Friday, May 4, 2012

Football's Goin' to the Dogs

Earlier this week, we lost one of our dogs, Tippy (a.k.a. “Old Man”).  We adopted Tippy, a Pomeranian, from our local shelter almost three years ago—May 21, 2009.  When we visited him at the shelter, we took him for a walk to a nearby park.  As soon as we sat in the grass, Tippy went to each of us and buried his face in our laps, rolling onto his back to be petted.  That sealed it—he was coming home with us.

The shelter where we got Tippy

The folks at the shelter warned us that Tippy was not long for this world.  He was clearly old, though they didn’t know his actual age (last year our vet estimated his age at 15).  He was severely malnourished, had a mouth full of rotting teeth, severe cataracts and a leaky heart valve that had enlarged one ventricle of his heart.  For a prognosis, they gave him anywhere from six weeks to six months—more likely on the six-week end.

It’s amazing what a little T.L.C. can do.  We had his teeth cleaned (after being cleared for anesthesia by a veterinary cardiologist), and though they had to remove about half of his teeth, he could still eat solid foods.  Within weeks he had gained almost three pounds (from just over seven pounds to ten) and was even getting along with our two other Poms, Toby and Molly.  As the weeks passed, Tippy became a beloved member of our family. 
Tippy chillaxin' with Molly (left) and Toby (center)

In honor of Tippy’s passing, I thought we'd take a look at the special relationship between football and dogs. 


Football has long had connections with man’s best friend.  Countless team names and mascots have been inspired by dogs, particularly in college football—e.g., the University of Georgia Bulldogs, University of Washington Huskies, Loyola (MD) Greyhounds, Agnes Scott Scottish Terriers and, my personal favorite, the Southern Illinois Salukis.  In the pros, you have the “Dawg Pound,” the name for the bleacher section behind the east end zone in Cleveland Browns Stadium; and, as we have learned from Football History 101, one of the earliest powerhouses in pro football was the Canton Ohio Bulldogs.

A look at the early days of football reveals another surprisingly intimate connection between pigskin and canine.*  In 1922, a breeder of Airedale terriers, Walter Lingo, established his own team, the Oorang Indians.  His goal in sponsoring the team was to promote the sale of his “King Oorang” Airedales, which were much larger than the average size for the breed.  To lend some star power to his franchise, he recruited Jim Thorpe, who was already a legend in his own time and an avid dog lover.  Thorpe helped Lingo assemble a team comprised entirely of Native American players.

Thorpe is in the middle of the back row (arms crossed)
The Oorang Indians had a forgettable two-season stretch in the NFL, mostly because Thorpe coached more than played and the players were also employed full-time at Lingo's kennels.  They were also a traveling team, since their home town of LaRue was too small to have a football field of its own.  However, they were probably one of the first and only teams to have a halftime show.  Though a ubiquitous part of the game now, entertaining the crowds during halftime was rare in the sport’s early days.  If you attended an Oorang Indians game, however, you were treated to a version of a Wild West show at the intermission, featuring dog tricks (conducted by the players, including Thorpe), Native American dancing and drop kicking stunts by Thorpe himself.


More recently, you can find several examples of NFL players opening their hearts—and their wallets—to help dogs in need, like our Tippy before he found us.  Stories of this kind have garnered special attention since the notorious Michael Vick dogfighting case that erupted back in 2007.

One of those feel-good stories has been a business partnership between linebackers Will Witherspoon (now with the Tennessee Titans) and Dan Morgan (retired, formerly with the Carolina Panthers).  The pair, along with a third partner, have opened a series of doggie day care centers in the Charlotte, NC area, called Club K-9.  The two also pledged to be long-term supporters of a nonprofit no-kill shelter called Project HALO, which stands for “Helping Animals Live On.”

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been an avid supporter of the Baltimore Humane Society, making financial contributions, including providing autographed items for sale to the public, and making visits to their facility.  In 2011, he ran a campaign with Dunkin’ Donuts called “Take Joe on the Go”—customers could buy boxes or travel mugs of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with a picture of Joe Flacco on them.  A portion of each sale—a total of $9,000—went to the shelter. 

College football legend and former NFL running back Herschel Walker has recently joined the fight to end dog fighting.  At the age of 50, Walker has thrown his entire body into the ring--or, rather, octagon--and become a mixed martial arts fighter.  He has teamed up with other stars of MMA, boxing and professional wrestling to form Knock Out Dog Fighting, a nonprofit youth intervention program designed to educate young people about the cruelty of dog fighting and, as Bay Woof Magazine put it, "take any remaining 'cool' out of dog fighting."

Here's a PSA Walker has done for the organization:

Click here to check out their website (including some pretty cool merchandise):


And now to wrap up our special look at football and dogs, here’s some pictures of current and former NFL players and their dogs:** 

Dolphins WR Devone Bess and his dog
Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw with his dog in 1979
Jags QB Chad Henne and pal
Safety Yeremiah Bell, now with the Jets, and his canine companion
QB legend Sammy Baugh and his dog Cow Patty in 1998

I hope you'll forgive my rare showing of sentiment with this post. I also hope it has inspired you to consider adopting a dog from a shelter, or at least supporting your local shelter and other organizations that promote dog welfare. I'm sure Tippy would join me in saying, "May your days be filled with long walks and lots of treats!"

*Source:  “Was the first pro football halftime show used as a way to sell dogs?”  Brian Cronin, Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2012 (found at,0,3113473.story).

**These pictures are from a photo essay on, found at The photos of Bess, Henne and Bell were published in a calendar, "That's My Dog", featuring several then-Dolphins players with their pet dogs.  Proceeds from the sale of the calendar benefited the Humane Society of Broward County; see

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