A new chapter in Georgetown University history begins during a time-out at the men’s basketball game against Louisville in January. A tan-and-white, four-legged celebrity dashes across the court. The 16-month-old English bulldog, JJ—short for Jack Jr.—is Georgetown’s mascot-in-training. This is his big Verizon Center debut.
In the coming years, JJ’s most important duty will be tearing apart a cardboard box painted with the opposing team’s logo during halftime at men’s basketball games.
Father Christopher Steck, an associate professor of theology at Georgetown, is caretaker of JJ and Jack, the nine-year-old mascot that’s retiring soon. Steck gets help from the Jack Crew, a student group that handles the dogs’ walks and event appearances.
Before JJ can move on to attacking boxes, he’s dealing with a less daunting task: popping a bundle of balloons in Louisville’s team colors. While it’s over in seconds, this moment was ten months in the making. We tagged along on the journey.
It’s been a week since Steck traveled to San Diego to pick up four-month-old JJ from Janice Hochstetler, a mother of two Georgetown students who breeds bulldogs.
JJ slept in his crate for most of the ride back to DC. He spent his first weeks on campus getting used to his new home: Steck’s apartment in the New South dormitory. Besides teaching JJ basics such as sit and stay, Steck must add mascot-specific skills to the repertoire, including demolishing boxes and riding on a golf cart.
JJ now eagerly hops onto the golf cart. He and Steck often take rides together to nearby Holy Trinity church to visit the parish dog, a golden retriever that’s become one of JJ’s favorite friends.
JJ has also learned to high-five, but he still doesn’t know how to attack a box properly. And he’s perplexed by the Georgetown T-shirt he’s wearing. “He thinks it’s a toy,” says Steck.
After JJ’s debut at the university’s Midnight Madness pep rally in October, Steck begins to bring him to Georgetown women’s basketball home games at the school’s McDonough Arena. The goal is to get him used to the crowds and the game atmosphere.
JJ’s box-tearing skills have improved—so much so that he does a test run and rips apart a box at the January 19 women’s game against Seton Hall.
After he has watched a couple of Georgetown men’s games from the tunnel entrance of the Verizon Center, JJ’s center-court debut arrives on January 26. Following a split-second hesitation, JJ homes in on the balloons. Now oblivious to the crowd, he does what comes naturally: pounce and pop. The crowd cheers.
Those balloons, however, will be the last of his career. Because of concern that JJ could inhale balloon bits as he does the trick, Steck is keeping him on the sideline for the remaining games of 2012-13. It’s a small setback, but after nearly a year of training, JJ has come a long way. Next season, those boxes won’t stand a chance.
This article appears in the April 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.