ATHENS — Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending the “Heritage of Sport” panel discussion and exhibit at UGA’s Special Collections Library on North Campus. The panelists were Vince Dooley, Tony Barnhart and CBS sports commentator Verne Lundquist, as well as some guy named Danny Sniff. Georgia’s own Loran Smith moderated, so I figured I’d go check it out.
And I’m glad I went. It was a very interesting and informative event and, as one might expect with Lundquist and Smith involved, very entertaining. But little did I know one of the most intriguing guests was going to be the person about which I knew the least.
Sniff is the Associate Vice President for Facilities Planning at UGA and he is an architect by trade. He did a presentation on the changing the face of facilities at Georgia over the years and how the “competitive arms race” of athletics has influenced it.
Of course, everybody knows Georgia is in the midst of constructing a $30 million indoor practice facility it doesn’t really need simply because everybody else in the SEC has one. But that’s not the first time the Bulldogs built something just because somebody else had something better.
Sniff, with the aid of a fascinating slide show, told the story of why Sanford Stadium got built in the first place. It was mainly because the Bulldogs did not have a facility to compete with what Georgia Tech was playing on. So, from 1900-1928, that annual football rivalry was played every year in Atlanta. And while UGA held its own during that stretch (it went 7-10-2), the Bulldogs had lost or tied six of the last seven games before Dr. Steadman V. Sanford finally won approval to have a major stadium built that could seat more people than any other facility in the state. Sanford Stadium was erected over the valley through which Tanyard Creek ran and 30,000 people watched Georgia beat Yale in the the dedication game in October of 1929.
By the time Vince Dooley arrived on the scene in December of 1963, Sanford still accommodated only 35,000 fans. In fact, 7,621 seats were added to the end zone before the 1964 season, bringing capacity to 43,361.
Slowly but surely, through consistent winning and persistent fundraising, Dooley had a hand in Sanford Stadium’s continuous expansion from then on. They added 19,640 seats after Dooley’s 1966 team won the SEC championship, and another 19,000 to enclose the East end of the stadium after winning the 1980 national championship.
As either coach or athletic director, Sniff told us that Dooley oversaw every expansion of the stadium thereafter. Today, thanks to the SkySuites on the south side and the north side upper deck expansion in 2004, Sanford Stadium now has a capacity 92,746, which makes it the 10th largest college stadium in the country.
Now that’s an interesting story, but I’m not sharing it because I want you to know the history of Sanford Stadium. There are plenty of places you can read about that. I’m sharing it to illuminate the impact Vince Dooley has had on football at Georgia, and it’s overall athletic program as well.
Based on my admittedly poor math skills, capacity in Sanford Stadium grew by 57,006 seats — or more than twice its size — since Dooley’s arrival as the former freshman coach at Auburn. He also won six SEC championships and a national championship while coaching in it. Dooley also pushed for — and achieved — the building of the McWhorter Hall athletic dorm shortly after he got to Athens.
Mr. Sniff said Dooley has been “too self-effacing” to take any credit for the “extremely well-managed” and “thoughtful” expansion of Sanford Stadium and really all of UGA’s athletic facilities over the years. But he made it clear that it was the longtime coach and athletic director’s vision that has made that stadium into what it is today.
Sniff stopped short of saying a name change should be in the offing, but I won’t. Sanford-Dooley Stadium has a very nice ring to it, if you ask me. So does Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium. But based on the details unveiled in this week’s panel discussion, I’d say Sanford Field at Dooley Stadium would be more apropos.