Smokey accused of biting Alabama player

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Earl Hudson is worried his dog, Smokey, is getting a bad reputation.

Smokey IX, Tennessee's bluetick coonhound mascot, has been accused of biting an Alabama player before last week's game at Neyland Stadium.

Crimson Tide receiver Mike McCoy fell on the 3-year-old dog during pregame warmups after jumping out of bounds for a pass near where Smokey was standing with the cheerleaders.

What the dog did next is up for some debate. Alabama coach Mike Shula says Smokey bit the player. Smokey's owner says he didn't. As for Smokey, he only howls.

"It was over his head and he couldn't catch it, but he came down right on top of Smokey," Hudson explained. "Now what dog worth his salt wouldn't defend himself?

"Smokey did not bite him. The article in the paper said he bit the player. He got a little of his uniform, didn't break the skin I was told, but Alabama made a big deal out of it I understand," Hudson said.

When asked if McCoy was bitten, Shula told reporters on Sunday, "I can confirm that. I wasn't an eyewitness, but I did see that it drew blood in pregame warmups."

McCoy, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound freshman, was off-limits to media after the game, but he did play. UT officials said there was a hole in McCoy's pants. Tennessee won the game 16-13.

One thing is for sure. Smokey was not injured.

"Of course it startled him. I don't accuse Alabama of trying to stir up a problem," Hudson said. "I was upset when they told me about it, but after they told me what happened I can see why he did that."

The Vols travel to South Carolina on Saturday, and Smokey remains on the travel roster.

Smokey was taking it easy Wednesday. After a walk with Hudson, Smokey was curled up in his favorite recliner, maybe even dreaming about the big game.

Smokey is handled during games by two members of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and is restrained by a leash. Before arriving at the stadium last week, Smokey wandered through the crowd gathered for the procession of players to the game and was petted by many children.

"He's never hurt anybody. He's very gentle, very calm," Hudson said. "He loves to be there."

The Smokey tradition began in 1953 when a dog named Brooks' Blue Smokey won a contest to be the mascot. He was owned by the late Rev. Bill and Mildred Brooks, whose brother is Hudson. Hudson took over caring for the Smokeys in 1993.

Not all Smokeys have passed doggie charm school. Smokey VII was forced into early retirement after he nipped the same UT band member during consecutive games in 1994.

"That fellow had obviously stepped on his foot. Nobody ever explained that in the paper," Hudson said. "That's the only dog we used that was out of the blood line."

The seventh Smokey was replaced by Smokey VIII, who stepped down in 2003 after he was diagnosed with a nasal tumor. He survived the cancer but died in March from high blood pressure and kidney disease. Smokey IX replaced him.

Video footage from a South Carolina game a few years ago showed a player landing on Smokey and Smokey reacting as if he was going to bite the player, Hudson recalled. In another game, a UT player knocked an opposing player out of bounds into Smokey.

"There was nothing said about that. We just noticed it on film," Hudson said. "It's just something they show occasionally to show that Smokey is loyal to his own team."