Nowadays, Hairy Dawg is the imposing costumed mascot who roams the sidelines of UGA sporting events (when he isn’t hunting down litterbugs in stadium videos). But, longtime fans fondly recall the days before Hairy, back when a similarly named cartoon character dished out all sorts of good-humored game day abuse to the mascots of Georgia’s opponents.
The Dawgs always have been big news in the Classic City, but back when the old Athens Daily News was around, the local morning paper was especially enthusiastic about the University of Georgia, even incorporating the school’s famous arch into its masthead.
And, on game days for more than 20 years — from the mid-1960s through the early ’80s — the paper unleashed scores of kids on the area around Sanford Stadium, peddling copies of the Saturday edition, its front page emblazoned with the red-and-black adventures of Harry Dog, a cartoon Georgia Bulldog created by a local ad man named Don Smith.
While Hairy Dawg was designed to be an intimidating but silent presence, his cartoon cousin Harry tended to pummel his victims with quips as well as whatever weapon his big paws were holding. He might be getting ready to greet a Gamecock with a frying pan, a bag of flour and some shortening, or wearing the Florida Gator mascot pinned to his jersey, asking, “What d’ya think? Do I look too preppy?”
Smith died in 2004, but his Harry Dog lives on in the memories of UGA fans. Smith’s son Kirk, who continues running his dad’s old ad agency in Athens, The Adsmith, told me he’s “quite flattered that people still remember” his father’s work.
“As a kid, that’s how I started my Saturdays — I’d to run get the paper and see Harry at top of the fold,” Kirk remembered.
His sister, Angie Smith Cain, told the Athens Banner-Herald a few years back that she remembers she and her brother would look forward to seeing “what Harry Dog was doing to Georgia’s opponent that day. We had a lot of fun with that.”
Harry was quite popular in Athens, where you even could buy a “Harry Dog Joke Book” full of jibes about Georgia rivals illustrated by Smith’s cartoons.
I always figured that today’s Hairy Dawg was at least partially inspired by Smith’s Harry Dog, though that’s not the official story.
Former UGA promotions director Avery McLean recalls: “There was a floppy type dog [“Fluffie”] in the late ’70s and early ’80s at basketball games. But I believe Tom Sapp created the modern Hairy Dawg for the Notre Dame game” in New Orleans.
Back in 2003, Sapp told the Banner-Herald that Hairy Dawg originated with a bulldog with bulging muscles that he drew in 1968 for a business fraternity.
Still, even if Hairy isn’t directly descended from Don Smith’s Harry Dog, his son Kirk recalls UGA checking in with his father “to make sure Dad did not see it as an infringement (he did not). We always had a great working relationship with UGA — still do.”
Game days aren’t quite the same in Athens without those Harry Dog front pages, just like coverage of the games isn’t quite as entertaining as when the now defunct Daily News, which dubbed itself “The People Paper,” had a 19-year-old UGA journalism student named Lewis Grizzard on its staff and threw journalistic objectivity to the wind in leading the hometown cheering section.
The paper was known for its colorful headlines (Grizzard once told the story that the paper’s editor, Glenn Vaughn, prepared a mock front page in case the Second Coming took place in Athens, including the headline: “HE’S BACK!”)
But it was with its Georgia football headlines that the Daily News really excelled.
After a 1965 win over Clemson, the front page bellowed: “Bulldogs Cook Tiger Stew.” And, after Vince Dooley’s second straight win over the Yellow Jackets, the paper’s front on Nov. 28, 1965, declared: “Georgia Clobbers Tech; Dooley for President!!!”
After the Bulldogs wrapped up the 1966 SEC championship with a victory over Auburn, Daily News readers were greeted on Nov. 13 with: “Great Bulldogs Reign in Tough SEC and the Whole Town Goes Wild.”
A kicker over a headline on a front page Grizzard story about the Dawgs’ season-opening victory over Mississippi State in 1967 offered: “Yabba-Dabba-Doooo-ley!” Another in a South Carolina game report crowed: “Cock-a-Dooley-Do!”
On the other hand, an infamous headline attributed to Grizzard and the Daily News that a lot of fans like to recite (making rude wordplay involving the last name of Georgia player Happy Dicks) actually never happened, as UGA football historian Patrick Garbin discovered when he searched all the back issues.
The Daily News did, however, come up with possibly the most memorable college football game headline ever, after Georgia beat Tech, 23-14, in 1966. In 96-point type, the banner head written by veteran reporter Larry Young screamed: “Oh, Hot Diggity Dog, Mr. Dooley, You Have Wrecked Ole Tech Again!”
I once asked Coach Dooley how he felt after seeing that on the front page of the local paper.
“It was a great headline,” Dooley said, “even greater today! [But] at the time I was somewhere between pleased and embarrassed!”
They don’t write ’em like that any more, but fans who were around Athens in those days still can recite that “Hot Diggity Dog” headline from memory.
Is it my all-time favorite Bulldogs headline? Well, actually, I might have to declare a tie between it and the one splashed across the “souvenir” front page of the Atlanta Journal the day after that Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame: “Unbeaten, untied and unbelievable!”
Not quite as colorful as Harry Dog, Grizzard and the Athens Daily News, but certainly unforgettable!
Special thanks to Kirk Smith, Larry Pope, Patrick Garbin, Allen Kent, Doc Eldridge, Mark Parry and William Thornton King.