Nobody can say for sure whether the dog was acting out of playfulness or malice, but Auburn receiver Robert Baker was nearly bitten all the same 20 years ago when he encountered Georgia's bulldog mascot Uga V.
The memorable 1996 meeting between Georgia and Auburn featured plenty of history. It was the 100th playing of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry -- a series that continues Saturday at Sanford Stadium -- and it became the SEC's first overtime game, with Georgia winning 56-49 after four extra periods. But two decades later, the game is perhaps best known for the moment where Uga stood his ground against the encroaching Tiger.
"The noise [from the crowd after Baker's first-quarter touchdown catch] scared the dog and startled it," said Uga's sideline handler Charles Seiler, whose family has long owned the line of bulldog mascots. "Bulldogs are kind of bred to run and catch things, and in a playful way, I think the dog turned around and there was this big guy coming his way and so he lunged out at him. It was a good thing that I had the leash and that the leash was short or Uga would have lit him up."
But was it actually playfulness?
Amateur animal psychologists across the state of Georgia prefer an alternate version of the events that followed Baker's hauling in the 6-yard scoring pass and veering toward Seiler and his dog on the sideline. Seiler attempted to bail out when Baker headed their direction and pulled the dog backward, but as it spun around and the Auburn receiver nearly bumped into its owner, Uga reared up and snapped at Baker's groin area.
"He might have been [playing], but the Georgia fan's perspective doesn't prefer that interpretation," joked Matt Stinchcomb, an All-SEC offensive tackle for Georgia in 1996 and now an SEC Network TV analyst. "They prefer that the dog knew and took exception to the fact that he had scored on his beloved brethren and he was seeking revenge."
The list of coaching and playing talent involved that November day 20 years ago is staggering. Two Georgia players from that game, wide receiver Hines Ward and defensive back Champ Bailey, are future Pro Football Hall of Famers and many more from both sides went on to long NFL careers.
Even more impressive is the list of participants who went on to become head coaches. Joining the two head coaches from that game, Auburn's Terry Bowden and Georgia's Jim Donnan, seven more players or coaches have already earned FBS coaching jobs: Georgia defensive back Kirby Smart (Georgia's head coach), Auburn quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher (Florida State), Auburn graduate assistant Will Muschamp (Florida, South Carolina), Auburn offensive coordinator Tommy Bowden (Tulane, Clemson), Georgia graduate assistant Derek Dooley (Louisiana Tech, Tennessee), Georgia quarterback Mike Bobo (Colorado State) and Georgia offensive line coach Chris Scelfo (Tulane). Georgia defensive coordinator Joe Kines brings the number to 10 FBS head coaches when counting his stints as interim coach at Arkansas and Alabama.
However, despite the talent on the field that day, the bizarre final sequence in regulation -- Bobo completed a huge Georgia comeback by hitting Corey Allen with the tying touchdown pass as time expired -- and the game's status as the SEC's first overtime contest are historical asterisks. Whereas the Uga-Baker moment remains one of the most ubiquitous images in Auburn-Georgia history.
It's an image that only one still photographer on the sideline, the Montgomery Advertiser's Patricia Miklik Doyle, managed to get on film.
In reviewing her negatives from that day, Doyle noticed that she snapped just one frame with Uga raising up to snap at Baker. But after her shot passed across the Associated Press wire, that one frame was more than enough to create a tidal wave of interest that soon flooded her newspaper and its staff.
Within days, the Advertiser began selling prints of the photo, ranging from $20 for 5x7s and 8x10s to $40 for 20x30s, and demand was off the charts.
"They were printing prints and we were filling envelopes and addressing them," said Doyle, who remembers spending a portion of her Thanksgiving holiday preparing shipments of the photo. "We were getting letters from people in prison. It was crazy."
About six months later, the Advertiser announced it would stop accepting orders because it lacked the staff to keep filling them. By that point, the newspaper had shipped at least 1,500 prints and made approximately $35,000 in sales -- none of which went to the photographer -- and those are just the reproductions that were made legally. Other drawings, paintings and illegal prints of Doyle's image are easy to find in homes and businesses throughout the Peach State.
"I can remember driving up into different parts of Georgia and going into a Hardee's and seeing it on the wall and just chuckling," Seiler said. "I would never point it out to anybody that that was me in the picture, but it was kind of cool to see it on the wall."
Contrary to popular legend, however, Doyle says the negative did not wear out because of overuse.
"The lab scratched the negative and it probably was because they printed so many pictures," she said. "It's just human error or whatever. But it didn't wear out."
Her shot's enduring fame will apparently never wear out, either. Twenty years after the fact, Doyle still hears from a writer or fellow photographer every once in a while with questions about the Uga-Baker shot, which she finds baffling.
"In the scheme of things, that just didn't seem like an image that would have that kind of reaction," Doyle said. "So for me, I was just always dumbfounded that so many people wanted that picture."
Perhaps it's that in the moment, the dog displayed exactly the kind of feistiness that Georgia fans expect from their mascot, creating a legacy that lives into eternity.
Uga V died three years later, and when Georgia and the Seilers buried him at Sanford Stadium, inscribed on his grave marker was the epitaph, "Defender of his Turf."