Football practice opens Monday at UGA. Right now, the first of 10 planned conference-only games is set for Sept. 26.
We’ll have to wait and see whether Kirby Smart’s Dawgs make it to that game without having to suspend practice due to positive COVID-19 tests; how many fans, if any, will get to attend whatever games get played; and, whether enough games are played for a College Football Playoff to be held.
Whatever happens, this probably won’t be a season that produces many of the kind of warm, fuzzy memories that college football fans hold dear.
Those of us who’ve been around the game for a while still have those memories, though, and, with that in mind, I decided to lift my own spirits (and, hopefully, yours) by revisiting a topic my daughter suggested a few years ago: life’s amazing moments for a Dawgs fan.
I’m talking about those wonderful rites of passage for a college sports fan that some folks like to check off, much like UGA students do with school traditions in their “G-Book.”
And, it’s not just the fans. I once asked former Georgia great Matt Stinchcomb for his “amazing moments,” and he offered: “First Dawg Walk. First time you heard the solo trumpeter. First walk down the railroad trellis. First home win over Tech!”
What follows is not really a bucket list for a Bulldogs fan as much as it is a sharing of those fan moments that make college sports so colorful, exciting and different from the pro variety. They’re part of what engenders the kind of loyalty that sees people still supporting their school, decade after decade.
So, here are 20 amazing moments in the life of a Georgia Bulldogs fan. How many have you experienced?
Your first game at Sanford Stadium. It’s a big deal for most fans, no matter who the opponent is, but I couldn’t help thinking about the lucky fans who found themselves at their very first game last fall when No. 3 Georgia went down to the wire against No. 7 Notre Dame. Although an early-season clash, it had the feeling of a playoff game, with tens of thousands of Georgia fans without tickets making their way to Athens just to soak up the atmosphere. And, what an atmosphere it was, aided by the stadium’s new LED lighting system, which turned the entire stadium red at the start of the fourth quarter. That atmosphere even figured into the game’s final result, with the record crowd of more than 93,000 roaring fans causing Notre Dame to have numerous false starts and burn timeouts. It was, quite simply, college football at its best.
Watching your first home game as a UGA student. My daughter Olivia cited this as one of her amazing moments as a Dawgs fan. She took football games seriously during her time at UGA, showing up six hours before kickoff so she could be sure to get into one of the “good” student sections near the Redcoat Band. “If you want a really good spot, you’ve got to get to the stadium with the Spike Squad,” she noted, adding with pride that she never had to sit in the upper level or in the West end zone seats, but always was in Sections 109-112. Once there, students spend the entire game standing (except during halftime and timeouts). For many freshmen, she said, “it’s their first football game ever” (it wasn’t for her), and they have to learn what to do. Like, learning the cheers, when to hold up four fingers, and when everyone in the student section should point toward the southwest corner of the stadium’s upper deck as the solo trumpeter prepares to play the opening of the “Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation.” Magic moments, all.
Your first time ringing the Chapel bell. This is a particular favorite of young Bulldogs fans. I can still see the rope of the bell pulling my son up high off the ground as he rang the bell in the tower behind the UGA Chapel for the first time when he was a boy. This definitely is something you want to have your children experience. Doc Eldridge, former mayor of Athens, has special memories of his first ringing of the bell. It was when Vince Dooley, after his early success, was courted by Oklahoma. Recalls Doc: “As Jimbo McDonald and I were coming out of the ‘Y’ that morning … It had just been announced the Vince was staying. Jimbo and I … crossed Lumpkin Street and went to ring the bell. We were the first to arrive and stayed there ringing it by ourselves until our parents came and got us around 4:00. By then the students had consumed large amounts of liquid courage and had gathered to take our place. The bell rang until midnight.”
First time down on the field at Sanford. I’ve never been on the field when the stands were full, but even walking on it in an empty stadium during some autograph sessions gave me a new appreciation of the immensity of the place, and what it must be like for a UGA player running out for his first game Between the Hedges. When my son Bill was young, he got to attend a couple of practices thanks to his grandfather being in the Touchdown Club, and had his picture taken with players. My daughter joined other freshmen in forming a gigantic power G on the field before her first quarter, and also got to watch a movie sitting on the field another time.
First time tailgating on campus. While it’s easier and more convenient to just grab a meal at one of the game day outlets outside or inside the stadium, there’s nothing quite like sitting under a tree or on a grassy quad with friends and family, sharing some fried chicken, or whatever your game day preference is, while you anticipate that day’s matchup. And, if ESPN “GameDay” is in town, that makes it even better!
Your first road game. Whether it’s on the road in the SEC, traveling to some faraway place like Arizona, or just making your way to the Joke by Coke in Atlanta, there’s a very different, but special, feeling about watching the Dawgs win at the opponent’s home stadium. By the way, the Redcoats play an even more important role on the road than they do at home games.
Your first Georgia-Florida game. With the stands in Jacksonville split 50/50 between orange and red, and many in attendance having spent several days getting “primed” for the game, it’s one of college football’s classic experiences. Some fans eventually grow tired of paying exorbitant hotel rates and being otherwise exploited by the good businesspeople of Jacksonville year after year, but they still say there’s no other game atmosphere quite like it.
The first win over Tech. Fortunately, this usually comes pretty early for anyone who starts attending Georgia football games.
First big win over a highly ranked team. From the 1965 flea-flicker shocker over the Crimson Tide to last year’s Notre Dame game, I’ve seen a bunch of these. But, I can’t top my son getting to see Georgia’s double-overtime College Football Playoff win over Oklahoma in the stunning setting of the Rose Bowl. And, yes, he used that word to describe the best athletic even he’s ever attended: “Amazing.”
Taking your child to their first Fan Day. They used to call it Picture Day when it was held at Sanford Stadium. Last year, when it was at the indoor practice facility, it was Fan Day. This year, it probably won’t happen. But, whenever it returns, and whatever they call it, getting the chance to meet the players is fun for fans of any age. Still, watching a wide-eyed child come away with an autograph from their favorite player is special.
First time petting Uga. Whichever number of the Seiler family’s English bulldogs it is doesn’t matter. Adults and kids alike get a real kick out of petting the wrinkled brow of the best college mascot around.
Your first Dawg Walk. The viewing conditions aren’t ideal unless you get there early, but there’s nothing to get you cranked up for a big game like watching the players make their way through the throng of fans and the Redcoat Band and into the stadium. Like Matt Stinchcomb said, it even gets the players buzzed. But, you’ve not truly experienced the full Dawg Walk unless you hang around for Rooster Call, a good-spirited slamming of the day’s opponent from a couple of members of the band, who then lead the “rooster cheer” that’s become a tradition over the past couple of decades.
Your first Bulldogs bowl game. Whether it’s in Pasadena, New Orleans, Orlando or just at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, attending a postseason game is a very different sort of experience that every fan should try at some point. Speaking of which …
Your first Dawgs national championship game. Yeah, they don’t come along very frequently (despite my brother Jonathan’s annual prediction), but those who were at the Jan. 1, 1981, Sugar Bowl — where Herschel Walker and Buck Belue led the Dawgs to a national title — treasure those memories. And, even though, Georgia fell heartbreakingly short in overtime of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Atlanta on Jan. 8, 2018, I’m so glad my son and I were there. It was a feeling like no other game I’ve ever experienced.
Your first trip to the UGA Bookstore for souvenirs and Dawgwear. It’s fun (and can be quite expensive) at any time, but on game day, when the place is packed, it’s another great way to get into the spirit. Be sure to pick up something for the kids, whether it’s a replica jersey, a UGA T-shirt or cap, or a onesie for the youngest fans. It’s never too early to get them started!
Watching a basketball game or gymnastics meet at Stegeman Coliseum. Big moments in UGA fandom aren’t limited to football. Georgia’s aged indoor arena has its detractors, but when the place is packed for a big SEC basketball opponent, the Steg really rocks. As for gymnastics, the atmosphere may not be quite as raucous as during the Suzanne Yoculan heyday of numerous national titles, but the Gym Dogs still are a major draw, and the performances are usually pretty exciting.
Watching a baseball game at Foley Field. UGA’s baseball stadium admittedly is one of the smallest in the conference, but renovations have kept it up-to-date, and it’s still a fun, intimate place to watch a ball game. The on-campus location is a nice setting, and, when it’s packed for a big one, the atmosphere can be pretty electric (though I miss the days of the more outlandish fans on Kudzu Hill).
Your first game day stroll through North Campus. Walking through the famed Arch facing Broad Street in Athens and following the path down to Sanford Bridge and the stadium is a trip through the University of Georgia’s past. It’s also breathtakingly beautiful, especially now that the old North Campus “yards” no longer are the nexus of tailgating, thanks to restrictions put in place a few years ago to help protect the surrounding historic buildings.
Visiting the place where it all began. In my days as a student, what had been Herty Field, where UGA football was born, was just an ugly parking lot. Now, however, it’s a beautiful green space with a fountain, where UGA students play Frisbee golf, read, eat lunch or, increasingly, get married! If you haven’t checked out this North Campus jewel, be sure to do so next time you’re in Athens.
Your first truly special UGA moment. Maybe it was Herschel’s first touchdown at home. Or the emotional ovation when David Jacobs took the field on Senior Day after a career-ending stroke. Or the team running out in black jerseys against Auburn. Or the fireworks going off overhead as your own kid graduates from UGA down on the field of Sanford Stadium. One thing’s for sure: If you are a lifelong Dawg, you’ll definitely have memories that will make you smile … and maybe get a little misty-eyed.
Here’s looking forward to a return to a not-so-new normal, whenever it comes, and the chance to experience more of life’s amazing moments.