I miss Handsome Dan. Our favorite bulldog passed two months ago at his home in Rhode Island. As it was the dog days of summer, quite literally, Yalies were unable to give him the sendoff he deserved. No 21-gun salute. No memorial service. No ceremonial ash-scattering from the roof of Woodbridge Hall. A few news articles, News articles and a couple Overheard posts do not do justice to the legacy of Handsome Dan XVII. It feels like the end of an era — Handsome Dan was a reassuring presence on campus, an encouraging sight on the sideline of football games, the first thing we saw when most of us opened our online admissions to Yale.
Known as Sherman to friends, “Handsome Dan XVII” was recruited to Yale in 2006 from Tennessee. Despite his Appalachian roots, he was meant for Yale: named for Roger Sherman, who signed the Declaration of Independence, was the treasurer of this great University and the namesake of Sherman Alley. Over the past decade, he greeted George H. W. Bush ’48, Jimmy Carter and Paul McCartney, but never let the fame get to his jowls — he was as enthusiastic with students and their little siblings as he was with former heads of state. He was a constant on campus through student protests, administrative upheaval and nine consecutive defeats in The Game. No significant episode in recent Yale history has passed without his signature slobber. He even almost made it through his third presidential election, an election in which he bore a stark resemblance to a certain toupeed candidate.
Just today, Connecticut Magazine reported that Chris Getman ’64, the keeper of Handsome Dan since 1983, has retired. Getman has been our mascot’s best friend since Handsome Dan XIII, who retired in 1996. When Getman — who played baseball at Yale and had been honored with a Yale Medal, the Mory’s Cup, and the Alexis de Tocqueville Society of United Way of Greater New Haven “Touch a Life” award — took over, Handsome Dan was a run-of-the-mill mascot, one who hung out near teams’ benches during games as a rather undersized good-luck charm. Getman oversaw an evolution in Handsome Dan’s role, and by the time Sherman took over, the job description included trips to Mory’s, participation in charity events (in which one-on-one meetings with Dan were frequently auctioned off for hundreds of dollars) and appearances at Bulldog Days to greet incoming freshmen. Getman also ensured Sherman remained healthy and limber — at 65 pounds, Sherman was “a linebacker rather than a lineman,” according to Getman.
The prominence of Sasha Pup has gone some ways toward filling the gap between Handsome Dans. She has become Yale’s social-media darling, snapping photos with students and racking up likes on her Facebook wall. She’s part of a new trend: We’re being overrun by canine divas. Sasha joins ranks with the many dogs vying for campus fame — Buck, Chi Psi’s golden retriever comes to mind, as do the brigade of puppies who visit for the “barn babies” study breaks. None of these dogs, however, can match Handsome Dan for sheer gravitas, aura and aversion to crimson. He is our one and only mascot.
It’s not just our campus that values Handsome Dan. He has received national recognition, having appeared on ESPN and Sports Illustrated, and having been named the 14th best college football mascot last year by Fox News. He’s even imprinted himself on our menus, as the Shake Shack in New Haven debuted an item named for Handsome Dan — the Handsome Dog (Featuring beer-marinated deep-fried onions, the Handsome Dog can now be found at other locations, albeit as the Dapper Dog.). A look north, however, is all I need to truly appreciate Dan — how much school spirit can “John Harvard, pilgrim” really engender as a mascot?
With The Game less than a month away, however, there is much work to do — finding a keeper as dedicated as Getman and a bulldog as affable as Sherman is a tall task. Without a Handsome Dan, our football team has floundered: They have gone 1–5 in his absence, including a record loss to Lehigh at home. I’m not claiming causation or correlation, but we need a new pooch. It certainly didn’t feel right inaugurating the lights at the Yale Bowl last Friday without our faithful mascot. Here’s to hoping we fill the hole on our sideline, on our campus and in our hearts before Yale-Harvard. The festivities won’t be the same without Handsome Dan.
Mrinal Kumar is a junior in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .