For Handsome Dan XVII, it’s a (really nice) dog’s life

Handsome DanHandsome Dan XVII has big paws and a sizeable head covered with soft, short white fur. Weighing 65 lbs., this brindle and white English bulldog was recruited from Johnson City, Tennessee, in 2007 at 6 months old to be Yale’s mascot.

Soon after coming to New Haven, he strutted along the sidelines of his first Yale football game while fans called out his name and the Yale Bulldogs (the players, that is) banged helmets on the field with Cornell, trouncing them 51 to 12. That year the Elis finished with a winning 9 and 1 record.

Since his rookie year, Sherman (as he is known to friends) continues to have successful seasons — inspiring team spirit at Yale athletics games, fundraising for Yale and local charities, and connecting with fans, students, and youngsters.

At first glimpse Yale’s mascot seems quite formidable and physically powerful. The breed, known for its strong will and courage, got its name during the Middle Ages when the dogs were used to guard and control bulls during the bull-baiting matches that were a popular sport then.

But despite his breed’s tough reputation, Sherman is actually friendly and playful — smiling for photos and giving out big, wet bulldog kisses to his admirers. He is comfortable in a noisy crowd and enjoys getting hugs and attention from children and adults alike.

The 128th playing of The Game, as the Yale-Harvard football competition is known, will take place on Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. Kick-off is at noon. For information about tickets, shuttles, and ways to watch the game from afar, visit The Game Fan Information page.

Yale became the first college to have a live mascot back in 1889 when British undergraduate Andrew Graves (1892S) purchased Handsome Dan I from a local blacksmith for $5. The original Dan was walked across the field before all football and baseball games, and that tradition continued through the years with a succession of Handsome Dans. Sherman’s predecessors have even appeared on ESPN and been featured in Sports Illustrated, including on its cover.

Mascots are usually kept near a team’s bench or dugouts during a game in the hope of bringing the players luck, and for many years that was Handsome Dan’s sole purpose. But that role has evolved in the past 25 years, ever since Chris Getman ’64 became the Yale mascot’s keeper.

As a Yale undergraduate, Getman played baseball and admits he has no special memory of Yale’s then-mascot, Handsome Dan X. “Basically all he did was go to football games and sit by the bench,” he says.

After Getman volunteered to become keeper of the Yale mascot, starting with Handsome Dan XIII (Maurice), the alumnus decided the dog should be more broadly enjoyed by the Yale community, and in particular by children. “Especially with Maurice who was such a social dog, my wife and I felt that kids should enjoy him and that he should be more of a presence at the University,” says Getman. And so in 1984 with the sociable Dan XIII, the evolution from fierce team mascot to friendly people’s mascot began.

Handsome Dan statueToday, Dan XVII has a busy calendar: raising money for charity, making an appearance at master’s teas, attending various athletic games and graduations, and participating in Yale’s Bulldog Days for prospective freshmen.

During the first two quarters of this year’s Yale-Dartmouth game, Handsome Dan raised $850 for two charities: Creative Arts Workshop and Community 2000 Education Foundation. Two families won the chance to walk him and watch the game from the sidelines. “It is a thrill for kids to be down on the field watching the game with Dan,” says Getman. On a recent Friday, Handsome Dan was at Mory’s until last call; people didn’t offer him drinks, but they did want their photo taken with him. “He must have posed for 50 photos; we closed the place. People want to see him,” says Getman.

In addition to keeping Dan’s calendar — which has included meetings with U.S. presidents and a former Beatle — Getman also insures the dog stays healthy and fit. “We try to keep Dan at linebacker weight,” says the alumnus. On his days off, Sherman spends time sleeping or playing with his “step-brother,” Edward, a Scottish Terrier. Sherman often joins Getman at work, lying under his desk by his feet. However, more and more organizations are calling to get on his calendar.

“He is a great auction item,” says Getman, noting that most charities find out about Dan through a family or Yale connection. The Yale Band has included the Yale mascot as one of the items in their annual scavenger hunt, and the Diaper Bank of New Haven plans to auction him off at an event. Auction winners get to meet Dan at a game, as well as four tickets and three sideline passes. Being on the sidelines up close to the game is exciting, notes Getman, but he warns people that they need to stay alert. “Dan and I have gotten buzzed a few times,” he chuckles.

In addition to serving as Handsome Dan’s keeper, Getman has a long history of involvement with the University. In recognition of his service, Getman has been honored with a Yale Medal, Elm Award, and Mory’s Cup, and he has been selected to receive the George H.W. Bush Lifetime of Leadership Award. Getman and his wife, Toddie, were also were awarded the Alexis de Tocqueville Society of United Way of Greater New Haven “Lifetime of Leadership Award” for philanthropy in 2003.

Yale alumnus and employee Mike Morand said of the man and canine recently, “Chris and Sherman, great men!” — a sentiment with which the many others who have met the two might agree.