When Jak was just a baby, he was picked to take over the family business whenever his father retired. Jak’s grandfather, who he never met, was the first in the family tree to run it, taking the job as a young pup in 2001.
Jak, full name Cristil’s Golden Prince, is the new Bully, the 21st mascot in Mississippi State University history. His father Champ was Bully the last seven years and his grandfather TaTonka was the school mascot before him. In dog years, Jak’s grandfather started the family business a century ago, and Jak’s eventual successor will be picked from his own litter when his reign ends.
The excitement on Saturday will be for Jak, who will walk out onto Scott Field with his dad and be given the ceremonial harness before MSU’s spring football game. But for Lisa Pritchard, who has been the caretaker of Bullies since 1993, it will be hard not to reflect on the life and career of Champ, who has lived with her since shortly after he was born.
“Everyone will get to see me cry,” she admitted as she walked Champ and Jak onto Scott Field last week. “It’s sad for me, personally. I’m not going to have Champ going with me to all these places. But I don’t lose him. Whenever we do retire him, he gets to sit at home in the recliner and enjoy the retired life, which I think every MSU alum should get to do.”
Through his time as Bully, Champ has become the most successful mascot in school history, at least in terms of wins. He’s been to five bowl games for football. He watched MSU play in the College World Series from the same recliner he’s retiring to. Just last month, he watched the women’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament, and he’s seen them make it all the way to Sweet Sixteen before. He’s seen men’s basketball win the SEC Tournament and baseball do the same. He was there for the biggest crowd in school history at football, and he ran onto the field before Dan Mullen’s first game.
Champ his been in a blimp and he’s donned an Air Force hat to take pictures on the wings of fighter jets. In fact, he even gets his own seat on the charter plane with the football team.
“The pilots and stewardesses absolutely love him,” Pritchard says.
Champ’s favorite snack is popcorn, and he legitimately enjoys watching ESPN, so much so that Pritchard leaves it on for him when he’s at home. She says he can tell time, too. No matter where they are or what they’re doing, Champ’s internal alarm clock goes off at 5 p.m. and somebody better feed him.
He’s even been hoisted into the air on ESPN’s College GameDay.
Jak was born in October and was named for Jack Cristil, the longtime MSU radio Voice of the Bulldogs who passed away last year. Pritchard was the one in charge of selecting which pup of the litter would become Bully, her area of expertise for the extent of her professional career.
She started working with Bullies back in 1993 when it was Bully XV, and it was Tonka who was the first to be formally purchased by the University and go off to live with Pritchard so she could take care of him (and his successors) 24-7 back in 2001.
When making the decision, she’s looking for two main things beyond health. First is the color. Bully needs to have a good balance, not too much brine, which doesn’t show up as well as on camera, and not too much white either.
The second, and perhaps most important, is personality.
“They have to have a very outgoing personality, almost to the point of being showy,” she said. “They have to have their own life about them already. You can tell even as young pups if their personalities are strong.”
It’s something she learned the hard way, as one bulldog who wished to remain anonymous was forced into early retirement back in the 1990s after a couple of incidents. He was replaced by an interim, just as any important figure, until a permanent successor could be found and named.
Jak met the stringent requirements in both appearance and personality, giving Pritchard full faith he’s ready to take over the business. Champ was almost two when he became the full-time mascot, but Jak is taking over at the young age of six months. Of course, already weighing around 50 pounds, he’s likely going to be one of the biggest Bullies ever, and certainly bigger than his father.
The process of becoming Bully has changed a great deal since the very first one, who was just a stray bulldog who roamed the campus and was fed by compassionate students. After his death, the school yearbook said of him, “most of us doubt that there was ever an uglier, lazier dog alive.”
Of course, they added that “there was a never a better-natured nor better-loved dog alive.”
Bully’s time as the first mascot came to an end after five years when he was accidentally struck by a bus on campus and consequently buried under the 50-yard line of Scott Field after a full military processional.
That part has changed, too. The average Bully has generally lasted 2-4 years, but Champ made it nearly seven full years and is still running and moving fine. In fact, his father TaTonka is the only one who ever served longer, though Jak will have every opportunity to out-work them both.
Champ’s retirement comes not because he’s sick, dying or becoming a problem. He’s just getting a little old. Most English bulldogs, Pritchard said, are expected to live 10-12 years, though some can make it as far as 14. On the backside of nine years old, Champ has lived a full life and reached retirement age. He’s ready to live out his days on the recliner at home.
So now, Jak will take over, officially crowned on top of the same field where the first Bully was buried and where the ashes of his grandfather TaTonka were spread.
Jak was born a short walk down campus at MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and it was Pritchard he was immediately handed to upon birth. She didn’t know the little bulldog she held would soon be named Bully XXI, though she knew there was a chance.
Pritchard cradled the tiny bulldog in her hands, rubbing his belly until he took his very first breath.
“And I’ll be there for his last,” she said as she watched baby Jak climb on his dad during his first visit to Scott Field just one week before taking over.