June 30, 2008

Bowden: Looking back at mascot memories

I saw where the University of Georgia's mascot UGA VI died of congestive heart failure over the weekend. He was only 9, which seems much too early to go, even in dog years (63). If you saw how well they take care of these college mascots you would think they might live forever. Of course, even though man's best friends are not immortal, mascots are and there will soon be an UGA VII ready to lead those junkyard dawgs between the hedges.

Mascots along with fight songs are just another reason why the professional game will never quite be the same as college football.

In spite of all the misery they caused me, I'm going to say a little prayer tonight for all those Georgia Bulldogs fans. I know how much they loved that old mutt and how much they must be hurting.

It reminds me of a story Lewis Grizzard, the great Southern writer, humorist, and die-hard Bulldogs fan, used to tell about UGA. He said two of his friends were at the stadium one night and just before the game UGA came trotting out on the field and sat down on the 50-yard line. He proceeded to lick himself where dogs have a habit of licking themselves. One of the friends turned to the other and said, "Look at that. Man I wish I could do that."

The other friend replied, "Man that dog would bite you."

Of course, I had my own little encounter with UGA back in 1996 or maybe I should say my Auburn wide receiver, Robert Baker, did.

The 1996 Auburn-Georgia game, the 100th in the series, became a battle for the history books. Rallying from a 21-point first-half deficit, Georgia won 56-49 in four OTs and for quite some time it remained the longest in NCAA history. It was one of the toughest losses of my entire career.

I will never forget, on the final play of the first quarter, I called a pass play to Baker in the back of the end zone and he made a leaping catch to put us ahead 14-7. But, before he had a chance to celebrate, UGA V leaped forward, perched on his hind legs and attempted to take a chunk out of Robert Baker's kneecap.

It became one of the most famous pictures in the history of the rivalry. In fact, because the negative was irreparably damaged by the 3,000 copies that had been made, the Montgomery Advertiser, had to decline another 2,000 reprint requests and has since stopped selling copies.

My affinity for mascots really goes all the way back to my playing days at West Virginia. In fact, I have to give full credit to our Mighty Mountaineer mascot for helping me have the greatest game of my college career.

We were playing Temple at old Franklin Field back in 1977 and I was holding down the bench as the NCAA's smallest fullback at 5-foot-6 (measured with the soles of my flip-flops cut out and stuck inside my socks) and 175 pounds. Late in the second half, we had a commanding lead and the coaches began to unload the benches. Our third-string back, Duane Woods, was goofing around with the Mountaineer on the sideline and talked him into letting him shoot his flintlock musket. When he did the black powder blew up into his eyes and temporarily blinded him. Then, when the coach called for him to go into the game he wasn't able to play so I eagerly took his place and ran the ball six times for 36 yards.

It was an all-time Terry Bowden record.

I was an assistant coach at Akron one year in 1986 and although the Midwestern style of football we played back then was kind of bland, there was nothing boring about the mascot situation. We played the Toledo Rockets, the Kent State Golden Flashes and the Youngstown Penguins on consecutive weekends.

But then, again, we were the Akron Zips.

Akron, Ohio is the home of the Goodyear Rubber Company and many years ago they developed the first ever rubber boot with a zipper. So in honor of that feat we became the Zips which is short for zipper. I suppose we could have become the Akron Boots or the Akron Rubbers so in light of those choices Zips wasn't all that bad. Now, the crazy thing is that the mascot at Akron is actually a kangaroo. He goes by the name of Zippy. Of course, I finally ended up at Auburn.

The Tigers the Plainsmen the War Eagles.

I just love mascots.

Terry Bowden is Yahoo! Sports' college football analyst. For more information about Terry, visit his official web site.

Send Terry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.


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