ATHENS — If it’s up to the respective schools, there won’t be any hedges harmed this year even if Georgia Tech pulls off another upset of Georgia in this year’s renewal of the rivalry at Sanford Stadium.
Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said Monday he has had conversations with Todd Stansbury, the Yellow Jackets’ athletic director, and they’ve agreed that no more property will be destroyed on either team’s field in the event that the visitors win.
“That tradition will cease,” McGarity said on Monday.
It has long been a Tech tradition for its players to rip up Georgia’s hallowed hedge and parade around with pieces clenched in their teeth when it wins at Sanford Stadium. The Yellow Jackets have had occasion to do that on their last two trips to Athens in 2014 and ’16. The No. 5 Bulldogs (10-1) will play host to Tech (7-4) again this Saturday.
Conversely, Georgia players have been known to rip up sections of turf on Grant Field at Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium in retaliation. However, that didn’t happened last year when the Bulldogs won 38-7. McGarity had discussed the situation with Kirby Smart beforehand and the Georgia coach assured his AD that his players would not destroy anything if they won.
“And they didn’t,” McGarity said. “We took the high road. Our players celebrated with our fans in the stands, then ran to our locker room to celebrate as a team.”
This news might come as a disappointment to Tech’s Brad Stewart. The senior wide receiver said just this week, “It was a good feeling tearing those hedges at the end (in ’16), so I want to do that again.”
Georgia players heard that proclamation loud and clear, and they were already bowed up about defending their hallowed hedges on Monday. But the plan is to do that by winning the game.
“I’m excited to win this one and make sure those hedges don’t get touched,” junior tight end Isaac Nauta said. “It’s been the history of (the rivalry), but we’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen this year by handling business when they’re on the field.”
That’s not to say that Smart and the Bulldogs won’t use the past destruction of the hedges as motivation. Strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair has video footage of the Jackets ripping up the hallowed hedges playing on a loop on television screens in the Bulldogs’ weight room.
“There’s pictures all around the facility, there’s videos going around,” Georgia senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter said. “We work out, we’re squatting, and when you’re doing a squat you got something right in front of you. It’s stuff like that that gets you fired up and ready to play.”
Said senior wideout Terry Godwin: “Me, personally, I don’t need to be reminded. It’s stuck there in my mind vividly, like it was just yesterday, seeing them guys do that. That’s something you don’t want on your own field, so we’re going to try to take care of business.”
The Chinese privet hedges that surround the field at Sanford Stadium and have given birth to the concept of “playing between the hedges” were there when the stadium was dedicated in 1929. They were only a foot high then and planted inside a wooden fence.
Ninety years later, the same hedges are still there. Of course, they’re not the exact same hedges. But they are, quite literally, related.
As legendary Georgia coach and Athletic Director Vince Dooley once said, the current hedges are “the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren” of the original hedges. UGA has gone to great lengths to see that they were. Each time the hedges have had to be removed or replaced — such as for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games or West End construction last year — the school sends the uprooted hedges to two or three different nurseries (for security and assurances sake) and has them propagated into new hedges.
Georgia’s hedges had to be replaced or repaired the last two times the Yellow Jackets visited. Huge sections were ripped out after Tech’s 30-24 overtime win in 2014 and its 28-27 victory in 2016, Smart’s first season.
It’s a Tech tradition that goes back to 1984. That’s when quarterback John Dewberry — who transferred to Tech from Georgia — first broke off a limb and posed with it clenched in his teeth for television and still cameras. The Yellow Jackets have had six other occasions to do that in the 34 years since.
Tech coach Paul Johnson indicated he’s on board with ending the tradition.
“Certainly, I’ll talk to our team,” Johnson said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “That’s not something that I think has any part of the game. It doesn’t do any good to tear somebody’s hedges down. If you win the game, go celebrate with your fans and celebrate in the locker room. The same thing when they come here when they go in the middle of the field and rip up the turf and the sod and plant a flag in the middle of the field. Kids will be kids, but it’s kind of been tit for tat, I think.”
As part of its postgame routine deploys dozens of security officers behind the hedges around the field with a strong concentration behind the visitor’s bench. However, they’re instructed to not engage opposing players or coaches physically. Their marching orders are only to detain fans trying to come over the hedges to enter the field of play.
McGarity said UGA simply views the situation as a matter of good sportsmanship.
“Georgia was just as guilty as Tech was when our guys are down there ripping up turf,” McGarity said. “That’s not what we’re about, and that’s not what Tech is about. So that should no longer exist in this rivalry. There’s enough passion and juices flowing that we don’t need to throw gas on the fire.
“I respect Todd and I consider the matter closed.”