Dec. 11, 2013
Commodore History Corner Archive
During the Vanderbilt basketball season of 1964-65 the Clyde Lee-led team won its first SEC championship with a final record of 24-4. The next three seasons the Commodores would record marks of 22-4, 21-5 and 20-6. The 1968-69 squad was 15-11 while the following team, in 1969-70, tallied a 12-14 mark.
There would be a noticeable "slump" with the records from the Lee years. The Vanderbilt campus newspaper "Hustler" had the answer for this decline in success, which, in its opinion, was not due to the talent on the court. The Feb. 17, 1970 edition of the Hustler stated boldly in a headline:
"Samantha Leaves VU Campus: Cause for Basketball Slump"
The Hustler followed with this story:
At last, an explanation for Vanderbilt's sagging fortunes.
Samantha is gone.
When Sigma Chi Ernie Lowe graduated in January, he took his dog home with him to Maryville, Tenn.
The sad faced, one-eyed basset hound had been a familiar figure on campus since fall, 1966, when her predecessor, George, was hit by a milk truck in an accident behind Rand Hall.
For three years, Samantha led a dog's life as Commodore mascot, darling of the cheerleaders and Sigma Chi., and pampered pet of the rest of the campus. She was patted by students strolling to class, fed scraps at Rand and in the Quad, and was occasionally seen half-heartedly giving chase to a stray squirrel.
Although the committee on Student Athletic Activities used to pay for George's food, president Clark Lea said the practice had been discontinued with Sam. Lea said that no plans have been made to replace the mascot, but that he would look into the matter.
Lowe will enter UT medical school in Memphis next month, but Sam's status is as yet uncertain.
"She's still ours," a Sigma Chi spokesman said loyally.
Meanwhile Samantha remains in Maryville, and the ATO's Great Dane Bismarck and Ken Levy's mutt C.W. may become the campus canine kings.
So, whatever happened to Samantha, the beloved basset hound?
Ernie Lowe is now Dr. Ernest Lowe. He currently lives in Oxford, Miss., and is a Board Certified orthopedic surgeon practicing in sports medicine. He maintains an office in Memphis.
"There had originally been a dog there by the name of George," Lowe said recently. "When we lost George, someone brought in Samantha and I kind of inherited her. I was the only one that had the patience to feed her everyday. She was not my dog originally, but she lived either in my dorm room or the Sigma Chi House and she would roam around the campus. That's why she was rather obese. She made the rounds to Rand Hall and over to the Quad and students would feed her snacks.
"She would just wander on the basketball court. That's where she got her picture in Sports Illustrated. I would try to locate her at night to make sure she was in one place or another. She just roamed most of the day."
Sometimes Samantha would innocently find trouble for her caretaker.
"The women's dean called me in one day," said Lowe. "They found out that Samantha was eating food on the brand new couches over there. She did mind that Samantha was coming into the dining hall. That it was not a good thing. Certainly I could see that Samantha eating a pork chop on a new couch needed to be stopped. We would get a 98 score in the dining hall by the health department and not 100 since they discovered that Samantha was sleeping on the prep table. Samantha did sleep sometimes in the kitchen."
Sometimes Samantha would take in a Vanderbilt football game, but Memorial Gym was her second, third or fourth home. She was a regular at Commodores' home basketball games being led around on a leash; enjoying the atmosphere and her popularity. Memorial Gym can be quite noisy with fan excitement, but Samantha didn't seem to care.
"Samantha never got excited," said Lowe. "If a brass band was playing loudly or an explosion occurred she might yawn. She was low-key. Crowds never bothered her. She tried to sleep in the middle of the basketball court. She didn't bark at anyone. She got lost once. The dogcatcher or someone had picked her up. I went down to pick her up. They said they were going to put her at one end of the room and me on the other side. They weren't sure she was my dog. Their idea was to see if she would run to me. I explained that she would go to anyone, but she came over to me."
Lowe said that Samantha died a couple of years after he graduated from Vanderbilt. Said Lowe, "I'm sure her girth had something to do with her death." Lowe believes Samantha was buried in the backyard of his late parents' home in Maryville.
Now for the story of George that was also a basset hound and Samantha's predecessor.
In the fall of 1961, Toby Wilt arrived on the Vanderbilt campus to play football for the freshmen. Wilt took his family pet, George, a basset hound to Vanderbilt where they both were housed at the Sigma Chi House. Wilt's girlfriend would take George to most football practices and home games.
It was during the Vanderbilt/Tennessee game on Nov. 28, 1964 that George became a hero to Commodore fans. The Vols had a Tennessee walking horse that was ridden on the field during certain times of the game. At one point, George took off after the horse and chased him out of the stadium. The episode did not go unnoticed to the Vanderbilt fans in the stands that day.
The Tennessean reported on the incident:
George, the basset hound, owned by Vandy halfback Toby Wilt whose fine run set up the only touchdown, inspired the Commodores before the opening kickoff. When Ebony Masterpiece, the Tennessee walking horse which has become the university's mascot, pranced up and down the sidelines, George darted across the field and appeared to challenge him in animal jargon.
Vanderbilt beat Tennessee that afternoon, 7-0 with Wilt's 40-yard run from his halfback position setting up the winning score.
"I don't really know what George was thinking," Wilt said. "My guess is that he had never seen a horse before and thought it was a big dog."
A few weeks later a student organization selected George as the university's official mascot for his courageous charge at the UT horse. George would have front-row seats to Vanderbilt football and basketball games.
In the spring of 1965, the Metropolitan Health Department didn't approve of the basset living in the fraternity house and was "officially" expelled. George was not altogether homeless and was taken care of by the students. The Council of Student Activities voted to build a house for George. The cost of the house was estimated at $1,000, which included carpeting and central heat and air. There was a debate on campus as to the exuberant expense for this doghouse. Eventually a regular doghouse was donated for George's living quarters.
In November 1966, George chased an ice truck on the Vanderbilt campus and was killed. A funeral home donated a small casket and he was buried in a small plot just North of Dudley Field.
The 1967 Vanderbilt yearbook, Commodore, introduced Samantha as George's official replacement as mascot.
One can almost hear George sigh, `Well, for a rookie, and a girl at that, she's all right.' That adorable, blue- and gray-eyed sweetheart of a puppy plopped herself down in the middle of Vandy's campus and took right over! We doubted, and mumbled behind closed doors, thinking that no one could fill George's pawprints...ever. But after a few moments of terror at Homecoming, Samantha was well on her way to showing any TVC who ever walked just what it means to be a real lady.
"Sam," as she is affectionately known to her Sigma Chi trainers, has become the new mascot for Vandy's athletic teams in a manner all her own. Her triumph is complete and her popularity is unquestioned, so once again Tennessee's walking horse had best beware.
The photographs accompanying this story are of Samantha.
If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email at WLTraughber@aol.com.