In September 1995, a group of Yale University coaches, marketing reps and administrators gathered for the unveiling of the new Bulldogs logo.
Someone unrolled the image on the floor of the school's Payne Whitney Gymnasium. A jowly bulldog looked past them in profile, a lower cuspid protruding from a fearsome jaw.
That image against a two-tone background, the school's royal blue and a softer shade, made a far sleeker logo than any previous incarnations; and a major change from the sweater-wearing, pipe-smoking "Handsome Dan" that had represented the school since 1972. Replacing that logo with something more accessible to the general public ranked at the top of athletic director Tom Beckett's priorities since taking over in 1994.
As cameras flashed and Handsome Dan XIV, an actual living bulldog, decided to take a seat in the middle of the logo, it was easy to overlook a heavy-set man smiling over his handiwork.
Jeffrey Russo, a comic book aficionado from Tampa, had spent a year creating and perfecting it.
"I remember the day I first did it in pencil," Mr. Russo told New Haven Register that day. "The whole idea is based on speed and motion."
Hence the horizontal lines behind the bulldog's head. Mr. Russo also designed an even more ubiquitous logo, known simply as the Y-Dog, which places the same head against the unchanging "Y."
"It was an important time," Beckett, a former Stanford coach known as much for marketing skill as racking up wins, said in a phone interview. "What Jeffrey was able to do in capturing this important logo has stood the test of time. It's been a wonderful symbol for our university sports teams, and we are very proud of Jeffrey's work and his contribution to our community."
The man behind the Y-Dog was born in Tampa in 1966. Mr. Russo played football at Jesuit High, graduated from Hillsborough Community College and studied graphic arts. His part in a piece of Yale athletics history came the only time he left his hometown, a nearly two-year stint. He worked for Starter Corp., the New Haven, Conn., company charged with creating the logo.
Mr. Russo returned to Tampa, where he worked as a graphic artist for a series of companies. He painted as a hobby and spent as much time as he could with his extended family.
Mr. Russo lived alone and never married. He enjoyed watching sports on TV and the entire evening lineup of shows on Fox News. He dropped wry observations from time to time, the import of which could be missed if you weren't paying attention.
"He had a good sense of humor, but he could veil it," said Shirley Russo, 75, his mother.
She discovered Mr. Russo on Friday evening at his home, unresponsive. She thinks her son might have died as a result of sleep apnea. He was 47.
He had remained proud of his role in creating the Y-Dog, which remains the Yale athletic logo, visible on T-shirts and baseball caps, and has been spotted on athletic stationery and center ice at the hockey rink.
"As long as what he did was going to be lasting," his mother said, "he felt that this was going to be his 30 minutes of fame."
Beckett, the man most responsible for killing off the logo's pipe-smoking predecessor, said he regards Mr. Russo's logo as a step forward in the university's public relations.
"Everybody recognizes the Y," he said, "and now everybody coming in sees Handsome Dan's profile with the Y. It's exactly what we were looking for."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.