Another Dawgs tradition ends as game day programs go digital

Olivia Watson of Athens, then 17, holds up a program for sale at the Sept. 7, 2013, game between the Georgia Bulldogs and South Carolina Gamecocks. (AJC file)
Jason Getz / AJC

My game day routine in Athens has evolved through the years, but one thing that’s never changed is the first thing I do after entering Gate 2 at Sanford Stadium: Buy a game program from one of the kids who are peddling them, just as I did many years ago.

Come this season, though, I won’t be able to continue that ritual, because the programs are going the way of tickets: all digital, nothing printed on paper.

That will make permanent a change that was initiated during last year’s pandemic-impacted reduced-crowd games. Instead of programs, for those fans who don’t want to try and view the digital programs, roster cards will be available free of charge at Gates 2, 6, 7, 9 and 10, Senior Associate Athletic Director Claude Felton told me this week.

These programs from the 2014 Georgia football season show how the covers evolved from the early years. (Olivia King/special)
Olivia King, Dawgnation

So, no more kids standing around the stadium, holding up those glossy covers featuring UGA players as they yell out, “Programs! Get your programs here!” (As one young program seller told the Athens Banner-Herald a few years ago, “The secret to selling a program is hollering as loud as you can.”)

It’s the end of an era for those of us who grew up in Athens and found selling programs to be a good way of picking up some pocket money while guaranteeing we got into Georgia home football games.

Back then, Athens boys signed up to sell programs under Stu McGarity Sr., father of future UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity. I got into selling programs because Mr. McGarity had been one of my Sunday School teachers, and he was a friend of my father. Also, one of his assistants in handling the program sales was Dad’s cousin, Nathan King.

In recent years, the corps of program sellers had widened to boys and girls and sometimes even their parents, with the proceeds from the $5 programs going to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

In earlier years, the covers of Georgia game programs often featured generic football artwork. (Olivia King/special)
Olivia King, Dawgnation

As I’ve noted here before, selling programs when I was a kid was a pretty sweet deal: You actually got paid to go to Georgia football games! Well, really, you earned 10 cents for every program you sold (the price when I started selling was a dollar, which was twice was the programs had sold for the season before).

That may not sound like much now, but, if you sold 100 programs, you earned $10, which went a lot farther for a kid in the mid-1960s.

You’d pick up your programs the afternoon before the game at the gate next to Memorial Hall. The programs were bound in cellophane in packets of 25 and you could take as many as you thought you could sell (and wanted to lug around). Generally, I’d take 50 for regular games and 100 for Homecoming, or a game against a big rival.

Some sellers were a lot more ambitious than me and took many more copies (you turned back in any you didn’t sell).

Printed game programs like these no longer will be sold at Georgia football games. (Olivia King/special)
Olivia King, Dawgnation

Bill Bryant, with whom I went to school from age 5 on, started selling programs before I did. He recalled this week that he “tried to get a jump on program sales by canvassing the student married housing community near our house on Friday nights. I sold a few, but at 50 cents (later $1), the glossy pre-game reads were too rich for most newlyweds.”

Another friend of mine, Ben Anderson, also tried to get an early start “by selling a few copies door to door on Friday evenings at apartment buildings near our house way out South Milledge.”

My buddy Dan Pelletier said his goal was to sell 100 programs for every game, and his high point was more than 200 for a Tech game, which, he said, was the “only time I ever continued selling once the game started.”

His favorite selling territory “was on the hill for students coming down from Brumby, Russell and Creswell,” and he recalls some of the alums sharing their tailgate lunches with him.

Bill Hartman, who for many years was a TV sportscaster in Atlanta, also sold programs as a boy. (His father was a former Dawgs star, and was the volunteer kicking coach for many years, in addition to being the namesake of the Hartman Fund, to which season ticket holders contribute.) Bill said he remembers “hitting up tailgaters who were friends of my father’s. They would buy more than they needed because of him, I think.”

He also remembers when he was the assistant sports information director in 1973, “I contributed a lot of content [to the programs] and it was fun watching kids sell the program like I once did.”

Vintage Georgia football program covers were featured in a series of calendars from Asgard Press. (Olivia King/special)
Olivia King, Dawgnation

Dirk Howell recalled staking out the Milledge Avenue Varsity (recently closed, sadly) to do most of his selling, though, he said, “I didn’t do very well. I’d walk around holding up a program while people ate their hot dogs, but I was kind of shy and didn’t like yelling ‘Programs!’ I usually sold about 25 or 30.”

Classmate Bill Faircloth remembers “selling programs for a couple of years in front of the Georgia Center on Lumpkin Street. My Dad would take me to pick up the programs and he would always buy the first 10. He said they were for his friends, but I suspect it was probably to pad my sales.”

Pete Talmadge has a favorite memory of one game when he was selling at Legion Field, across from the stadium on Lumpkin Street. “I approached some rowdy drunken Bama fans. I asked if they wanted a program and one bellowed to me that he couldn’t read. I said there were some good pictures, and he said they would only be photos of Georgia boys. I asked him would if he buy one program for every Alabama player photographed. He agreed, and I sold him five programs. You had to be gentle with the drunks, but they always wanted to talk and sometimes they would talk themselves into a sale.”

The former mayor of Athens-Clarke County, Doc Eldridge, recalled “trying to get to friends of my parents and other large tailgates before someone else did. One side benefit was grabbing an empty program box, flattening it out, and making a great ‘sled’ for the hills at the sides of the seating.”

When you checked in, you owed 90 cents for every program sold, with what was left over as your profit. If you had made a mistake — say, in making change — you had to make up the difference. Bill Bryant remembers the pressure of “hoping that the wadded-up bills in your hardware apron tied around your waist were enough to cover the programs you had been given to sell.”

However, John Thrasher recalls a game when he was 12 or 13, and had taken a brief break in the Bulldog Room in Memorial Hall. As he exited, he was attacked by a couple of muggers. “I wasn’t seriously hurt, but was shaken up a bit. Probably my biggest concern at the time was the $40-$50 that the thieves got away with. All I could think about was how in the world I was going come up with that money when I settled up.

“The ironic thing is, this happened less than 25 yards from the gate and ticket office where Mr. McGarity managed the program sellers. … When I told him what had happened, his only concern was whether I was OK. I told him I was OK, but that the thieves had stolen all the program sales money. To my surprise, Mr. McGarity told me not to worry about it. He then reached in his pocket and gave me a couple of dollars, so I could buy a hot dog and a Coke.”

My own toughest day selling programs was a Homecoming game that started out promisingly: I’d taken a full box of 100 copies to sell, and a chartered bus pulling into the Stegeman Hall lot stopped in front of me and the door opened, with the driver telling me to come aboard and sell programs to all the fans on the bus! I only took as many programs as I could carry under one arm and left the rest in the box right outside the bus door. (Yes, I was a naïve dope.) When I returned, the box was missing.

Fortunately, the thief tried to peddle the purloined programs right in front of the program sellers’ check-in window. One of the supervisors spotted him and knew the kid wasn’t on the program seller list, so I got my box of programs back!

My program-selling routine was that Dad would drop me off in the vicinity of the stadium mid-morning Saturday (this is when game time was 2 p.m.) and I’d sell until just before kickoff. I mostly sold in the Stegeman Hall lot (now the Tate Center lot), or along Sanford Bridge.

I usually managed to sell out, but that wasn’t my main goal. For me, it was about getting into the games for free!

Technically, after you’d finished selling for the day (only a few die-hards continued after kickoff), you were supposed to sit on the grassy hill that used to occupy the west end of the North stands. But, many of us instead would look for an empty seat somewhere in the stands, and it usually wasn’t too hard. I managed to see some games from the 40- or 50-yard-line of the lower level that way!

Fans collect program covers from the past, as in this framed display sold in recent years. (Amazon)
Amazon, Dawgnation

The programs themselves were full of articles and photos, besides the two teams’ complete rosters. There always were interesting features on UGA players, past and present — in later years mostly written by the athletic association’s jack-of-all-trades, Loran Smith.

In the early years of Georgia football, the programs mostly had featured generic artwork that probably appeared on hundreds of game programs around the country, but, by the mid-1960s, Georgia’s programs had great full-color pictures of UGA players and coaches on the covers.

The programs served a dual purpose: Besides having the rosters and giving you something to read before kickoff, they also made a nice keepsake souvenir — some folks kept all of them, others just the most meaningful games.

For the past 15 years or so, some of those eye-catching vintage covers (provided by UGA’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library) had been collected each year in a calendar produced by Asgard Press, which I always bought for myself, and as family Christmas gifts. The vintage cover for each month was perforated at the bottom, so you could remove it for framing, if you wished.

Unfortunately, when I checked in with Bethany Stover of Asgard this week, I learned that the company no longer will be producing its line of collegiate football calendars. “We are excited about our new collection of 2022 pop-culture calendars, and the direction our company is headed,” she said, although she admitted that, “at the same time, this moment is bittersweet.”

I’ll say. No new game programs, and now no vintage program covers to hang on the wall, either. Damn.

“I can’t believe game day programs are turning into relics of a bygone era of college football,” said Ryan Scates, who, in his UGA days, served as a student representative on the athletic association board.

“I have a program from nearly every college football game I’ve attended,” he said. “I will be sad to see them go.”

There was, Ryan said, “something about holding the book, smelling those laminated pages, reading Loran Smith’s column for that week during warmups, and looking up player numbers after big plays that really solidified the feeling of being Between the Hedges. And, of course, some of the best UGA sports-related images of all time came from those game program covers.”

He lamented that, “little by little, the fun is being taken out of college football every year. This one hurts; another reason to stay home and enjoy the marvels of HDTV.”

Taking a more hopeful view is Bill Hartman, who conceded, “it won’t be the same. However, I do enjoy reading the ePaper on my iPad, so maybe I’m getting used to the new world.”

I’m sure many fans will do that. But, somehow, I don’t see myself trying to read one of Loran’s articles on my phone.

That makes me extra thankful I came along during an era when I could be a part of UGA’s game day — and get into the games for free!

(Special thanks to Olivia King, Mike Luck and David Wellham.)

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