ATHENS – Kirby Smart proudly pointed out that Georgia has had a “sellout” for G-Day before and that he was a part of it.
Smart was playing safety for the Bulldogs in 1996 when they played the annual spring game before a capacity crowd. Of course, that was at Billy Henderson Stadium and not Sanford Stadium. Georgia had to play the game at Clarke Central High School that year because Sanford was being retro-fitted for the Summer Olympic Games.
“It was a packed stadium to the tune of 10,000, I think,” Smart said after the Bulldogs’ 13th spring practice on Tuesday night. “I don’t know exactly how many people were there but I think they turned people away actually.”
He’s right. Georgia played before 10,196 that April afternoon and they did have to turn away people at the gates.
The Bulldogs are hoping they’ll be turning folks away at the gates for G-Day again this year, only this one will be played at that full-sized stadium built over Tanyard Creek. Sanford Stadium, which seats 92,746 people, is the 10th largest stadium in NCAA football, the 11th largest stadium in the United States and the 18th largest stadium in the world.
Nonetheless, Smart, in his first year as the Bulldogs’ head coach after spending the last nine at Alabama, has called on the Georgia fan base to “pack out” the stadium for the annual spring game. He first issued the challenge publicly at a Bulldogs’ basketball game shortly after assuming the job full time on Jan. 15. And #93kDay has been his and the school’s mantra ever since.
“I’ve just been issuing a challenge for our kids,” Smart explained of his thinking this week. “I’ve been part of this fan base from afar for a long time and we’ve never really had this opportunity to have this kind of turnout, but we do now. I’m challenging it because we’ve got a fresh start, it’s a new start. We’ve got a lot of great momentum in recruiting. I can’t tell you how many kids have been energized from far away and they’re wanting to come to this.”
Smart made packing out Sanford Stadium for the spring game (Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPNU) an institutional initiative well before his halftime speech during that basketball game against Arkansas on Jan. 23. It was initially discussed shortly after he accepted the job in mid-December.
Smart has seen this model work firsthand. It was something Alabama did shortly after Nick Saban arrived with Smart in tow as an assistant coach in 2006.
“I think it’s a great thing and I think it’s something we should challenge our fans to do every year,” Smart said. “Because why not? We have millions of people within our arms’ reach. So why shouldn’t Georgia have 93,000 for every spring game? We should. No excuse.”
It’s no small undertaking, however. To date, the largest crowd ever to attend the annual intrasquad spring game was 46,815 last year. So Smart is hoping to double that his first year.
And it hasn’t come without some hiccups. Already UGA was unable to achieve its stated goal of lining up a major musical act for pregame entertainment. Administrators reached out to several front-line stars but ultimately could not get a deal done, primarily because of the limited window of entertainment time available (roughly 15 minutes).
Instead, UGA has produced a 15-minute “behind-the-scenes” hype video that they will show on the videoboard right before kickoff.
“We didn’t know what this was going to look like and once we got the schedule and started talking about the pockets of time … we figured we had a 15-minute time span there, and it just didn’t work out,” Athletic Director Greg McGarity said. “But I think the videos will be something nobody has seen before. Our video staff does a great job with that. Really in a way it will hype the fans. The next thing that comes out of the tunnel is the team.”
The game will also represent a challenge from an event management standpoint. They obviously sold no tickets to it and admission is free. But they also didn’t issue any vouchers or distribute anything that would give organizers an idea of how many fans might actually show up.
So they’re planning for a full house. They will have every section open, all the way up to the 600 level in the upper tier, and they will be filled from the bottom up on a first-come, first-serve basis. All concessions stands and restrooms will be opened and most general game-day parking is expected to be available, though not on a reserved basis.
“It’s a lot more difficult planning for this than it is for a normal game because you (don’t) know what you have as far as numbers,” McGarity said. “So we’ve got plans in case it fills up, what do we do if it goes over the amount? So that’s how we’re planning this event. Everything is staffed at full strength. We just don’t know.”
There are some positive indicators. Local hotels are reportedly are at full occupancy all the way to Commerce.
As for the game itself, Smart said he and his staff are not approaching it as if they have a show to put on. Regarding the highly-publicized quarterback competition and rather notable inclusion of 5-star, early enrollee Jacob Eason, Smart said all three quarterbacks will get equal reps and will not be assigned to specific team, Red or Black.
The format will be four quarters of running clock with no live kicks and two-minute, quick-tempo offense for the final four minutes of each half.
“I want to see competitor out there,” Smart said. “I want to see guys compete and I’m going to challenge them. And to be honest with you, I want to see some discipline. I want guys to play hard but play between the whistles. It really disappoints when we have undisciplined penalties and personal fouls. It makes me irate for that to happen.”
Georgia typically has a base of about 55,000 season-ticket holders on which it can depend for regular-season games, plus the 18,000 students, the Redcoat Band and roughly 10,000 visiting fans. None of that is guaranteed in a spring-game format.
However, there is the added attraction of being free to the public. So the Bulldogs are counting on a segment of the population coming to a game at Sanford Stadium that normally doesn’t.
Smart was asked how he might handle it if the Bulldog Nation does not answer his call to come out 93,000 strong.
“Coming up short (wouldn’t) be a huge disappointment for me,” he said. “I think it will help in recruiting if we have it full. But ultimately you set goals and you try to do things like that. Sometimes you don’t achieve them. It’s OK. It’s the fact that you tried. I want to win every football game and I haven’t done that either.”
G-Day, Georgia’s annual spring football scrimmage, is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 16, at Sanford Stadium. Check back here daily for DawgNation’s G-Day coverage brought to you by Georgia United Credit Union.