For Dawgs fans, there’s good and bad in the Sanford Stadium game day experience

Sanford Stadium-Georgia football
Fans may complain about Sanford Stadium, but they continue to support the Dawgs there.

Yes, the Sanford Stadium restrooms are antiquated and overwhelmed, the concourses are dangerously congested, and lines for water and concessions are ridiculously long and slow, but so far that has not deterred nearly 93,000 people from attending UGA’s home football games.

Obviously, fans are getting something out of the experience that they can’t get by simply watching the Dawgs on their big-screen, high-definition TVs.

Facilities at Sanford Stadium have not kept up with the size of the crowds. (University of Georgia)

Still, last week’s Blawg about UGA fans feeling taken for granted as the athletic administration asks them for more money to fund improvements for players and recruits certainly prompted a lot of discussion over long-simmering frustrations about the game day experience.

Among the blogs and fan pages taking up the issue, Cy Brown’s Good Day, UGA addressed the restroom problems and asked readers what one thing they’d change about Sanford Stadium if they had the chance. And Bulldawg Illustrated asked, “Has the north side of Sanford Stadium been forgotten?” while noting that “it’s not like fans are not happy to hear about and see the renovations, but the question is why cannot both needs be addressed?”

Anxious to point out that the planned renovations to the west end of Sanford aren’t strictly about the comfort of players and recruits, the athletic department sent me more details about the fan-friendly aspects, with special emphasis on a significant increase in the number of toilets for women that will be available in that end of the stadium come the 2018 season, going from 34 in the existing restrooms to 88 after the work is done. (For men, the number of toilets will increase from 47 to 50, and there will be two considered “unisex”).

It also pointed out that there will be more “points of sale” for concessions (both fixed and portable). And, of course, the new scoreboard will be 33 percent larger and there’ll be that new upper plaza for mingling, or whatever fans do in plazas.

It sounds like the west end of the stadium is going to be wonderful.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the older portions of the stadium, and that was the thrust of my piece last week. The improvements in the west end really won’t help the fans in those other areas at all. Few people are inclined to head to a different area of the stadium to use the restroom or buy concessions, even if they are allowed. (A couple of years ago I tried to go down to the east end and was stopped by “event staff” who told me my ticket did not allow me to go there!)

One point driven home in all this discussion is that it’s not just the north side of the stands, where I sit, that has problems. Fans complained loudly that congestion in the south side’s concourse is even worse, because that side of the stadium doesn’t have the overflow space that Reed Plaza provides on the north.

Some fans complain that there’s too much canned music and not enough of the Redcoat Band. (Steven Colquitt/UGA)

There also have been a lot of complaints about the oppressive on-campus tailgating restrictions, and the erratic sound system in the stadium (accompanied by the continuing debate over the type and amount of music played over the P.A. and whether the Redcoat Band is being unjustly overlooked).

Among the many Blawg readers I heard from, Frank Newsom addressed “the need for Wi-Fi in the stadium” and noted “Ole Miss offered that when we visited there in September.” Mark Symms pointed out “those bathrooms were meant for 78,000 back in the Seventies” (to which I’d add that the ones in the original concourse actually were designed for a stadium that seated only about 50,000!). John Turner said, “The real travesty is handicapped seats are not reserved. Many of us make the same donation to Hartman (Fund) as anybody else to get tickets yet it is first come first served.”

Some fans complained about the frustrating traffic gridlock after games, though Kevin Shields did note: “That is a problem that is unavoidable if we want a stadium on a picturesque campus. South Carolina traffic, at least for me, is easier, but their stadium is more like a pro stadium … off campus, really, and big lots surrounding it.”

Quite a few fans also expressed frustration with UGA’s athletic administration viewing them mainly as potential donors. Said Charles Hill: “UGA has a large fan base but they don’t treat them as an asset.”

Jay Unger, who gave up his season tickets in 2014 after 32 years of contributing, said he did so because he felt that “the fans had become low priority in the game day experience equation and my decision has been validated by a continuation of this disregard in the years since. I’m as big a fan as ever but I do it on my terms now. StubHub for a couple games and the rest from my easy chair.”

And I heard from another devoted super fan who didn’t donate to the Hartman Fund this year because of “growing frustration and dismay with the athletic department and how they don’t even care about our opinions or experiences. … I definitely still care about UGA and the athletics programs, but I’m just not emotionally invested like I used to be … and that comes from UGA not caring.”

As for me, I noted previously that I did make my Hartman Fund donation for 2017 and again will buy my season tickets, despite all of the above.

I have been going to Georgia Bulldogs football games most of my life. I have been a season ticket holder since I graduated in 1974 and have had the same seats in the lower level of the North stands since 1975.

So, it pains me to say that Sanford Stadium, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful football facilities in the country, frequently fails to live up to the standards of the football program that calls it home.

Kirby Smart greets fans during the Dawg Walk. (Al Eckford/UGA)

But, there are still many aspects of game day that haven’t lost their thrill for me, which is why I generally get to my seats at least an hour before kickoff.

A few years back, I asked Blawg readers about their favorite UGA game day traditions. The solo trumpeter kicking off the Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation was the favorite, drawing 49 percent of the votes, followed by the pregame Larry Munson-narrated video (22 percent), gathering at the Dawg Walk to watch the team arrive (14 percent), ringing the chapel bell after a victory (10 percent) and the four-fingered salute accompanied by the Redcoats playing “Krypton Fanfare” between the third and fourth quarters (5 percent).

I also really get a kick out of watching the Redcoats march into the stadium with their chant, and love the “Baba O’Riley” countdown to kickoff. This past season, I was dismayed by the elimination of another of my favorite traditions — the players marching deliberately toward the east end zone in the pregame warm-ups, also to “Krypton Fanfare,” while the fans stood and cheered. That’s one I’d like to see make a comeback.

You’d think that, after decades of going to Georgia Bulldogs games, some of the thrill would have worn off, but my pulse still quickens as I turn the corner onto the Sanford Drive bridge and the stadium looms over me. I still get a surge of adrenalin on hearing the first strains of Bulldog music from the Redcoat Band.

Listening to the lone trumpeter is still a spine-tingling experience. (Ted Mayer/UGA)

And, when that lone trumpeter gets up in the southwest corner of the upper deck, a chill literally still goes down my spine. Every time.

As I wrote in the very first Junkyard Blawg back before the 2005 season, I’m a lifelong Georgia Bulldog, born and raised in Athens, and I don’t remember a time when the Dawgs weren’t an everyday part of my consciousness.

What a wonderful part of my life the University of Georgia and its sports teams have been!

As my brother Jon, a former Redcoat, likes to say, “Once a Dawg, always a Dawg … how sweet it is!”

But, that doesn’t change the fact that I’d like to feel that we fans mean as much to the folks who run UGA’s athletic programs as pulling for the Dawgs means to us.

Sadly, I remain unconvinced on that point.

(If there’s something you want to discuss, or you have a question, email me at junkyardblawg@gmail.com, or connect with me on Facebook or via Twitter. And don’t forget to check out past entries of the Junkyard Blawg.)

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