Super Bulldog Weekend 2015 was already in full swing that cool, damp April morning. Thousands of Mississippi State fans were flooding into Davis Wade Stadium. The Maroon and White Game would kick off in about 30 minutes, but an unspoken expectation seemed to grip Scott Field. More clamoring fans rushed toward seats. Children watched wide-eyed with anticipation. The crowd took a collective breath.

Father and son, the two America Kennel Club registered English bulldogs marched onto Scott Field. Then the Mississippi State football faithful watched the rare passing of the guard from one long-beloved mascot to his successor, the next generation of Bully.

Mississippi State fans cheered as 9-year-old Bully XX, or “Champ,” passed the official mascot harness and duties to his 6-month-old son, “Jak.”

 

HISTORY OF THE HARNESS

There’s only one harness, says official MSU Mascot handler Lisa Pritchard, and it’s been the only one Bully has used since the mid-1980s. Whether he’s on the sidelines at the game or visiting members of the community, Bully wears the same harness, she emphasizes.

The harness was made by Wilson Leather Co. in Bellefontaine, called “Bell Fountain” by residents.

“Jak’s harness is real leather, and the tooling and rivets are unique,” Pritchard says. “People can order harnesses from Wilson Leather, and they may look similar, but there’s only one Mississippi State Bully harness, and it’s the one you’ll see Bully wearing.”

For any Bully wearing the harness, whether Jak, Champ or their bulldog predecessors, he seems to know it’s showtime.

“You pick up the harness and put it on the dog, and he knows, it’s time to go to work,” Pritchard explains. “He goes from a happy-go-lucky dog to, ’It’s time to do my job now and be on my best behavior.’

“It’s not just his breeding, though that’s part of it. It’s also his genetics—like father, like son.”

When the harness comes off, Bully knows it’s time to be a dog again. He can play in the grass, chew his toys and play fetch, she says.
“Bully does a lot of playing because he does a lot of working. It gives his life balance,” Pritchard emphasizes.

 

 


CHAMP’S RETIRED LIFE

As soon as the mascot harness came off, full retirement came on, Pritchard says.
At the Maroon and White game, when Pritchard took the harness off Champ and placed it on Jak, Champ lay down.

“I think he literally knew, ‘I don’t have to be on display anymore, and now I’m retired.’ He’s been trained not to lie down when the harness is on; he would sit, but when it came off, Champ just lay down,” Pritchard explains.

With retirement now begun, Champ’s gone home to live the quiet, easy, lounging-on-the-recliner life. He lives in the same home he had as Mississippi State’s No. 1 Bulldog, and he watches ESPN from a comfortable recliner.

“Nothing has changed in Champ’s life, except that he doesn’t have to work anymore,” Pritchard says. “He gets plenty of Milk-Bone dog biscuits, and he has a specialty diet for his GI tract and skin.

Now that he’s retired, he gets to beg during dinner.

“He wasn’t allowed to do that before, but he may get a small piece of bland bread every once in a while. Other than that, absolutely no people food.”

For fun, Champ especially enjoys chewing KONGs, an almost indestructible rubber toy in which treats can be placed. Other than that, he likes to eat, sleep and lounge in the recliner to watch TV.

When Champ needs more intense relaxation, he may rest in his Tempur-Pedic dog bed for that extra cozy plush support that retired bulldogs enjoy. He also enjoys therapeutic swimming, though not as often as he did during his years as Bully. He also receives at least two therapeutic massages each week.

After all, Pritchard observes, he’ll turn 70 (in dog years) in the fall, and he deserves rest and relaxation.

Champ is known to chase cats occasionally but only when justly provoked, Pritchard says. For example, her cat will occasionally use Champ’s back as a springboard to jump somewhere otherwise inaccessible. Then, Champ will seek revenge, generally begun with a questioning look like, “What do I look like here? A springboard?” Then, the chase ensues.

“There will be no more appearances for Champ,” Pritchard emphasizes. “He deserves to put his feet up and be a dog. He’ll always be Bully XX, and he still gets special treatment. He just doesn’t have to work anymore.”

NEW FACE OF BULLY

When Pritchard placed the harness on Jak at the Maroon and White Game ceremony, he knew it was his time to be Bully XXI.

“He leaned up and gave me a kiss on the cheek. He seemed to say, ’I’ve got this; I’m ready, and I can handle this responsibility. I”m going to do my dad proud,’” Pritchard remembers.

Like his father, Jak enjoys Milk-Bones and KONGs. Unlike Champ, though, Jak will chew anything he can get. He especially enjoys flip-flops, which Pritchard is hoping Jak will outgrow soon. He likes gnawing rope toys, as well as anything that squeaks.

He’ll chase cats for fun, and while Jak may well be willing to chase an Ole Miss fan if he can find one, Pritchard works to ensure that Mississippi State’s top dog doesn’t get that chance.

Also unlike his father, Jak loves to sneak a sip of beer—any kind—if he can get his paws on it. Champ just turns up his nose.

At present, Jak’s still eating a healthy growing formula for puppies, but once he turns 1 year old, Pritchard will work with veterinarians to develop a diet specific to Jak’s growth and development.

Jak’s responsibilities will be similar to those of previous mascots. Bully must be able to support the athletes amidst thousands of ringing cowbells and cheering fans. Not only does the mascot attend every home and away football game, but he also appears at many baseball and softball games before the weather gets too hot for bulldogs to stay safe.

Also, Bully visits elementary schools in support of literacy initiatives, as well as Mississippi State teamwork and team spirit, and he serves as a companion to the elderly by visiting local nursing home residents.

“Jak is mostly a red fawn pup; he has more red fawn than his father Champ,” Pritchard says. “He’s learning to sit and stay, and he’s also training for noise and crowds and being around people and children.”

As he takes his place in the spotlight, Jak will honor the Bullys before him by continuing their traditions, Pritchard says. In fact, his very name honors the legendary Voice of the Bulldogs Jack Cristil, who called football and basketball games for 58 years. Cristil died just weeks before Jak was born in October 2014.



Story by Leah Barbour, Illustrations by Eric Abbott, Photography by Megan Bean and Beth Wynn, Video by Steve Carver