Georgia football history, mascot mystery unearthed at ‘UGA Athletics in Your Town’ exhibit

Published 1:04 pm Saturday, July 22, 2023

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The Gilbert H. Gragg Library saw a steady stream of Georgia fans at the library Thursday for the “UGA Athletics in Your Town” exhibit.

The exhibit displays pieces of UGA athletics memorabilia and artifacts as old as 1899. Jason Hasty, a Hargrett Library Public Outreach Associate, and Chuck Barber, Hargrett Library Associate Director, hosted the event and stood by to explain pieces and talk with exhibit goers. 

“I figured, coming to Bainbridge, folks would be excited just ‘cause the coach Smart association,” Hasty said. “But there’s also so many great UGA people down in this area.”

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Football Fanatics

The exhibit showcased a wide range of memorabilia, such as century football artifacts, pieces of women’s athletics history and even the 2021 National Championship ring. UGA players, staff and personnel were awarded the ring after the team’s 33-18 victory over Alabama.

Kirby Smart’s sideline outfit was on display. Hasty said Smart donated his polo, visor, shoes and the belt that he “gets held back on the sideline with.” 

Smart, a Bainbridge native, attended Bainbridge High School from 1990-1994. The Library pulled out yearbooks from those years and displayed pages with Smart in them as part of the exhibit. Smart was a three-sport athlete — football, basketball and baseball — and was given the nickname “Jock.”

Smart wasn’t just an athlete. He served as student Vice President his Junior Year and president his senior year. Smart was also a part of the yearbook staff, the secretary of the Key Club, MVP of the Math League and Salutatorian of his graduating class. Smart was voted “Best All-Around Senior Boy.” in ‘94

Go… Goats?

More football memorabilia was displayed, including tickets to the first game in Sanford Stadium in 1927, were on display. The game was against Yale, and the Bulldogs came out on top 14-10

But which “Bulldogs?”

It was the Georgia Bulldogs, but both Georgia and Yale go by the “Bulldogs.” Many believe Georgia adopted the mascot from Yale. 

UGA’s first president, Abraham Baldwin, was a Yale graduate. Today, some people think the university adopted Yale’s Bulldog mascot as a tribute to his alma mater. Hasty said that’s not the case and that the history of UGA’s mascot can be a point of contention.

“It’s a weird, murky history, and the University only gives a brief summary about it,” Hasty said. 

Georgia’s mascot history includes a goat, a bull terrier, a quick run-in with a wildcat and, finally, the bulldog moniker they go by today. When the football team started in 1892, there was no official team mascot.

Hasty said in the early years of Bulldog football, there was a goat on the sidelines. “The Goat” wore a black jacket with red “U. G.” on each side, which didn’t last very long. 

A female bull terrier named Trilby filled the mascot role in 1894. Trilby was the pet of Charles H. Black, Sr., a football player. According to Georgia Athletics’ official website, Black brought Trilby with him to every practice. She would reportedly run routes with the players and became a regular part of football operations. 

One day, Trilby went missing, and Black couldn’t find her to take her to practice. After a “frantic search,” she was found “proudly washing the faces” of 13 pups she had just birthed. The team dressed Trilby and her pups in red and black ribbons and had them present on game days. Trilby and her pups only had the gig for that season.

Hasty said in the years following, the team would go by whatever name the media gave it. These names were mostly symbolic or literal, some being just the school colors.

“This was in an era when newspaper writers would kind of give you a nickname,” Hasty said. “We went by the ‘Red and Black,’ the ‘Crimson and Black,’ The ‘Varsities,’ which was our first kind of nickname in 1892, ‘93, the ‘Georgians’ and the ‘Athenians.’” 

In 1920, the UGA basketball team adopted “Wildcats” as its mascot and nickname from the media. It evolved into the university’s mascot but lasted just six months, according to Hasty. He said people were dissatisfied with that name because they thought it was unoriginal. Atlantic Journal sportswriter Morgan Blake expressed this sentiment in an article from that time period.

“I had hoped that Georgia would adopt some original nickname that would stand out,” Blake wrote. “The ‘Georgia Bulldogs’ would sound good, because there is a certain dignity about a bulldog as well as ferocity, and the name is not as common as ‘Wildcats’ and ‘Tigers.’”

After the publication of that article, fans ditched the “Wildcats” mascot and hitched on to the “Bulldogs”; the name stuck and was eventually adopted as the UGA mascot.

Crimson Confusion

Another piece that represented a change in Georgia history is a track letterman sweater on display. The 1920s thick, cable-nit sweater is black with a big crimson “G” on the front. The “G” was made to be crimson because crimson was the school’s color in that era.

According to Hasty, the university switched to the current Georgia red color you see today in the late 1930s. Stadiums were getting larger at the time, and he said the university felt that bright red would be easier to see from afar than crimson. Hasty mentioned that he thinks they also changed because two other SEC Schools — Alabama and South Carolina — already had a dark red color palette. 

Winning Women

Hasty had a display set up for women’s athletics history at the university.

Before Title IX — a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in sports and other school activities — was passed in 1972, women who wanted to play sports had to organize it for themselves. The Women’s Athletic Association (WAA) organized sports for women at UGA during this period. A WAA pamphlet from 1936 was displayed, showing what the sports offered that year.

“When I bring things out, football is kind of always the main draw,” Hasty said. “But the archives cover all athletics at Georgia. Women’s athletics at UGA is so huge and so successful. I always make sure to have a case for our women’s athletes.”

An early 1980’s pair of signed Nike “Blazers” were on display, the basketball shoes of All-American Janet Paris. 

The swim team was represented with a swim cap signed by Olympian and UGA alum Allison Schmitt, a pin of Team USA and Bulldogs coach Jack Bauerle, and a sticker of the old-school logo. 

Four Gymnastics National Championship rings were displayed. The four are a part of 10 championships the team has all together.