Growing up Bulldog: For Athens kids, it was all about getting into UGA football games

Georgia-Georgia Bulldogs-Vince Dooley
Getting into Georgia football games became more difficult in the Vince Dooley era.

Growing up in Athens in the 1960s meant getting an early start on being a dedicated Georgia Bulldogs fan. Which is why, long before we could afford to buy tickets on our own, Athens kids were always on the lookout for a way to get in to watch the action Between the Hedges.

In my early years of Dawgs fandom, I usually would show up at the gate that was near the north end of the bridge early on a Saturday morning to buy what was called a “high school” ticket (available to anyone high school age or younger).

Those tickets put you in the old bleachers in the west end zone, and only cost $1, as I recall. The viewing angle wasn’t great when the action was at the other end of the field, but when the Bulldogs were either about to score or were backed up near the west goal line, you were really close to the action! I remember watching Kirby Moore drop back right in front of me to complete a 92-yard touchdown pass to Randy Wheeler against Auburn in 1965.

A rise in the fortunes of UGA football under Vince Dooley meant more people at Sanford Stadium. (University of Georgia)

However, after Vince Dooley put the football program on the rise, high school tickets weren’t always available for sold-out games. I needed a more sure way of getting inside the stadium, and, as a junior high student, the cost of a full ticket (about $5 or $6 by then) was more than my allowance could swing. I was a bit young for the crowd that sat near the railroad tracks, and the view from Sanford Bridge left a lot to be desired.

But, as UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity recalled when I chatted with him recently, “My daddy and your daddy hung out together” in those days, and that led me to a new way of getting into UGA football games.

Stu McGarity Sr. (who led my Sunday School class at Athens’ First Baptist Church around that time) was in charge of distribution of football game programs at UGA, and my dad’s cousin, Nathan King, also was involved in the operation. So, starting with the 1966 season, I spent four seasons on the list of kids (all boys at that time, I believe) who peddled the programs at home games.

It was a pretty sweet deal. You actually got paid to go to Georgia football games! Well, really, you got in free and you earned 10 cents for every program you sold (the price was a dollar, which was twice what programs had sold for the previous season). So, if you sold 100 programs, you earned $10 (which would go a long way for a kid in those days). And, noted my friend Dan Pelletier, who sold programs on the hill near the high-rise dorms, “many times tailgating folks would invite me to share their lunch.”

Officially, after you’d finished selling for the day (only a few die-hards continued after kickoff), you were supposed to sit on a grassy hill in the northwest corner of the stadium rather than in one of the stadium seats. However, many of us preferred to try and find an empty seat somewhere in the stands, and it usually wasn’t too difficult. I managed to see some games from the 40- or 50-yard-line of the lower level during the days when Mike Cavan and Jake Scott were starring for the Dawgs!

The routine went like this: You’d pick up your programs the Friday afternoon before the game or very early on game day 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 took many more than that; you turned back in any that you didn’t sell.)

My dad would drop me off in the vicinity of the stadium mid-morning Saturday (this is when game time was 2 p.m. and game-day traffic wasn’t nearly as horrible as in later years) and I’d sell programs until just before kickoff. I usually managed to sell out, but that wasn’t the main point of the exercise.

It was to get into the stadium for the game!

Mostly, I would sell in what was then the Stegeman Hall parking lot (now the Tate Center lot) or up on the Sanford Drive bridge.

Game programs sold for $1 in the late 1960s. (University of Georgia)

Dirk Howell (who later was Greg McGarity’s doubles tennis partner at Clarke Central), recalls getting started helping his older brother Mark sell programs, and then doing it for a couple of years on his own. He staked out the Milledge Avenue Varsity 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.”

Another classmate, Danny Morris, did his program selling several miles away from the stadium, in the Normaltown area (where the health sciences campus is now). “We would catch the line of cars coming to Athens via Jefferson Highway,” Danny recalled.

The toughest day I had selling programs was a Homecoming game that started out promising: 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. When I returned, the box was missing.

Fortunately, the thief wasn’t too bright and tried to peddle the purloined programs right in front of the program sellers’ check-in window. One of the supervisors (I think maybe my dad’s cousin) spotted him and knew the kid wasn’t on the program seller list, so I got my box of programs back! (I also learned an early life lesson about not being such a trusting dope.)

My classmate Tom Hodgson and his brother Joe also sold programs, which, he recalls triumphantly, “allowed us into the game when Georgia beat Bama on the flea-flicker featuring Pat Hodgson.

Tom remembers a Saturday around 1966-67 when he was selling programs and snuck into the Georgia Center to use the restroom. “I walked past a big conference room where there had just been a press conference or something. The empty room was filled with like-new programs for the day’s game. To a program seller, that’s like a conference table littered with dollar bills.  …  My shame and guilt will not let me say openly how I responded to that situation. But I think we won the game, too.”

There were other ways for kids to get into Georgia games back then. Probably the coolest was to be one of the Athens YMCA boys who entertained early arrivals at Sanford Stadium by scrimmaging in full pads and helmets down on the field a couple of hours before the game. According to my buddy Bill Berryman, “That gives me the distinction of being the worst athlete ever to set foot Between the Hedges.”

Another classmate, Terry Smart, who played in those Y-boy scrimmages alongside a future Bulldog great, Andy Johnson, says the experience is “a memory that will stay with me forever.”

Selling programs allowed Bill King and his friends to see Mike Cavan lead the Dawgs. (University of Georgia)

Other classmates got into the games by selling concessions for Poss’ Barbecue, a legendary Athens restaurant. My buddy Owen Scott sold Cokes from a wire basket that hung around his neck, and told me his chief memories are “the smell of cigar smoke and the yells of ‘Co-cola!’”

Wes Cooper, another classmate who sold Cokes, remembers the time a fan took five drinks and gave him a handful of quarters, telling him, “Keep the change.” Turned out the guy had shorted him by 50 cents! But, as Wes noted, he still got to watch the game, so “all was good.”

Indeed, whatever we made selling game programs or Cokes was just the cherry on top. What really mattered was getting in to see the Dawgs! As Bill Berryman put it: “I treasure those memories.”

Me, too.

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