One thing you need to know about me right up front: I’m a Bulldog.
I have been for as long as I can remember. I’ve lived most of my life in Northeast Georgia, and I’ve spent it tearing my insides out, trying to win every time UGA takes the field. I’ve written at length on my love of Georgia football, and won’t delve too deeply into my fandom here. Suffice to say, when the idea for “I See Georgia” began to gestate in my head, a game in Sanford Stadium would no doubt be on the agenda.
My initial plan was to attend Georgia’s season opener vs Appalachian State. There was only one problem: I didn’t have tickets. I spent the week leading up to the game watching prices on StubHub, certain that they would drop by the weekend. Unfortunately, the usual rules didn’t apply. By Saturday, the cheapest seats were going for $75. I’d have to wait.
The Dawgs (yes, that’s how we spell it!) beat App State 31-10. The next game was a road tilt in South Bend, Indiana against Notre Dame. Once again, UGA was victorious, pulling out a 20-19 win behind freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and a dominant defense led by Lorenzo Carter and Roquan Smith.
The stage was set for the next game, a home date against FCS opponent Samford. This time I didn’t procrastinate, securing two $40 tickets to the game well in advance. For this stop on the tour my brother Matt would be filling in for Dena, and in the week leading up to kickoff, we planned our game day.
I’ve been to quite a few games over the years, including memorable wins as well as excruciating losses. For this game, there shouldn’t be much chance of experiencing the latter, though you never know. Samford, a small school, has an enrollment of just 5,500 students. When compared with Georgia’s 36,000, it isn’t much of a surprise that top athletes don’t flock to Homewood, Alabama.
The original plan was to walk, but when the thermometer crept into the eighty-five-degree range, I began to re-think the idea. Our house is approximately two miles from Sanford Stadium, and I didn’t want to be dripping with sweat before we even made it to the end of the street. To make things easier, Dena agreed to drive us.
We left the house at 4:45pm, with our first destination being the tailgate of Matt’s friend Anthony. Dena dropped us off in what we thought was the vicinity of Anthony’s setup. We jumped out of the car and spent the next forty-five minutes wandering around East Campus, trying to find Anthony. Matt was in constant contact with his friend, via both text and phone call, but we still couldn’t find him. At some point, I began to wonder if the tailgate was like the village of the Smurfs and was invisible unless it wanted to be seen.
Eventually we gave up, though not before walking along about three miles of forlorn railroad tracks. With the tailgate nowhere to be found, we headed for the UGA Bookstore, if for no other reason than to get out of the sun. The bookstore is across the street from the stadium, and I had my picture taken in front of the huge University of Georgia sign which rises above the end zone.
We walked inside and were immediately swallowed up by the throng of fans attempting to purchase Georgia gear. There were a lot of people in the bookstore; so many that we didn’t so much walk down the aisles as we were carried down them.
When we emerged from the store, we decided a drink was in order. We walked up Lumpkin Street and soon found ourselves downtown, where we ducked into Cozy Bar. Inside, the small joint off Clayton Street was deserted, but blissfully cool. We sat at the bar and I ordered a Terrapin Hopsecutioner. I’d just taken my first sip when my cousin Pete texted asking where we were.
Growing up, Pete was my partner in crime. Every Sunday we would go to my grandparents’ house in Bowman, where the two of us spent the entire day coming up with money-making schemes, wreaking havoc with the house and the surrounding property, and turning our parents’ hair gray well in advance of middle age.
As adults, we are united by a shared love of UGA. Matt and I were just ordering a second round when Pete and his wife Amanda arrived. We sat at a table and talked about the upcoming game and the season so far. At some point, Matt returned from the bar with a pair of shot glasses filled with a neon green concoction called a Starburst melon shot. We knocked back the drinks, which tasted like watermelon juice mixed with pure sugar, then headed for the stadium.
As we walked, I saw multiple people with one of their feet in casts or braces of some kind. Then I saw an older man who didn’t have a leg on which to put a cast. He was hobbling along on one good leg and a metallic one that looked like the bottom half of a crutch. It seems that no infirmity is enough to keep fans away from the team they love!
At the other end of the spectrum, I saw girls attempting to navigate railroad tracks, stairs, rocks and other rough terrain while wearing heels or clunky sandals. I appreciate trying to be fashionable, but you would think something more practical would be in order.
We entered Sanford Stadium approximately 40 minutes prior to kickoff. Pete and Amanda’s tickets were on the other side of the field, so it was time to part ways. Before we split up, Amanda had a UGA staff member take a picture of the four of us. Then we all headed for our sections.
Our tickets were in section 102, near the West end zone and about 10 rows behind the small visiting fan contingent. We squeezed our way onto the bench which serves as seating with 35 minutes to go until game time.
As various announcements were made over the public-address system, Devon Gales popped up on the Jumbotron. The crowd roared. Gales, a Southern University player who suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in a 2015 game between Georgia and the Jaguars, was adopted by the Bulldog Nation, which has followed his recovery ever since.
During player introductions, I found myself marveling over the cheer that rose from the fans at the mention of each player’s name. Even long snapper Trent Frix received a roar. The SEC must be the only conference in which every player, no matter how anonymous to the casual fan, receives such adulation.
A few minutes before kickoff, we stood and joined the rest of the crowd in pointing to the second deck of the Southwestern corner of the stadium, where the lone trumpet soloist led the rest of the band into the Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation. Those first few solemn trumpet notes always tug at my heartstrings. Maybe I care a little too much!
Finally, 7:30 arrived and Samford kicked off. After an exchange of punts, freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, filling in for injured starter Jacob Eason, connected with Mecole Hardman on a five-yard touchdown pass. Two minutes later, sensational senior running back Nick Chubb ripped off a 36-yard run for another score and it was 14-0 Georgia.
The fact that the Bulldogs were playing an over-matched opponent did next to nothing to dampen fan enthusiasm. After every questionable ruling by the officiating crew, the man in front of us would leap to his feet and scream at the referee. Fan passion knows no bounds!
Georgia’s passing game has been touch and go since Eason was injured early in the season opener vs Appalachian State. Fromm, a five-star recruit, had spent most of the previous two games alternating between plays that provoked reactions ranging from “Wow! He’s a freshman!” to “Damn! He’s a freshman.” Early in the second quarter, he had one of the former on a fifty-yard touchdown pass to Terry Godwin.
The game reached halftime with Georgia leading 21-7. While the Dawgs were playing well, the score was still a little closer than I’d hoped. During intermission, we hit the restroom, then paid $7 each for cokes at the concession stand. All I could think was that in any other environment, a $7 drink would contain a substantial amount of alcohol.
The second half began with a Samford fumble, followed by another Chubb touchdown. Chubb, who surprised everyone with his decision to spurn the NFL and return for one last season, rushed for 131 yards on the day. After his second scoring run, he took a seat for the remainder of the game.
At this point, we were subjected to the abomination of abominations: the Karaoke Cam. For the fortunate among you who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it consists of a bad song playing over the PA while the out-of-tune crowd sings along. In this case, the song was Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” I protested by merely humming along.
One the tone-deaf singing was over, Godwin struck again, hauling in a ten-yard touchdown pass. It was now 35-7, and the only thing in doubt was the final score. Georgia piled on more when freshman running back DeAndre Swift scored late in the third quarter. For once, my Dawgs were pulling away from a lesser opponent, leaving no room for drama.
The third quarter came to an end, and we joined 93,000 others by rising to our feet and holding four fingers in the air as the band played “Krypton Fanfare.” This has been a tradition for as long as I can remember. During the last few seasons, fans have also begun turning on the flashlights on their cell phones and holding them up at night games. Following suit, we lit up Sanford Stadium as the final period drew near.
As time winded down, a mass exodus began. I’ve always believed if you pay for sixty minutes of football, then that’s what you should witness. It is a stance that I’ve rarely abandoned, only leaving early when my team is hopelessly out of the game. We stayed to the very end, watching Georgia wrap up a 42-14 win. When it was over, we followed the crowd out of the stadium and began our walk home. It had been a good night, and we savored the expected, but always sweet victory.
We walked along the railroad tracks, following them even when they veered away from the road and into the woods. Eventually we would reconnect with the street, but for now, we were content to stay off the beaten path. The win improved Georgia’s record to 3-0, and moved them up to #11 in the Associated Press poll. There was still a lot of football to be played, but on this night, the future didn’t matter. It was all about the present, and basking in the afterglow of a win.
That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about UGA football, visit the official website as www.georgiadogs.com.
Next time: We’ll look back on everything we’ve witnessed so far. It’s been an eventful summer, and the I See Georgia tour is still going strong!