As far as canine fame goes, you could say that Handsome Dan is a lot like the Pope. He spends the first part of his life as just another bulldog on the block, unaware he’s destined for greatness, until the proud day when he is selected to lead a greater community of faithful followers as the representative of all they hold dear. But just who were these Handsome Dans, and what made them stand out from all the other mascot hopefuls? A little research into the annals of Yale’s athletic department reveals little-known facts about some of the dogs behind the legend.
Handsome Dan I (1889-1898)
The first live college mascot in the United States, Handsome Dan I set an exemplary model for his successors by earning a reputation for his aggressive displays of anti-Harvard fervor (according to “The Philadelphia Press,” Dan “would bark ferociously and work himself into physical contortions of rage never before dreamed of by a dog” when given the command to “Speak to Harvard”). Even after his death, the original Dan never fell out of the public eye; his preserved body remains on view in Payne Whitney, snug inside an airtight glass case.
Handsome Dan II (1933-1937)
For those who would rather not make the trek to the gym, simply head over to the Visitor Center, where Handsome Dan II keeps watch from his own glass case, surveying would-be Yalies as they head out on campus tours. His current public position may be a good opportunity for this Handsome to regain some of the street cred he lost when a gang of Harvard students abducted him just before The Game of 1934.
Handsome Dan V (1940-42)
This Dan followed the pattern of many savvy leaders before him by first serving as a regent of sorts to Handsome Dan IV, whose reign as mascot was cut short when a car accident led to leg paralysis and early death. Unlike many of his counterparts who suffered from crowd-induced anxiety, it seems that Dan V was something of an grandstander and loved showing off at games.
Handsome Dan VIII (1952)
The William Henry Harrison of Yale mascots, Dan VIII could only handle two games before he succumbed to the pressures of his job and was retired from service.
Handsome Dan XII (1975-1984)
Six years after Yale went coeducational, the first female Dan arrived on the scene. But her retirement saw a return to the tradition of strictly male mascots, a pattern which fortunately didn’t repeat itself in the case of female undergraduates.
Handsome Dan XVI (2005-?)
On April 26, 2005, Magnificent Mugsy Rangoon, an English bulldog from Hamden, CT, became the latest incarnation of Handsome Dan. According to the application submitted by his owner, Robert Sansone, “Mugsy is a show stopper and a crowd pleaser.” If facebook.com is to be trusted, Handsome Dan XVI is by far the most popular Yalie around, with 3005 Yale friends to date. After Dan XII, he may also prove to be one of the most controversial mascots yet, given his presence in the “Fire Jack Siedlecki!” Facebook group. But politicized as Dan XVI may be by some, the general spirit his other profiled information (“Interests: peeing on hahvahd”; “Favorite Movies: harvardsucks.org”) would indicate that he has fully embraced his ceremonial role.