Georgia football: Traditions may come and go, but Saturdays in Athens are forever

Game-day traditions are a big part of Saturdays in the fall, with the colorful spectacle and emotional school ties between fans and their team elevating the college game over pro football for many.   

As followers of Georgia football flock to Athens this coming weekend to hear Sanford Stadium PA announcer Brook Whitmire’s “It’s Saturday in Athens, and time to tee it up Betweeeeeeeeeen the Hedges!” they’ll be witnessing the start of UGA’s 124th  season of football. (The first game was played in 1892, but no games were played in 1917-18.

Dawg Walk allows fans to greet the team as it enters Sanford Stadium. (Wes Blankenship/UGA)

Over that span, a lot of fan rituals have come and gone — remember Senior Parade, the “Dog Food!” chant, the track people and even tailgating on North Campus? Still, quite a few traditions have remained steady or grown in popularity in recent years.

Let’s be frank, though, tailgating at UGA isn’t what it used to be. Restrictions imposed a few years back after the crowds jammed in North Campus started trashing the area and damaging the historic quad basically killed that tradition there.

However, it continues to be popular in the Myers Quad and along Lumpkin Street, stretching from the Georgia Center to Myers Hall.

Of course, in recent years, too many noon kickoffs — combined with a prohibition of tailgaters setting up on campus before 7 a.m. ET on game day and too many cupcake games — also put a crimp in the tradition. The home schedule this year is mediocre, but, the first two home games will kick off in the evening (App State this coming Saturday at 6:15 p.m. and Samford on Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m.), so maybe the opportunity to spend an entire day wining and dining will make up for the lack of marquee value in the opponent.

Another favorite tradition that came along in the 1990s is the Dawg Walk, with the Redcoats playing as the team walks past fans gathered in the Tate Center parking lot. It’s a good way to get pumped up for a game, but if you want a decent vantage point, you must get in place in the Tate Center lot or up on Sanford Bridge well in advance of the walk (which takes place about 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff).

Immediately after Dawg Walk, watching the Redcoats march into the stadium with their rhythmic chant is one of my favorite game-day traditions. As they say, ain’t nothing finer in the land!

And, I think my favorite non-football moment at Georgia home games is when the fans stand and point toward the lone trumpeter in the southwest corner of the upper deck, who opens the Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation in the pregame show. (A few years back, I ran a poll to determine the favorite game-day tradition, and the solo trumpeter was the winner by far, with 49 percent of the votes.)

The lone trumpeter opens the Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation. (Ted Mayer/UGA)

Also part of the Battle Hymn tradition is the late Larry Munson’s voiceover for footage of Dawgs past and present on the big video screen. I love how the fans never tire of cheering Herschel Walker running over Tennessee’s Bill Bates.

The video screen also plays a key role in two other traditions, showing the lyrics of the UGA alma mater and the venerable Hail to Georgia, which is good, since few actually remember the words. The singing of Hail to Georgia, the “official” fight song, according to the G Book given out to freshmen, was revived in 2012 after about 25 years of just being played as an instrumental.

Another tradition they’ve fiddled with over the years with is Calling the Dawgs (“Gooooooo Dawgs! Sic ‘em! Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!”). They’ve tried incorporating on-field spirit leaders and, more recently, celebrity guests, with varying success.

One of my favorite traditions used to come after the team had finished its initial warm-up, when it gathered at midfield and walked deliberately toward the east end zone with helmets raised while the Redcoats played the Krypton Fanfare and the crowd got on its feet and roared. That got me every time. But, the past couple of years, they’ve started playing Krypton right after the team comes out for warm-ups, lessening the impact.

Fortunately, the other traditional use of Krypton, played by the Redcoats at the start of the fourth quarter, with the fans standing and holding up four fingers on each hand, seems to be going strong still. And with the addition of lots of cell phones lighting up, it’s quite a sight at a night game.

My wife Leslie and I also are fond of Georgia’s kickoff routine at the start of the game, with the excitement boosted by a video montage played to The Who’s Baba O’Riley (which many people mistakenly call Teenage Wasteland).

A postgame tradition is the ringing of the UGA Chapel bell after a victory. When my son was young and we parked downtown, I always got a kick out of taking him to do that. Ringing the bell is supposed to be a tradition for UGA students, but I think it’s most popular with young kids.

Game day is not just about tradition, of course. I wrote recently about what’s new and different this year, but the Athletic Association passed along some more details of changes for this season.

The beginning of the fourth quarter is quite a sight at night. (Andy Harrison/UGA)

Gate 1, the Main Gate and Gate 10 adjacent to the Tate Center parking lot have been combined and pushed back to create a “Super Gate” that they are calling Gate 10 for 2017. This is the Dawg Walk gate. Stadium officials encourage those fans approaching the west side who don’t need to enter on the ground level in front of Tate to go to Gate 2 (at the north end of Sanford Bridge, across from the UGA Bookstore) or Gate 9 (at the south end of Sanford Bridge) to help with the speed of entry.

And, with the SEC clear-bag policy and ban on cushions or seatbacks that have arms or pockets in effect this year, and being strictly enforced, it’s entirely possible that wait times to get into the stadium could be noticeably longer this season, at least to start with.

West end zone construction also will impact restrooms and concession stands at that end. John Bateman, assistant athletic director for marketing, explains the two temporary concession tents “will be a ‘Grab-n-Go’ concept where fans walk through stanchions to a serving line, grab what they want (serve themselves) and then proceed to a checkout area of 12 points of sale and the first available register. Both tents will have the same offerings — packaged snacks, bottled drinks, hot dogs, Papa John’s Pizza and Chick-fil-A sandwiches.”

One portable stand providing only beverages will be operating from kickoff to the end of the third quarter.

Bateman said these tents will be similar to what fans experience at The Masters, from the standpoint of serving themselves and proceeding to the first open register available.

He added that they realize some fans who normally visit the west end for concessions may now visit other areas of the stadium, so they’re making preparations in those areas to handle the additional service.

“With so many unknowns involving the number of fans and their game-day flow in the west end, we’ll be evaluating our operations during, after and in-between each game in order to make the experience as good as we can for all fans in this area,” Bateman said.

Also, he said, “we want our fans to know we value their feedback, as it is one of the best ways we can learn what we’re doing good and need to improve on.”

So, if these arrangements don’t work for you, let the Athletic Association hear about it.

Finally, I heard recently from a couple of fans who’d read that the University of South Carolina is adding a live DJ to play prerecorded music before and during the game and wondered whether UGA would do likewise.

Actually, UGA already added a DJ back in 2014, when the SEC started allowing schools to play music between plays during the game.

Despite the inconveniences, Sanford Stadium is a great place to be on a fall Saturday. (University of Georgia/courtesy)

As for the folks who complain they can’t hear the Redcoat band, the UGA promotions department said they “will continue to amplify the Redcoats this season on the south side of the stadium.”

Apparently, they must figure those of us on the north side can hear the band without amplification. But, unless you sit in one of the sections adjacent to the band (reserved for students), the Redcoats can be awfully tough to hear during the game on the north side. Adding amplification on that side as well would be a big help.

Still, despite the awful traffic in Athens, pricey and limited parking, and the various irritations and inconveniences at Sanford Stadium, a Georgia Bulldogs game day remains a glorious way to spend a fall afternoon or evening.

Like the man says, it’s time to tee it up …

The post Georgia football: Traditions may come and go, but Saturdays in Athens are forever appeared first on DawgNation.

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