LOS ANGELES — He snores not gratingly but gently, almost melodically, such that it might coax others to sleep. He snores these Rose Bowl days in a 49th-floor room in a spiffy downtown hotel, seemingly unconcerned with the mural over the beds that reads, “IN LOS ANGELES, EVERYONE’S A STAR.” As a star himself, he might disagree, but he’s not much of a preener, even if he did travel upstairs by that time-honored star’s method: service elevator.
Many a handsome star has landed at LAX, the iconic Los Angeles International Airport, but surely none so handsome as the 62-pound fellow who alighted at the charter terminal at midafternoon Saturday. He disembarked first, in the arms of his owner, and even though he needed some relief after the longest flight of his life by far, he plied exquisite patience while human beings disembarked and stopped for photos alongside him.
In the array of star personalities, he’s the dutiful kind.
“If somebody wants a picture, we’ll get a picture,” Charles Seiler said in the hotel room, soon adding, “We don’t ever not get somebody a picture.”
Just then, seriously, the English bulldog on the towel on the floor opened his eyes from his snooze and seemed, just maybe, to roll them, ever so slightly.
In all the nutty configurations of the eccentric American football bowl system, this combination of star and city of stars long seemed out of the question. For an eon of national history, the nation’s most iconic stadium, the Rose Bowl, invited only the members of two conferences, the Big Ten and the Pacific-8/10/12, for the privilege of spending New Year’s Day in the San Gabriel Mountains. Yet in this innovative 21st century with its funky College Football Playoff, Monday’s Rose Bowl will feature the University of Georgia and thus will feature that school’s cherished mascot, Uga, in a glorious debut.
He’s Uga X, the latest in the 61-year line of Uga lineage of the Frank W. “Sonny” Seiler family of Savannah, Ga. He has held down his role as a dog of the Georgia people since 2015, becoming the first playoff Uga. Before Saturday, he had never flown farther than Knoxville, Tenn., even if he had ridden clear to Memphis and back for a Liberty Bowl.
Yet he mastered the 4-hour 45-minute flight, falling asleep easily like a seasoned flier, even helping himself to a pillow that had tumbled off an empty seat. The only slight inconvenience came in his seat/floor assignment — and really, who hasn’t reeled at such — because he snoozed at a bulkhead, near the plumbing for a restroom, which woke him every time somebody flushed.
He ate not, because he doesn’t eat on planes, except that sometimes when he flies with the football team and its gargantuan amounts of food, some of that food gets dropped or left and, Charles Seiler said, “He’ll go rooting.” This time, he flew with boosters. He fulfilled their tarmac photo requests and then a kindly employee of the terminal approached. He “took pity on me, showed me his black-and-white bulldog [on his phone] and said, ‘Can I put him in a golf cart with you and take him to the grass?’ I said, ‘You can, and I appreciate it.’ ”
Arriving downtown, Uga had the eternal star consideration of exiting the bus for the hotel, more complicated than for the anonymous. Down the bus steps, a new set of passersby began cooing and seeking photos, enough that a bellman made the suggestion of a thousand bellmen across a hundred Los Angeles years.
Why not take the service elevator?
It helped, for expediency.
Lodged in his room after the journey, he handled with aplomb an opening thermostat at 85 degrees. After a few hours of cooling to a fine 73, he walked around some, sniffed a visitor and snored. “As long as his tongue’s in his face and he’s not panting, he’s fine,” Seiler said. Placed upon a human bed for a photo, he fretted briefly. As stars go, he’s not a diva, and he knows what’s inappropriate, but with Seiler’s reassurance, he posed, his piebald ears picturesque per usual.
Meanwhile, Seiler’s wife, Wendy, and 10-year-old son, Cecil, went down through the labyrinth of a hotel to scout a spot for Uga’s further and future moments of relief. That can be trickier than it seems; he prefers his momentary privacy. “He’s very modest,” Seiler said. “We’ve had dogs that would just, you know, boom, right there. ‘You don’t have to walk me. Bam.’ But he’s different.’ ”
A Monday of obligations lay ahead. Because Uga X often stretches up a paw toward a sleeping Seiler at 6 a.m. Eastern time, requesting a calming pat, Seiler wondered whether the paw might come at 3 a.m. Pacific time. After some consideration, Uga X would not grace the Tournament of Roses Parade, because that grand pageant is a slog that would clog Uga’s schedule, imperil his chances of reaching the stadium on time and leave him impossibly exhausted by halftime or sooner.
A parade volunteer asked how many dogs Georgia brings, as if stunt doubles mill around everywhere, but Uga X, the only one, didn’t seem to mind the slight.
For the game, there’s the matter of that post-anthem military flyover, and Claude Felton, Georgia’s senior associate athletic director for communications, called Seiler to remind about that, so when the song ends, the human will cover the canine’s ears. “He’s kind of a scaredy-cat,” Seiler said of Uga, “because we didn’t get him until he was 2, and he grew up on a cotton farm. That’s where our breeder is. And so he’s not used to loud noises.”
Uga X, after all, became the choice among four candidates with, as a tiebreaker among traits, his docility. An Uga must, after all, accept pats from children without biting them. “It’s so sweet,” Wendy Seiler said, “because Charles will hold him on the leash, and he’ll look up at Charles, sometimes during the game, like, ‘Am I doing what I’m supposed to do?’ ” In a country almost certifiably insane, Seiler lauded Uga X’s approachability and said, “Like, if you had a tiger, what in the hell? How would you do that?”
After Wendy and Cecil arrived from their expedition downstairs, Uga X was off down the posh hall for the two-elevator trip down, via the crowded 70th-floor lobby. He waddled through and heads turned, a common Los Angeles reality. In a second elevator, a non-Georgia man asked whether this was “the famous one,” but Uga X stayed mum and unassuming. On the ground, near the intersection of Figueroa and Wilshire, Wendy Seiler passed five people in Georgia gear and said, “On a mission! I’ll come back in a minute,” heading for a quiet corner with a 4-year-old dog and a plastic bag.
“That’s Uga,” one Georgia woman said to apparent doubters. “It is. It is.” They turned around and, upon return, said, “Can we get a picture now that he’s gone?” He had had some day, beginning with a walk in 25 degrees in Athens, Ga., then a 90-minute bus ride to Atlanta, then the flight. He would get to sleep Saturday around 10 p.m., at the edge of his crate, his neck on a hotel towel, his head out the crate door, and his paw would not materialize at the human bed at 3; he would snooze all the way to 7.
For now, though, posing in early evening on the street between two Georgia fans and then two more, his smile looked enormous, rather like that of a star in Los Angeles.
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