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Handsome Dan

File:Original Handsome Dan Yale's mascot.jpg
The original Handsome Dan, bought by Yale tackle Andrew Graves from a local blacksmith in 1889.

Handsome Dan is a bulldog who serves as the mascot of Yale University's sports teams. In addition to a person wearing a costume, the position is filled by an actual bulldog, the honor (and the title "Handsome Dan") being transferred to another upon death or retirement. Handsome Dan is selected based on his ability to tolerate bands and children, negative reaction to the color crimson and to tigers (the symbols of rival schools Harvard and Princeton respectively), and cleanliness.[1]

Handsome Dan is the first live college mascot in America, [2] and therefore he is also believed to be the first live mascot in the entire world. Since the inception of the tradition in 1889,[1] 17 dogs[2] have held the position.

Handsome Dan I

File:Handsome Dan 1890.jpg
Poster with painting of the original Handsome Dan by owner Andrew B. Graves

In the late 1880s, Princeton and Harvard already had their football mascots – Princeton had a tiger and Harvard had the "Orange Man" as a stand-in for Puritan John Harvard. In 1889, Andrew B. Graves saw a bulldog sitting in front of a New Haven blacksmith shop. Graves was an Englishman in the Yale class of 1892 and a member of the crew team as well as a football tackle. He offered fifty dollars for the dog, and the blacksmith countered with seventy-five. Graves purchased the dog for sixty-five dollars.[3] Graves cleaned up the dog and named him “Handsome Dan.” Soon, Dan followed Graves everywhere around campus, including sporting events.[1][4] The students quickly adopted Dan as the Yale mascot. After Graves graduated and returned to England, Dan stayed on campus with his master’s brother. Before football and baseball games would begin, Handsome Dan founded a tradition and a dynasty by being led across the field. One newspaper reported: "He was a big white bulldog, with one of the greatest faces a dog of that breed (English) ever carried". This was not an exaggeration, as Handsome Dan was one of the finest specimens of his breed in America, and went on to win first prize at the Westminster Dog Show and at least thirty other first prize ribbons in the United States and Canada.[3] According to the Hartford Courant, "In personal appearance, he seemed like a cross between an alligator and a horned frog, and he was called handsome by the metaphysicians under the law of compensation. The title came to him, he never sought it. He was always taken to games on a leash, and the Harvard football team for years owed its continued existence to the fact that the rope held."[4] The Philadelphia Press reported that "a favorite trick was to tell him to 'Speak to Harvard.' He would bark ferociously and work himself into physical contortions of rage never before dreamed of by a dog. Dan was peculiar to himself in one thing – he would never associate with anyone but students. Dan implanted himself more firmly in the hearts of Yale students than any mascot had ever done before."[4] Handsome Dan crossed the Atlantic to join his old master in 1897 and died in 1898. Graves had Dan stuffed and returned him to be displayed at Yale in the old gymnasium. When it was torn down, Dan I was sent to the Peabody Museum for reconstruction. Handsome Dan I now is in a sealed glass case in one of the trophy rooms of Yale's Payne Whitney Gymnasium, where, according to Stanton Ford, "he is the perpetual guardian of the treasures which attest to generations of Yale athletic glory." Andrew Graves died of tuberculosis on February 18, 1948, in Westbury, Long Island.[5]

Handsome Dan II

1933–1937 (died of a broken leg).
After a 35 year interval, Handsome Dan II was purchased with pennies donated by the freshman class, and given to coach Ducky Pond.[6] Handsome Dan II was kidnapped by Harvard students the day before the 1934 Harvard-Yale football game, and Yale students were alarmed at photographs of him happily seated at the foot of the statue of John Harvard in Harvard Yard, having a snack.[6] He died of a leg fracture received from a jump. (Handsome Dan II now is in a sealed glass case in the Yale University Visitor's centre on Elm Street.)

Handsome Dan III

1937–1938 (retired due to emotional instability).
Handsome Dan III was a huge white dog who unfortunately exhibited morbid fear of crowds and had to be retired.[7]

Handsome Dan IV

1938–1940 (retired due to injury).
Handsome Dan IV had his spine fractured by a car early in his term of office, leaving his hind legs paralyzed.[8] Until he eventually died in 1940, a bulldog named Bull served in his place, becoming Handsome Dan V.[8]

Handsome Dan V

1940–1947 (died of old age).
"Bull", brought in his youth to watch football practices by his owner, high school student Bob Day who lived near the Yale Bowl,[9] ascended to office when Handsome Dan IV died.[8] A great success, he loved public appearances and the adulation of crowds, was a familiar figure around the locker rooms, and joined the team on a trip to Princeton University.[9]

Handsome Dan VI

1947–1949 (died mysteriously at age 2).
Handsome Dan VI was eight weeks old when he took the role, but died at age two.[10] It was reported that he died from fear of fireworks at the Yale-Harvard game, or of shame from seeing the Yale team lose to both Princeton and Harvard in the same year.[10]

Handsome Dan VII

1949–1952 (retired due to emotional instability).
Handsome Dan VII was donated to football coach Herman Hickman at age 3 but he proved to have a bad temper, which suited him better in his next position as a watchdog on a Florida estate.[11]

Handsome Dan VIII

1952 (retired due to emotional instability).
Up to this point, Handsome Dans had lived at the Yale Boathouse and were cared for in a somewhat haphazard fashion. Handsome Dan VIII, however, was owned by assistant football manager Tom Shutt,[12] ushering in a new era of family membership for the office-holder. Nevertheless, he had to retire after only two games due to intense discomfort with public appearances.[12]

Handsome Dan IX

1953–1959 (died of acute kidney disease).
Notable for falling off the dock at the Yale Boathouse and nearly drowning[13] (confirming the hypothesis that bulldogs cannot swim, due to the peculiarities of their physiques); some contemporary news reports say that he had to be resuscitated after having had his head embedded in the mud.[13] He also appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine in November, 1956. "Danny" was born September 11, 1953 and owned by John E. Sanders, Assistant Professor of Geology, after an earlier custody by physical education instructor, Alfred E. Scholz and Varsity Crew Coach Jim Rothschmidt.[13] He made his mascot debut at the age of six weeks and an autopsy at his death revealed that he succumbed to acute nephrotic syndrome.[13]

Handsome Dan X

1959–1969 (retired due to old age).
"Woodie" aka "Boodnick", also owned by John E. Sanders, marked a return to the high standards seen in Handsome Dan V. An impressive 74 pounds, a beloved family pet as well as winner of the best bulldog title at the Cape Cod Kennel Club conformation dog show, he was instrumental in leading Yale's football team to its 9 and 0 season in 1960. He spent several years commuting to New Haven, CT, from Dobbs Ferry, NY, prior to his retirement. His registered AKC kennel name was "Bayside Woodnought." He was sired by Ch. Bonny Boy of Fearnought out of Woodside's Christie Lou, and was a grandson of the famed Kippax Fearnought, the celebrated English import, who went Best in Show in 1955 at Westminster. He died in 1971 of natural causes.

Handsome Dan XI

1969–1974 (retired due to arthritis).
"Oliver", owned by Yale College master John Hersey, loved football but had a tendency to doze in the sun during games. He was frequently sighted on Martha's Vineyard during the tourist season

Handsome Dan XII

"Bingo", owned by history professor Rollin Osterweis, was described by her owner as "pugnacious and stubborn, but lovable." Bingo also had the distinction of being the only female Handsome Dan. Bingo was stolen by four Princeton undergrads posing as Yale cheerleaders. They took Bingo to a friend's apartment in New York City on the run from authorities. The mastermind behind the canine-caper was Rod Shepard '80. The group of students took Bingo back to her owner and held a press conference for her return.

File:Inflatable Handsome Dan.jpg
An inflatable Handsome Dan bulldog, on display during the 2007 Harvard-Yale game

Handsome Dan XIII

1984–1995; 1996 (retired due to old age.)
"Maurice", owned by Chris Getman, was perhaps the most noteworthy of the Handsome Dans. He served in office longer than any other Handsome Dan; he was the only holder of the office to come out of retirement to serve again, due to the death of his successor; and he appeared in Sports Illustrated, in 1989. His patience with the tedium of posing for professional photographers also served him well as he posed for game programs, brochures, and the 1991 Yale Christmas card, wearing a wreath and Santa Claus hat. He also appeared at swim meets, wearing a bathing suit. His love of Yale was evident in many ways: he would sing along with the Yale fight song (at least the "bow wow wow" part); he would "play dead" when asked whether he would rather die or join Harvard; and he lost his normally docile nature around mascots of opposing teams, launching assaults on the Princeton tiger mascot and the Brown University bear mascot. (There was also an unfortunate incident involving a policeman on horseback which resulted in his being ejected from the Harvard-Yale game, and Halloweens were somewhat touchy.) He died in 1997, just before turning 14, an exceptionally long life for the highly inbred species, described traditionally by the British as "short legged, short jawed, short winded and short lived".

Handsome Dan XIV

1995–1996 (died of heart attack).
"Whizzer" aka "Hetherbull", also owned by Chris Getman, was donated by Yale alumnus and bulldog breeder Bob Hetherington and was a descendant of 52 time best-in-show winner Hetherbull Arrogant Frigott; unfortunately, he also showed the undesirable effects of inbreeding so often seen with such a rarefied family tree, possessing a temperament so hyperexcitable that he died in office from a heart attack, and was succeeded by his predecessor and housemate.[citation needed]

Handsome Dan XV

1996–2005 (unknown death).
"Louis", also donated by Bob Hetherington and owned by Chris Getman, was named after three people named Louis, including football coach Carm Louis Cozza. He died in office in January, 2005 of a possible heart attack.[1]

Handsome Dan XVI

Handsome Dan XVI was chosen on 26 April 2005. Magnificent Mugsy Rangoon, a Bulldog from Hamden, Connecticut, was picked by a five person panel for his gregarious personality, large size (69 pounds),[1] good health, and his ability to deal with the raucous Yale Precision Marching Band. At the auditions, Mugsy gained great favor by focusing on a crimson blanket (representing Harvard) versus the stuffed-toy tiger (representing Princeton University).[1] "We beat Princeton three of four years," said Jeff Mroz, Yale's quarterback. "We want to beat Harvard."[1]

Mugsy is owned by Bob Sansone, a North Haven middle school teacher.[1][14]

At his first Harvard-Yale Game in 2005, Handsome Dan XVI was briefly stolen by a pair of Harvard undergraduates, in response to a Yale student stealing the Harvard flag and running across the field back to the Yale side with it. The two lured him into the Harvard student section of the Yale Bowl as he chewed a toy depicting a Harvard football player. Yale University Police recovered him, unharmed but without his Yale sweater, a few minutes later.

Handsome Dans traditionally reign for a lifetime, but Mugsy is still living with owner Bob Sansone in Hamden.

Handsome Dan XVII

A new bulldog named Sherman quietly assumed the mascot position as Handsome Dan XVII in late winter 2006.[15]

Bred by Diane Judy of Johnson City, Tenn., Handsome Dan XVII, a 50-pound bulldog, is the half brother of Rambo, owned by former Yale football captain Rory Hennessey.[16] His home name is "Sherman", after the tank and Connecticut icon Roger. Sherman, who took over as Handsome Dan XVII, has taken to his job with great enthusiasm and in his brief life has already been photographed with former President George H.W. Bush and Sir Paul McCartney. He is very athletic, retrieves with vigor and has already raised thousands of dollars for charity.

Alleged bulldog strangulation

Apocryphal tales[17] assert that before the 1908 Harvard-Yale Game, Harvard coach Percy Haughton strangled a bulldog to death in the locker room to motivate his players.[18]

Influence on popular culture

The Shake Shack location in New Haven, Connecticut, features a menu item named for Handsome Dan, called the Handsome Dog.[19] The Handsome Dog, which features beer-marinated deep-fried onions and two kinds of cheese, debuted at the New Haven location but can now be found at all other Shake Shack locations, albeit as the Dapper Dog.

The TV series Gilmore Girls, which is set in Connecticut, makes several references to the Handsome Dan Statue.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Reiter, Ben (2005-05-03). "Mascot Audition: Dog Day Afternoon". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  2. ^ a b "History of the Yale Bulldog "Handsome Dan"". Yale Bulldogs. Archived from the original on 2007-06-05. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  3. ^ a b “The Yale Football Story” by Tim Cohane. pp. 72–73. 1951
  4. ^ a b c "Handsome Dan I: 1889–1898". Yale Bulldogs. Archived from the original on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  5. ^ "New York Times" Obituary Feb 19, 1948
  6. ^ a b "Handsome Dan II: 1933–1937". Yale Bulldogs. Archived from the original on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  7. ^ "Handsome Dan III: 1937–1938". Yale Bulldogs. Archived from the original on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  8. ^ a b c "Handsome Dan IV: 1938". Yale Bulldogs. Archived from the original on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  9. ^ a b "Handsome Dan V: 1940–1947". Yale Bulldogs. Archived from the original on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  10. ^ a b "Handsome Dan VI: 1947–1949". Yale Bulldogs. Archived from the original on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  11. ^ "Handsome Dan VII: 1949–1952". Yale Bulldogs. Archived from the original on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  12. ^ a b "Handsome Dan VIII: 1952 only". Yale Bulldogs. Archived from the original on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  13. ^ a b c d "Handsome Dan IX: 1953–1959". Yale Bulldogs. Archived from the original on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  14. ^ "It's Mugsy! Bulldogs Pick New Handsome Dan". Yale Bulldogs. 2005-04-26. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
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  18. ^ Burnham, Jeremy (2004-06-14). "Back in the Day: The Forward Pass". The NFL History Network. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
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