Loran - Smith Sonny Seiler
SAVANNAH – The patriarch of the Uga dynasty experienced a milestone birthday last weekend and sure didn’t look and act his age as he was welcomed into the nonagenarian society. Sonny Seiler has cavorted with all ten of the official University of Georgia mascots, beginning with Uga I in 1956.
It is an old story, but a lovely one which does not bore or aggravate listeners, especially if they are UGA aficionados. In 1956 following Sonny’s marriage to Cecilia Gunn of Columbus, the young couple received a wedding gift of an all-white male English bulldog from a family friend of the bride.
The Seiler’s were challenged with having to manage their budget with a newborn baby bringing about constraints. With another mouth to feed, Sonny did not fret and with enterprise found a way.
He worked part time in the UGA Athletic Association ticket office to help make ends meet. Uga I was a pretty bulldog. Georgia fans took to him as much as his owners did. Cecilia fashioned tee shirts into jerseys which perfectly fit the four-legged family pet.
The first Uga was a hit at the Sigma Chi House, Sonny’s fraternity. On the day of the first home game in ’56, Georgia hosted Florida State, winning the game 3-0 on a field goal by Ken Cooper. Uga was off to a great start although officialdom was waiting in the wings.
Uga I went to his first game and accompanied Sonny and Cecilia. He caused a commotion in the student section. His reputation began to grow by word of mouth. There were no cell phone cameras in those days, but the love we see of Uga, with which we are familiar today, was just as warm and reverent back then. Uga was born to be a star.
When Clint Eastwood came to town to produce the movie, based on the book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” he told Uga, “We are going to make you a star.” Cecilia immediately interjected, “Oh, Mr. Eastwood, he is already a star.”
In 1956, the rock and roll craze swept across the world, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, the Federal-Aid Highway act was passed, which would bring about 41,000 miles of Interstate highways, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier, the Supreme Court declared Alabama’s segregated bus laws illegal, a house cost just under $12,000, a car cost $2,000, gas was 22 cents a gallon and “My Fair Lady” opened on Broadway.
Unfortunately, the family and the Uga’s lost their “Fair Lady” when Cecelia passed away in 2014. She had been the surrogate mother of the Uga’s. She was the one who coddled and pampered them, making sure they were the beneficiary of endless tender, loving care.
Fans everywhere know Uga as the famous mascot of the University of continued from page
Georgia ( Sports Illustrated named Uga the nation’s No. 1 collegiate mascot), but the Seiler children— Swann, Charles, Bess and Sara—know Uga as the family pet.
Sonny took bows when Uga went on official display in an era when women were not allowed on sidelines and in locker rooms, but if the Uga’s could talk, they would sing the praises of Mother Cecelia.
In my mind’s eye, I can see Uga walking in the senior parade, a custom that once was a highlight of halftime of the annual homecoming game. I can see him in his tux at the Heisman dinner honoring Herschel Walker. I can see him visiting the various schools and colleges on campus, and I can see him on a block of ice in his doghouse between the hedges with network cameras showing his smiley face to a national audience.
Nobody has underscored the labor of love greater than the Seiler family. As the day-to-day function has segued into the confines and embrace of the Seiler’s only son, Charles, the mascots remain in good hands. It is now Mother Wendy who is available for any Uga beck and call, which is a reminder that caring for the Uga’s requires, in addition to love, energy and sensitive management. The Uga’s are special so they must have a special diet and there are abundant special needs.
There is one parting shot from the Sonny era which might make your day. When Uga V jumped at the Auburn receiver, Robert Baker, who had taunted him, a young photographer on assignment from the Montgomery Advertiser, snapped one of the most highly recognized photos in Georgia history.
In a conversation with the photographer, she noted that the newspaper had so many requests for copies that they, in those pre-digital days—wore out the negative.
Said Sonny, “Wow, I didn’t know that many Georgia fans would order the photo.”
Replied the photographer, “Oh, Mr. Seiler, it was the Alabama people.”