The 1950s were a simpler time. Back then you could enjoy a malt from a drive-in after attending the sock hop with your best gal. Or if it was a Saturday in the fall you could watch the Kentucky Wildcats carry the beer barrel off the field after defeating the Tennessee Volunteers. Some might say it was a great time to be alive, unless you were a dog named Smokey.
The bluetick coonhound had only served as the Tennessee Volunteers’ mascot for two years when a group of UK students hatched a plan for revenge. In a story told by The Athletic’s David Ubben, the folks in Lexington were still angry after a bunch of Vols stole the beer barrel trophy, once awarded to the winners of the football game between the border state rivals. In 1955 a Tennessee undergrad arrived in Lexington for law school with press credentials and intimate knowledge of Smokey’s whereabouts. Beauchamp Brogan was the perfect inside man.
The plan hatched by Brogan and Co. was too easy. They simply called Bill Brooks, the original owner and handler of Tennessee’s Smokeys, and asked if the could use Smokey II for a photoshoot, a fairly common practice around campus. Brooks thought nothing of it until he received a phone call from a reporter hours later. Smokey had been stolen.
The act started a week of hysteria between the border state rivals. Tennessee students drove to Lexington and vandalized Memorial Coliseum. Another group tried to bombard a fraternity house where they believed Smokey was being kept. They were met with the sound of barking dogs… howls that were made by the fraternity brothers.
Some UK fans reportedly planned a Knoxville raid. Roadblocks were setup by students and a carload was taken hostage in exchange for Smokey, a request that fell on deaf ears. There was a similar response from UK folks after Tennessee students stole Kernel, UK’s last live Wildcat mascot that had been stuffed after its death.
Tensions remained high until kickoff at Stoll Field. The two mascots were exchanged after Smokey was spotted wearing a UK jacket. Most importantly, the dog was alive and well as Kentucky shut out Tennessee 23-0.
The wild story from a bygone era features even more twists and turns. You can read it in its entirety at The Athletic.