by Jim Marks
The handsome and debonair Rocky I is the living mascot for the University of North Carolina at Asheville, known to friends near and far as UNCA. But Rocky I wasn’t always Rocky I. Before that, he was just Rocky. And before that, he was Rebel.
Rocky I, referred to hereinafter as simply Rocky, was rescued by alumnus and math lecturer Ed Johnson from a foster home in Georgia. Johnson, with whom the mascot lives, always points out that Rocky is not a Georgia bulldog in any sense of the words. Genetically, Rocky is a Victorian bulldog. (More about that later.)Geographically, he is all southerner, having been transferred from a shelter in Alabama to a foster home in Georgia and then to Asheville.Fan wise, he is obviously a UNCA Bulldog. He had the Roman numeral I added to his name to distinguish him from Rocky, the bulldog statue that has long been on the UNCA campus.
Johnson and wife Alexis, alsoa UNCA graduate, had been instrumental in getting support for the adoption of a live mascot. The UNCA Bulldogs had been without a live mascot since the late 1980s and the Johnsons wanted to correct that situation. They enlisted the support of UNCA development officer Kevin Frasier and started the search for the perfect UNCA mascot. After a few disappointing meetings with potential school bulldogs, Johnson learned about Rocky on the internet in 2009. He visited Rocky’s foster home and knew at once that he had found the university’s mascot. Rocky came home with Johnson to Asheville that day, and has been here ever since. He lives with the Johnsons and their Border collie, Savannah, and is clearly loved by his caretakers. Rocky visits Johnson’s office about twice a week, where he meets and greets students and faculty alike. But his main work is to bring enthusiasm and cheer to a wide range of UNCA events.
Rocky livens things up everywhere he goes, and he goes almost everywhere on campus. He attends sports, graduations, student events, admitted student’s days, parent’s days,and the faculty/staff picnic among other campus happenings. As Johnson says, “Rocky is not just involved with athletics.”
Now about the Victorian bulldog, a relatively unknown breed not yet recognized by the American Kennel Club: The Victorian bulldog was originally created to be a multi-purpose farm dog that could guard livestock, pull carts, and play with children. It became nearly extinct in the 20th century, but is making a comeback in popularity because of its gentle and affectionate disposition.Victorian bulldogs incorporate traits from mastiffs, English bulldogs and boxers. They are taller than the classic English bulldog, have a big head, a wide face, and a smooth coat. And they are friendly.
Friendliness is a good characteristic for a mascot, especially one that weighs 85 pounds, and Rocky has friendliness in abundance. He loves attention, and will make friends with everyone to get it. Rocky even has his own Facebook page, maintained by Johnson and Rocky fans in the UNCA communications office.
Johnson says Rocky doesn’t travel in his official capacity, but does try to get to as many campus events as possible. In addition to visiting many non-sporting events, Rocky, accompanied by Johnson, visits many home volleyball matches and most home basketball games. His routine there is to visit fans in the stands before tip-off, sit quietly courtside during the game, greet fans in the mezzanine during halftime, then say goodbye to Bulldog supporters.
All the while, Johnson carries a towel to occasionally wipe the drool off Rocky’s face, because he does drool a bit. But so what? What’s a little drool among really good friends?