What’s your earliest memory of the Georgia Bulldogs? Is it a particular game? Your parents rooting for the Dawgs when you were very young? Attending your first game in Athens?
My son Bill recently sent me a link to an article recapping a rather obscure victory over Alabama, when placekicker John Kasay’s 40-yard field goal gave Georgia 17-16 win over the Crimson Tide in 1990, one of the few highlights of a miserable 4-7 season for Ray Goff’s second team as head coach.
“This is the very first game I have any memory of,” my son said. He would have been 5 years old at the time.
It’s interesting that my own earliest memory of Georgia football also involves a game against Bama: the 1957 Georgia-Alabama game in Athens, during the Wally Butts era. I also was just 5 years old at the time, and I don’t remember the game itself, but I remember that my father attended it. The Georgia team, which was pretty bad that season, lost a close one, 14-13, to an equally bad Tide team that fired its coach at the end of the season (prompting the hiring of Bear Bryant). A blocked extra point was the difference.
I mainly remember Dad remarking about how irritated he was by the Bama band continually playing the Tide’s fight song (“Yea Alabama”) throughout the game.
I have vague memories of being taken to a Georgia game when I was little, but I have no idea what game, or when it was, and I only really recall the sounds of the Redcoat Band. The first one I can really remember was in 1963, when Larry Rakestraw was the senior starter at quarterback. I had just turned 11. I think it was a 20-0 win over Vandy, and I seem to recall sophomore backup Preston Ridlehuber getting to play some late in the game. This was before the stadium was double-decked, and I remember we sat in the North stands and that the silver helmets that the Bulldogs wore at that time glinted in the afternoon sun.
Dad took me to that game, and that appears to be a very common experience in Bulldog Nation, judging from what I heard from fans this week after I posted on social media asking for first memories of the Dawgs. For instance, Richard Huston will never forget his 6th birthday in 1959. “Daddy took me to my first game.” And though Jeremy Bryant’s first memory is Georgia losing the 2000 Music City Bowl, his “biggest memory that stands out is the 2002 Auburn game. First time I watched a big game with my Dad. Good times.”
The Bulldogs literally were family to some young fans who grew up in Athens. Bill Hartman, who became a longtime Atlanta sportscaster, recalls “going to football practice with my father” in 1953, when he was 5 years old. His dad, also named Bill Hartman, was a former Bulldog himself and coached Georgia’s placekickers for many years.
Joe Richwine literally grew up among the Dawgs. His father, Sam Richwine, was Georgia’s head trainer in the late 1950s and early ’60s, and also was the proctor of Payne Hall, which was the athletic dorm at the time. Joe remembers: “There was a private apartment on the ground floor of the northeast corner of the building, in which we lived. I remember hanging out at the field house across the street from the practice fields and sucking on salt tablets from a dispenser hanging on the wall.”
Other Athens kids’ earliest memories are less about the games than game day. Anna Gomez, who lived at Dearing Street and Cloverhurst Avenue in Athens, said her first UGA memory is “beer bottles on our street after games.” Karen Rabek said she was first aware of Georgia football when, as a very young child, “I saw the crepe paper and chicken wire [homecoming] sculptures at the fraternity and sorority houses along Milledge and Lumpkin. I always loved those!” And Kip Hall remembers “eating at Dials BBQ before each home game from the time I was 5.”
Attending games in the 1950s and early ’60s was a much different experience from today. Betz Lowery, who started going to games with her parents when she was 4 in 1959, remembers, “I didn’t really understand what we were attending, but I knew it was important. Everyone was dressed in their best clothes.” Donald Shelnutt also recalls “the whole family dressing up to attend the games, almost like going to church. Men wore coats and ties, women dresses and heels.”
Although the game day attire may have been more formal back then, Sanford Stadium itself was much more informal. Some fans, like Mike Burger, recall scaling a fence behind the North stands to get into games without paying. And Rick Allen remembers going to games in the mid-’50s, when he was 4 or 5, and “sliding down the grass banks next to the stands on flattened out cardboard boxes thrown out by the concession stands.”
His earliest non-football UGA memory is “my parents taking me to basketball games at Woodruff Hall when I was about 4. I remember standing next to the players and looking up in awe at how tall they were. And loving to sit behind the wooden poles that stuck up out of the stands to hold up the roof.”
Another memory of Woodruff Hall, where the Dawgs played before Stegeman Coliseum, comes from Laura Hartman Ciucevich: “The roof leaked when it rained … and periodically the team managers had to go out and wipe the water off the floor.”
Many fans’ first UGA memories are either of watching or playing in the pre-game scrimmages that boys from the Athens YMCA used to play before Georgia home games at Sanford Stadium.
Recalls Lee Eidson: “I once intercepted a pass and ran it in for a touchdown. It seemed like it took an hour to get to the goal line! The people in the stands were applauding. I was beyond happy!”
For some fans who lived farther away from Athens, first memories of the Dawgs tend to involve UGA radio or TV broadcasts. Paul Anderson, who grew up in Columbus, said his earliest memory “has to be listening to Larry Munson, probably around ’71 or so. I do remember seeing a little bit of the comeback against Tech on Thanksgiving on TV while visiting family in the Atlanta area.”
And Nathan Faulkner’s earliest memory is “a good one. I was watching the 1980 Georgia-Florida game with my dad and older sister in the living room of our home in Augusta. When Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott happened, I remember all of us going crazy. I was 8 years old.”
Claire Daniel’s earliest memory isn’t so much about a game as it is her father’s devotion to the team. At a mid-1950s game against Kentucky she attended with her father, “The Georgia team was losing so badly that the stands were pretty much deserted. I just recall my father, who was such a fan, cheering every good thing that our pitiful team did. … He would not leave a game, no matter how lopsided the score, as he wanted to see his team until the bitter end. Such loyalty to a team. My father is deceased now, but he passed his passion along to me.”
Likewise, John Thrasher remembers attending his first game on Sept. 18, 1965, when he was 10. Georgia was playing national champion Alabama. When the Tide went up 17-10 in the fourth quarter, some Georgia fans began to stream out of the stadium. “I remember asking my father if we were going to leave. He looked at me and said ‘No, son. You never know what is going to happen in a football game.’”
What followed was the famous flea-flicker play and a 2-point conversion, as the Dawgs upset Bama. Said Thrasher: “I can honestly say that, in the 53 years since that game, I have never left a Georgia game early.”
For Katherine Segars, “It didn’t matter to me who we were playing — just going to Sanford Stadium was significant enough. I remember when we played Georgia Tech, it was the only time Mama would let me say ‘hell’.”
James Jerome Carnes’ earliest Bulldog memory is from his days growing up in Gainesville, Fla., “before I became a Bulldog. I was only 8 (so forgive me) and rooting for the Gators in 1968, when Georgia stomped UF in the rain 51-0 in Jacksonville. I never forgot the experience. Nine years later, I left Gainesville for Athens and never looked back.”
Another convert was Mark W. King, who grew up in a family full of Auburn and Tech folks. “I didn’t decide to attend UGA until my senior year in high school. While I had season tickets in the student section my freshman year, the strongest memory from that year (1978) by far was the 2-point conversion to win a back-and-forth game with Tech. I lived in Reed Hall, next to the stadium. I swear it seems like I could still hear cheering from the stadium half an hour after I was back in my dorm room.”
A common thread is that many of these experiences were life-changing. William Vandiver remembers when he was 11 years old in 1976, watching Dooley’s Dawgs beat the Bear and Bama 21-0 Between the Hedges. “That atmosphere was overwhelming that day and made me a Georgia fan for life!”
Meanwhile, Georgia’s 2018 Fan Day is set for Saturday, Aug. 4, with a chance for followers of the Dawgs to take photos with Uga X, followed by watching an open practice, and then getting autographs from the players and coach Kirby Smart on the field.
Sounds like a good opportunity for some youngster to have their very first Bulldog memory!