Princeton University’s intense football rivalry with Yale is a longstanding tradition. The tiger has been challenging the bulldog on the gridiron for well over a century. The mascots have done figurative battle with one another about as much as the students have, a fight commemorated in song, line drawings, and magazine covers. In 1979, a group of four Princeton students took this rivalry a bit farther when they kidnapped Handsome Dan XII, Yale’s first female mascot.
Handsome Dan XII with her Princeton counterparts, November 1979. Photo from 1980 Bric-a-Brac.
Dan, also known as Bingo Osterweis, lived with Yale emeritus history professor Rolin Osterweis. It was common for the Yale cheerleaders to ask to borrow the dog for photographs, which the Princetonians—Mark Hallam ’80, Jamie Herbert ’81, Rod Shepard ’80, and Scott Thompson ’81—knew. Wanting to boost the morale of Princeton’s football team, they came up with a plan to take Dan. They posed as Yale cheerleaders and approached Osterweis to ask if they could take her for an hour to pose for pictures in a football program. Osterweis later described the students as “ingenious.” Fully convinced that he was dealing with Yale cheerleaders, Osterweis handed Dan over to her kidnappers, along with a leash and some dog biscuits.
Rather than returning Dan when the hour was up, the students instead called Osterweis from a payphone, telling the professor the dog was going to be out of town for a few days. Osterweis then thought to himself that it was most likely he was talking to Princeton students and warned them that they were “about to take stolen property over a state line” and he would have to report them to the police.
The kidnappers did not take Dan to Princeton right away, but instead holed up with her in a New York apartment in an effort to avoid both Connecticut and New Jersey police, finally bringing her to Princeton the following Friday. Osterweis did not report them to the local police, but only Yale authorities, explaining, “I was certain Princeton undergraduates would be kind to her. Most undergraduates, I suspect, are likely to be kinder to dogs than to their fellow undergraduates.”
While at Princeton, sometimes wearing an orange and black t-shirt, Dan visited the eating clubs and football practice, where she was greeted with enthusiasm. She spent the night at the home of Howard Menard ’36, emeritus dean of the School of Engineering, then went to Palmer Stadium for Princeton’s football match with Yale. During the first half of the game, she was in the refreshment booth, but at halftime, made an appearance on the field in a golf cart to the cheers of the crowd. Finally, Princeton’s own mascot carried Dan, who wore an orange and black scarf around her neck, to the waiting Yale cheerleaders.
Yale got its revenge on the field, beating Princeton 35-10. Afterward, Dan returned home to New Haven “happy and looking fat as a pig.” Osterweis said he assumed that she must have been fed everywhere she went.
Though the caper made the news across the region, it was not the first time a rival had stolen Handsome Dan. In 1934, Harvard took Handsome Dan II to Cambridge, where with a bit of hamburger they coaxed him to lick the boots of a statue of John Harvard. Mostly, however, Yale’s bulldogs have historically avoided capture.
Princeton Alumni Weekly
New York Times
Yale Daily News