“The nose of the Bulldog is slanted upwards, so it can breathe without letting go.” – That quote from Sir Winston Churchill, the original British Bulldog, was engraved on a granite nameplate sitting atop the desk of the legendary Georgia Bulldog Dan Magill.
One of the great legends of the University of Georgia has ascended to Bulldog Heaven. Just before the 2023 season began, Frank Wilkins “Sonny” Seiler passed away at the age of 90. Patriarch to the line of English Bulldogs universally recognized as Uga, the world’s greatest and most famous mascot, Sonny Seiler was and will forever be one of Georgia’s favorite sons.
For decades upon decades, Uga has patrolled the Georgia sideline. He’s been in movies and tv shows, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as “The Nation’s No. 1 Mascot,” donned a tuxedo for Herschel Walker’s 1982 Heisman Trophy ceremony, gone after an Auburn wide receiver and been photographed and written about on countless occasions.
Uga puts the “Bulldogs” in the University of Georgia Bulldogs!
Were it not for the Seilers, there would be no Uga.
It is impossible to think about the University of Georgia and the Georgia Bulldogs without thinking about Uga, and it’s impossible to think about Uga without thinking about Sonny Seiler.
He was a loving and devoted husband to his late wife Cecelia, adoring father to their four children: Swann, Charles, Bess and Sara, and his grandchildren and great grandchild.
Sonny Seiler loved his family, he loved the University of Georgia, he loved Athens, he loved his native Savannah, and he loved dogs – the four and two-legged varieties.
For his ‘day job,’ Sonny Seiler was a lawyer. In legal circles, he was one of the most successful, talented and respected attorneys to practice in the state.
“Sonny was a very accomplished attorney, Dean of the Savannah Bar Association, and popular inside and outside the Courthouse with other lawyers and jurors,” recalls the Honorable Georgia Supreme Court Justice John Ellington, Georgia fan and ‘Secretary of State to the Bulldog Nation.’ “John Manley practiced law with him and remembers a trial in Savannah when the Plaintiff’s counsel cried during his closing argument and made a dramatic plea to the jury. Sonny stood up for his closing, looked the jury dead in the eye and said ‘they didn’t teach me how to cry in law school’ The jury laughed, the Plaintiff was deflated. Defense verdict. Sonny for the win.”
The renowned attorney became quite the celebrity as one of the central figures in the case that led to the best selling book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” based in Savannah. In the subsequent movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, Seiler played the judge in the case. He became a member of the Screen Actors Guild and later played roles in The Gingerbread Man and The Legend of Bagger Vance.
The fame and notoriety never ‘went to his head.’ Sonny Seiler was always the first class wonderful gentleman who made so many people – especially children – happy with the accessibility he allowed to his beloved pets through the association with the University of Georgia.
He was a dog lover.
Georgia fan and veterinarian extraordinaire Dr. Flynn Nance had this to say about the Seiler family: “Their genuine care for their dog was exemplary. He was not just a pet, but an integrated family member. By exposing Uga to humans early and on a consistent basis, he became well socialized and comfortable around people and in stressful environments. Even though Uga is in high demand, the Seilers always do what is best for Uga, and sometimes that means saying “no” to appearances when it is not in the best interest of the dog. Uga is the family pet, not just the Georgia mascot, and the family loves him as the pet first. The Seilers have sacrificed a lot through the years to share their pet with Georgia.”
He was special, and so are his dogs, who we all feel are ours as well.
His friends numbered in the thousands, his admirers and fans exponentially more.
Georgia’s legendary Hall of Fame kicker Kevin Butler was born in Savannah, both of his parents natives of the Coastal Empire. He and Seiler shared a strong bond going back to Butler’s glory days in the silver britches, and continuing through these treasured back to back national championship seasons.
“Before every game at Sanford Stadium, I’d have a beer with Sonny and we’d soak in the excitement of the game,” Butler fondly recalls. We would always talk about family, friends and Savannah, and that always brought a calming effect over me before the game. The coolest thing about it was Uga was in the backseat listening to our conversation.”
The Bulldog, and its dignified ferocity – “The Bulldog breed is unique because they are tenacious but friendly animals,” says Dr. Nance – was the perfect fit for the University of Georgia.
Sonny Seiler was the perfect keeper of the flame for Georgia’s cherished mascot.
“When people ask where I’m from, there are generally three first responses,” says Georgia’s iconic Hall of Fame Sports Information Director and fellow Savannah native Claude Felton. “They’ll say what a beautiful city it is, tell me about St. Patrick’s Day, and ask, isn’t that where the Georgia mascot lives? And maybe not in that order.”
“Sonny was the Patriarch of the Seilers – rightfully considered by many as the First Family of the Georgia Bulldogs. Sonny, the Seilers, and Uga have become national treasures while representing the University of Georgia with the highest degree of class and dignity,” Felton continued. “He always embraced the legend he helped foster. He was accommodating with requests with the view of doing what would generate goodwill and be beneficial for his alma mater. Sonny will be greatly missed, but leaves so many memories and a rare legacy of loyalty and dedication to the Georgia Bulldogs.”
Perhaps it was fitting that Mr. Seiler left us just before the season-opener against UT Martin, when “Boom” officially took over as Uga XI in the ceremonial passing of the torch from Uga X, “Que,” Between the Hedges. The Seiler children and grandchildren were there, helping carry on the legacy just as he would have wanted. Seeing Uga on gameday in that famous red sweater with the big black G always brings a smile to the face of the Georgia faithful. This time, though, there were tears.
We won’t get to see Sonny anymore.
But what a legacy from a man who embodied “not for ourselves, but for others.”
And I can’t imagine the greeting he received from Cecelia, all of the Georgia legends from great days gone by … and a bevy of beautiful Bulldogs who were waiting on a Red and Black Rainbow Bridge, overjoyed to see him again, reunited forever.