SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Josh Brooks, the senior associate athletic director who ultimately brokered Georgia’s game against Notre Dame on Saturday, stood on the sideline and marveled at the rolling sea of red rollicking around the “House that Rockne Built” at the end of the Bulldogs’ victory.
I walked by and told him I thought UGA needed to schedule a lot more games like the one they’d just played. Brooks smiled and offered a courteous chuckle.
“We’re going to try,” he said.
Georgia should. Most definitely.
Michigan! Where are you, blue and maize? Let’s make it happen.
Texas? Come on down and sign and little home-and-home.
Ohio State? Let’s try a do-over on that little deal we once had done.
I know, I know. It’s not that simple. Greg McGarity and all the other athletic directors are always telling us that.
You’ve got a certain number of home games you have to preserve. You can’t overschedule and overtax your team. You have to balance your schedule with your conference obligations.
Yada, yada, yada. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Schools have to be aggressive when it comes to scheduling. And Georgia could stand to be a little more aggressive, in my opinion.
Never mind the Bulldogs’ 20-19 victory Saturday night. That was great. It may serve as a catapult for coach Kirby Smart’s program or it may not. But the outcome really wasn’t the point Saturday.
The story Saturday was Georgia’s fans. The story all week was Georgia’s fans.
Well before the Bulldogs even arrived in the Midwest, people in the ticket industry were marveling at the market response they were witnessing for Notre Dame’s second home game of the season. A quick survey determined that this was the most sought-after ticket in all of college football this season. And all the buys on the secondary market seemed to be coming from the Georgia side of the equation.
But then the evidence started to ebb forth this week. Chicago’s Rush Street dotted in red and black Thursday night. On Friday, Cubs fans didn’t know what to make of 10,000 Bulldogs fans chanting “UGA, UGA” and barking and generally taking over their game in the middle of a pennant race.
The scene shifted to South Bend on Saturday and the red surge spilled into the Eddy Street Commons area and all over Notre Dame’s pristine campus like break in a red-clay dam.
“I’m proud of our fans,” Smart said. “Proud of the fact that they came out. The video shots I saw from Chicago before the game and the takeover when we got here, that played a role in this game. So we never felt like it was so much of a road game. I mean, there were times our quarterback was able to go on his own cadence. You don’t usually get to do on the road. You don’t get to do it on the road in the SEC, the fan base don’t let you do that. We were able to go with ours and I thought a lot of it had to do with the red and black.”
Previously, the biggest influx of opposing fans to invade Notre Dame Stadium was thought to be Nebraska’s in 2000. The Cornhuskers were ranked No. 1 that year and reportedly brought 30,000 in for what ended as a 27-24 victory for their team.
Notre Dame Stadium’s new configuration after a $400 million renovation seats about 79,000 spectators. It looked like at least half were donning Georgia red on Saturday. Maybe it was just 40 percent, but there was a lot. And they were loud.
The Bulldogs took notice.
“Ew-wee!” exclaimed outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter. “We really want to thank the Dawg Nation for coming out tonight. They came out huge. Big time. It felt like a home game tonight.”
Said linebacker Roquan Smith: “We saw earlier that there were like 25,000 Dogs fans at the Cubs game, so we knew there were going to be a lot of our fans here. It’s an amazing to have that type of support.”
A cynic might say, of course you had a big turnout at Notre Dame, one of the most storied and prestigious programs in America. But the fact is, Georgia fans have shown time and time again that they’re up for a road trip pretty much anywhere any time.
They covered up Tempe, Ariz., when the Bulldogs went west to play Arizona State in 2008. They poured into Stillwater, Okla., and Boulder, Colo., the next two years after that. And to Columbia, Mo., the first time the Bulldogs went out there to play the SEC’s newest members in 2012.
Georgia has UCLA booked home and away in 2025 and 2026. But, otherwise, the Bulldogs’ current slate of nonconference games doesn’t sparkle as much as those of maybe Clemson and Florida State and Alabama and Tennessee at the moment. Those teams already have games set with Nebraska, Oklahoma, West Virginia, N.C. State, Pitt and Brigham Young at the moment. Georgia has Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in 2020. But no other cool road trips.
I say give the fans what they want. I say poll your big donors and your fan base and say, what are the top 10 dream matchups you’d like to see? Then go make it happen. Move some things around. Lose a little money if you must. Give up a home game one year.
What the heck? Bulldogs fans are going to come, and you know they’re going to have a good time. And that tends have a positive influence on the team.
The intangible value seems mighty high.
“We saw all the people here,” kicker Rodrigo Blankenship said. “We saw all the people at the Cubs game. We knew our fans were going to travel. It’s just awesome to have that kind of following.”