Trade-off for UGA fans: Open practice, but no Picture Day

G-Day-Kirby Smart-Georgia
Kirby Smart, seen on the field at G-Day, is opening up a practice to the fans. (Emily Selby / UGA)

In the eyes of some Georgia Bulldogs fans, the announcement this week of plans for the 2016 Fan Day was a case where UGA giveth and UGA also taketh away.

On the one hand, fans will be able to view Kirby Smart’s Dawgs on the field in an open practice Aug. 6, an opportunity that hasn’t been offered in quite a few years. But in place of the old Fans’ Picture Day, as it formerly was called, where football players, cheerleaders and other UGA athletes signed autographs and posed for pictures in the Reed Plaza area of Sanford Stadium, there will be only a 45-minute period of free autograph-signing on the field with Smart and the football team after the practice. As in recent years, only official UGA football posters can be signed, but in a change from the past, players and coaches will not pose with fans for photos.

Georgia players won’t get to pose for pictures with fans like Quincy Mauger did at last year’s Picture Day. (John Kelley / UGA)

Fans will have an opportunity to take photos with Uga X from 2 to 4 p.m., but special ticket coupons are required for access to the location where the mascot will be set up, and those tickets will be distributed to the first 150 fans at 11 a.m. from the East End ticket windows on East Campus Road. Ticket holders to see Uga X must be in line by 2:30 p.m. Only those with a ticket are guaranteed a photo and no stand-by tickets will be issued.

Fans may enter the stadium beginning at 1:30 p.m. and occupy the lower bowl.  At the conclusion of the open practice, which is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. and last approximately two hours, fans wishing to participate in Fan Day will enter the field through the West End Zone field gates. Fans can start lining up at 4 p.m.

The athletic association says that, in an effort to facilitate as many autographs in the time allowed, fans are limited to two items per person and, as in recent years at the old Picture Day, fans will only be allowed to have the 2016 Football Schedule poster signed. The posters will be available as fans enter the field for the autograph session.  No other items will be permitted for autographs and no posed photographs with players or Smart will be allowed.

While the open practice idea has been widely cheered, I’ve heard from a number of fans through social media and emails who are upset about the loss of Picture Day.

Typical of them is Robert Cliff, who writes: Bill, I was really excited about Kirby opening up a preseason practice to the fans until I heard that this will be in lieu of the old Picture Day, and only autographs will be allowed. Picture Day has always been a highlight for Dawgs fans, getting to meet the players in a relaxed atmosphere, and the players really seemed to enjoy it, too, especially posing for pictures with young kids. With the Countdown to Kickoff fan festival also scrubbed this year because of the indoor practice facility construction, that basically means there will be no access to the players this year for the fans. I don’t think this is a very fan-friendly change, do you?

The Junkyard Blawger’s son Bill got to pose with Terrell Davis and other players back in the day. (Bill King / special)

I have to agree that dropping the Picture Day tradition doesn’t seem like an even swap for the open practice. It seems both ideas could have been accommodated, with the players doing the photo/autograph thing up on Reed Plaza earlier in the day and then going down, putting on their pads, and practicing for two hours in front of any fans who wanted to stay.

That would have been similar to something the Touchdown Club of Athens used to do with the team back during the Ray Goff and early Jim Donnan years, combining an autograph-photo session with an open practice. I know my son Bill treasures the chance he got to have his picture taken with the likes of Hines Ward, Eric Zeier, Ray Goff, Garrison Hearst and Terrell Davis.

Let’s hope Smart and his staff rethink how to handle Fan Day next year and restore the chance for picture-taking.

On another subject, Jaxlawdawg writes: Bill, love your column. You often write about needed stadium improvements and I am glad to hear about the much needed renovations to the west end zone concessions. But here’s my question: Does UGA have any plans (near term or long term) to upgrade the scoreboard at Sanford Stadium? When I look at the scoreboards around the conference, I would be hard-pressed to rank our scoreboard in the Top 10. Seems like we could get a sponsor to fund much of the cost. (Maybe I’m just spoiled by the “visible from the space station” scoreboards here in Jacksonville.)

Last summer, Senior Associate Athletic Director Claude Felton told me that, while the video board would remain the same in 2015, “scoreboard/video board enhancements are in future plans.” Asked this week if there was any update on that, he said: “Nothing new on stadium video board for this year.” Maybe next year, as they say.

A Jack Davis classic. (University of Georgia)

Several fans, in the wake of legendary cartoonist Jack Davis’ death, have asked if there are any plans for any sort of exhibition at UGA of his many years’ worth of Dawgs artwork. Larry Pope writes: Bill, UGA should schedule an art exhibit of Jack’s work. Will you let us know if that happens?

Claude Felton says it’s still “too early” to say what sort of recognition might be planned for Davis, but if I hear of anything, Larry, I’ll certainly pass it along.

Roberta Jackson writes: Bill, I was excited to see the pictures posted on Twitter by UGA recruits showing a new black jersey for the football team and was hoping you can tell me if we’re likely to see the Dawgs Back in Black this season. Maybe for the season opener in the Dome?

And Matt Cafaro writes: Bill, All the hubbub over black jerseys (which would be cool ONLY if they’re worn against Auburn the years we play them in Athens and the last SEC home game the years we don’t), the one piece of uniform information I actually care about, and I don’t think I’m the only one, is when the heck are we getting back our SILVER britches? If Nike can make shiny pants for the Cowboys, why not the Bulldogs? It’s been almost a decade since the team last took the field in true silver, and I’m fed up with the grey. Grey belongs to Ohio State, not to Georgia. What do we have to do to get back our silver britches, Bill?

A recruit tweeted about the Dawgs wearing black jerseys this season. (Twitter)

Although Smart was noncommittal on the jerseys after those pictures of 4-star linebacker prospect K.J. Britt and others surfaced (“We’ll see where that goes”), I think chances of black jerseys being worn sometime this season are very good, but I very much doubt Smart will bring his team out in anything but the traditional red for the first game against North Carolina. DawgNation’s Seth Emerson said recently that he and colleague Chip Towers have heard rumors about black jerseys for a particular game (not the opener, but sooner rather than later).

If I had to guess I’d say maybe the Oct. 1 game in Athens against Tennessee might be a likely time to see the Dawgs in black. I have to add, though, that if the jerseys they have in mind are the ones shown on Twitter, I don’t like that design nearly as well as I did the ones worn back in 2007-2008.

As for shiny silver britches, Matt, I’ve given up asking about that after getting stonewalled on the subject with my most recent inquiries. There’s no telling when that promise Greg McGarity made a couple of years ago about them being in the works is going to be kept.

Tripp Wallace from Smyrna writes: Bill, There was a humorous moment on DawgNation the other day where Sony Michel took a DawgNation headline about Todd Gurley giving Nick Chubb advice on coming back from his knee injury and “edited” it to make it about himself. It seems everyone got a good laugh over it, including Gurley himself, but it brought to light an interesting truth: Georgia football players read DawgNation. It makes perfect sense now that I think about it, but it never really crossed my mind before and it made me wonder what kind of impact it might have on the players. I know as writers you guys want to write about topics the fans want to read about (at the end of the day it is all about the clicks), but in turn you can end up having an impact on public opinion. I know the writers didn’t create the Jacob Eason for starter campaign. The fans were hungry for that first, but the writers have certainly fed that hunger. It is your job after all. Now that we all know the players read DawgNation, do you think it may influence who they want to be the starter? I doubt that Coach Smart makes his decision based on what you guys write (I sure hope not), but I know he is going to take input from players and it seems probable that their opinion could be influenced by what they read on this site.  Do you think there is any potential negative impact of that, and do you guys as writers ever consider that?  Thanks for taking my call. I’ll hang up and listen.

Bottom line: No, I don’t think what is written here or in any other media outlet, or who the players would personally prefer, will be a factor in who starts at quarterback for Georgia. Starting QB is not generally decided as a popularity contest within the ranks of the team. I think the coaches will go with the player they think gives them the best chance of winning.

Stephen Segrest writes: Lamont Gaillard (as I remember) was a highly ranked high school defensive lineman. Why did he move to the offensive line (especially considering thin-ness of the DL)?

Lamont Gaillard looks to be first man off the bench on the offensive line this season. (Steven Colquitt / UGA)

Because that’s where the previous coaching staff saw the former four-star prospect being more likely to succeed, and the current coaching staff appears to agree. Gaillard reportedly made great strides this spring under the tutelage of Sam Pittman, and is thought to be on the two-deep depth chart at both left and right guard, and also could see some time at center. Smart has indicated he might have to shift an offensive lineman to the DL, but it would most likely be someone deeper on the depth chart than Gaillard, who’s expected to be first guy off the bench after the starting five.

In response to my earlier Blawg about fan expectations for the coming season, Pete Talmadge writes: Bill, I think this will be a transition year hopefully leading to better things to come. The lack of OL and DL depth, uncertainty with QB’s and running backs plus young receivers could all factor into a good but not great season, i.e., 9 wins. Teams with proven QB’s ( UT & Ole Miss) plus those blessed with many returning starters (UT) have obvious advantages. The SEC media may have done Kirby a real favor by predicting a third place finish in the East. We need to be patient. With recruiting success at such a high level , our time will come — but not this year.

And Jeff Pruitt writes: Tempered expectations! Not just this year but probably the first 3 years. Coach Smart knows what he wants this football team to look like and the mentality it has to have to meet these expectations everyone has. This takes TIME! He wants to make this team stronger, faster, than they have ever been. This is the easy part. What takes time is building the depth he wants and the mental attitude of these players.

On the other hand, Bob Etheredge writes: If the Dawgs are going to reach the next level, the coaches, players and fans need to expect to win every year. Anything short of winning the East and being in Atlanta in early December should be a disappointment. Championship teams overcome adversity and BELIEVE they can win every week. After 26 years exiled in Bama, that is the attitude in this state every year. Accepting mediocrity and just skating by is unacceptable. As a UGA alumnus/fan, I am tired of regularly sweating out Vandy and Kentucky games and watching us not show up for the big games. With the talent in both states, the Dawgs & Gators should be deciding the SEC championship every year in Jacksonville!!!!!! GO DAWGs!!!!

I understand Bob’s impatience, but my own expectations, as I wrote, are closer to Pete’s. I think Georgia is likely to do big things under Smart, but expecting a run for the conference title and a possible playoff berth in his first season seems unrealistic, considering the many question marks surrounding this team.

If there’s something you want to discuss or you have a question for the Junkyard Blawg, email me at junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

Have trouble finding past entries of the Junkyard Blawg at DawgNation? You can read them here (bookmark this link for future use!).

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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.

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