Credit Kirby Smart with thinking big. Georgia’s new head coach doesn’t just want to more than double attendance at UGA’s spring football game, he’s aiming for a crowd that would match or beat the A-Day record at his former employer, Alabama.
At halftime of the basketball Dawgs’ game at Stegeman Coliseum last weekend, Smart took to the court and told the crowd, “I really want to unite the Bulldog Nation right now and tell everybody — fans, crowd, students, all you guys — all this passionate energy, we expect to see this same passionate energy in Sanford Stadium come the spring game. We want 93,000 fans to come out to the spring game to support us.”
Of course, you’d expect attendance at this year’s G-Day Game on April 16 to be up, considering there’s new head coach, it will be the first chance to see Jacob Eason play in a Georgia uniform, and this year the game doesn’t conflict with the Masters in Augusta.
Still, considering last year’s record G-Day crowd was announced as the very specific 46,185 (despite the fact no one was counting as fans entered Sanford Stadium), increasing that to 93,000 is a tall order.
So tall, that the all-time record A-Day crowd at Bama, which is known for its large spring game turnouts, is only 92,310 (in 2011) and last year’s attendance in Tuscaloosa was 65,175.
Even with free admission, filling Sanford Stadium in mid-April would be quite an accomplishment for Smart and a definite sign that Bulldog Nation really has united behind him.
However, whether Athens and UGA could handle a spring game crowd of that size is debatable, unless both the community and university were to get on board with the sort of arrangements for accommodating that many people that have been absent at spring games in the past.
Usually G-Day in Athens is a relaxed affair and you can park wherever you want on campus, but there aren’t as many lots open as there are in the fall. In addition, you don’t have all those lots in the vicinity of the stadium run by schools and churches that sell parking during the regular season.
A G-Day crowd on the order of what Athens sees in the fall also would necessitate the university and Athens-Clarke police getting out in force to direct traffic — again, something they usually don’t bother with for the spring game. (One of the worst traffic jams I’ve ever been a part of in Athens was after last year’s G-Day Game, and there was nary a cop in sight.)
Plus, inside the stadium, where seating for G-Day in the lower level is first come, first served but the upper deck has been closed in the past, UGA would need to staff up and have many more concession stands open.
Without those accommodations for a larger crowd, I’m afraid a G-Day Game outing wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable for a lot of folks, and that might hurt spring attendance in future seasons (barring Smart winning a national championship out of the blocks).
If UGA really wants to fill up Sanford Stadium for Smart’s first G-Day Game, let’s hope some thought is going into how a crowd like that can properly be handled.
Speaking of spring football, I asked UGA athletic spokesman Claude Felton the other day when spring practice will start and end, and he said that while the spring game is set, “We don’t have a start date that’s confirmed yet, nor if any practices will be after the game. Coach Smart will get around to that after signing day.”
So, back to G-Day: What do you think about Smart’s goal of packing the stadium for the spring game? And are you likely to attend?
CAM VS. PEYTON: WHO WILL YOU PULL FOR?
In asking Dawgs fans who they want to win Super Bowl 50, I’ve gotten quite a mixed response.
On the one hand, the Carolina Panthers are a Southern rival of the Atlanta Falcons, but wouldn’t it be kind of cool for the Super Bowl champs’ only loss to have come at the hands of the local team?
The Panthers also feature three former Bulldogs, linebacker Thomas Davis (who had surgery this week for a broken forearm but is expected to play in the Super Bowl Feb. 7), defensive end Charles Johnson, plus backup center Fernando Velasco. Davis is a longtime veteran of the Panthers who’s come back from three ACL tears and has been called the “heart” of the Carolina team.
Considering how loyal Georgia fans who follow the NFL (especially those who indulge in fantasy football) tend to be to players who spent time in Athens, that normally might be the deciding factor.
However, the Panthers are led by quarterback Cam Newton, whose one game against the Bulldogs in his drive-by Auburn career was one of the ugliest and most bitter in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. That alone will keep a lot of UGA fans from rooting for Carolina. Also, some folks just don’t like Newton’s showboating style.
Then there’s the Peyton Manning factor. The aging NFL legend, who might be playing in his last game, was a Tennessee Volunteer in his college days and had a lot of success against the Dawgs, but since those days a lot of Georgia fans have developed a fondness for the likable QB, who’s a very popular and familiar face in TV commercials.
For those of us who really aren’t invested in the NFL and don’t have a natural favorite in this Super Bowl, which matters more, a team having former Bulldogs on it or a star player from a hated rival?
Dawgs fans, which team do you want to win Super Bowl 50?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.