Mugsy is now Yalie


Melanie Stengel
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Mugsy is now Handsome Dan XVI.

Handsome Dan through the years

NEW HAVEN — One of the most popular T-shirts on the Yale University campus includes two sayings.

The front, in block letters reads, “Harvard Sucks.”

The back, “… and Princeton doesn’t matter.”

So, while the crowd of about 500 at Yale’s Old Campus went crazy as Lars attacked a stuffed Princeton Tiger, it was the way Mugsy manhandled a crimson flag that won over the judges in the hunt for Handsome Dan XVI.

“We’ve beaten Princeton three out of the past four years. We haven’t beaten Harvard since I’ve been here,” said Yale football captain Jeff Mroz, one of five judges for the event. “(The way Lars went after the Tiger) was nice, but when I saw Mugsy go after that flag, I liked that more.”

Mugsy, a 2-year, 9-month-old English bulldog from Hamden, beat out nine other finalists Tuesday in the first open tryout for the nation’s oldest collegiate mascot. The first Handsome Dan, purchased for $5 from a New Haven blacksmith, began roaming the Yale football sidelines in 1889.

Mugsy, a healthy 69 pounds, takes over for Dan XV, a.k.a. Louis, who passed away Jan. 21 after a nine-year stint as Handsome Dan. He even put his paw print on a contract, naming him the Yale mascot for life.

“You want a big dog, one you can’t just carry around,” said Mroz, who was joined by such fellow judges as Yale Assistant AD Steve Conn, Chris Getman (Handsome Dan caretaker for the past 21 years), Christie Yang (cheerleader) and Costa Lapaseotes (Yale Precision Marching Band).

Conn said the university received 28 applications and had to turn away about another half-dozen bulldogs who showed up Tuesday without following the registration procedures. The event, which took place during Yale’s Spring Fling, even included a protest dog, a Portuguese water dog.

Hamden’s Robert Sansone, a language arts teacher at North Haven Middle School, saw an article in the New Haven Register, then heard the story on radio and television in the same day, which prompted his entry.

“I thought (he would make a good Handsome Dan) because of his large size, and he is normally fearless and enjoys crowds,” Sansone said. “He’s got a wonderful gait, and personality-wise you won’t find a more lovable dog.

As far as being Handsome Dan, all I can say is, ‘Why not?’ Look at him.”

Sansone will retain ownership of Mugsy, who will be at Yale’s five home football games, as well as other assorted events, ranging from athletic contests to graduations and building dedications. Previous Handsome Dans have visited the White House, graced the cover of such national publications as Sports Illustrated and raised nearly $25,000 at charity auctions.

“He’s a good-looking dog, very athletic,” said Getman, who has brought Handsome Dan to the past 21 graduation ceremonies, and hopes to do so May 23 with Mugsy. “This mascot isn’t just for athletics; he’s the mascot for all people. That’s why we had him go through so much. I don’t think (Georgia’s bulldog) Uga gets handled this much.”

Sansone, who was nicknamed Mugsy Rangoon growing up in Fairfield, said he’s owned between 12 and 16 dogs in his lifetime, from strays to purebreds, including a Siberian Husky.

Sansone had always wanted a bulldog and purchased his first three years ago. Two months later, his dog died from trachea complications. Then he bought Mugsy from Iris Farm in Pine Bush, N.Y.

Sansone said he didn’t do much to prepare for the contest, which included a strut and interaction with both the Yale Precision Marching Band and students. He did admit he purchased a new leather collar and leash.

Mugsy is the fifth Handsome Dan since 1975.