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Handsome Dan – A Bulldog Becomes a Yale Tradition

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306 – October, 2018

By Amy Fernandez

These days, when sports news overshadows world events, it’s easy to forget how recently this phenomenon began. There was a time when none of it, not even football, was a national obsession. Obviously, that was before 1967. Nothing close to Super Bowl magnitude was on anybody’s radar back in 1890 when Ivy League football and Bulldogs converged to create a brand image with almost cultish endurance. Despite some remarkably bad luck that has plagued his legacy, Handsome Dan is inseparable from Yale tradition.

Teams had mascots back then, but it wasn’t yet considered an essential element of competitive spirit. Yale, in contrast to its main rivals Harvard and Princeton, never saw the need for one until a big brindle and white Bulldog showed up and took on the job. Yale, like every college, garnered its share of sports coverage, but that press shot to an entirely new level with Dan onboard. People started attending games just to get a glimpse of him strutting up and down the sidelines, styling and profiling. Dan not only ignited fan frenzy, he founded a dynasty, and the momentum has been going strong ever since. Whether Yale won or lost, Dan was news.

According to his official bio, Dan I (as he’s remembered for posterity) was a retired show dog; which must be considered in view of his subsequent fame and much celebrated charisma. His purported show record was dazzling: over 1000 wins by some accounts. That’s especially impressive considering that there were only twenty shows a year at that time.

Kitted out in school colors, as one eyewitness recalled, “He stormed up and down the sidelines, shaking his big head, belligerently tugging on his rawhide check lead… The yells of an excited crowd affected him like old wine… He never relaxed… From the beginning of a game to the end, he was barking encouragement to his friends or dire threats to his foes… Glaring across the field at the Harvard stands with his undershot jaw set in a wicked leer of conscious superiority and utter contempt…Win, lose, or draw, his performance never varied… and what a reception it got!” Dan had stage presence and street style, but public adoration didn’t just happen. He worked it. A mere glimpse of any symbolic reference to Harvard or Princeton sent him into a rage, which became a much-anticipated highlight for fans. “That was the Handsome Dan that typified all that was grand and glorious in Yale’s Golden Age of athletic prowess… The dog that gave the name ‘Bulldog’ to the stalwarts from New Haven and made it stick.” That wasn’t the only place Dan’s image stuck, in those free and easy days before trademark infringement, which certainly illustrated the pervasive fame he achieved during his eight-year tenure.

Click here to read the complete article
306 – October, 2018

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