well.
To Uga VII, a damn good ‘Dawg.