Capacity crowd expected at Georgia Bulldogs’ national-championship celebration

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

ATHENS — Another sellout for Sanford Stadium.

That’s the expectation for Saturday’s national championship celebration for the Georgia Bulldogs. Preceded by a parade down Lumpkin Street scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m., the 2 p.m. ceremony to recognize the two-time football national champions has “sold out.”

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In the interest of organization and decorum, UGA asked fans to order free tickets online rather than just open the gates to the 92,746-seat facility. Construction on the south side of the stadium has reduced capacity for Saturday’s proceedings to 54,000.

Those tickets were gone by Thursday morning.

“We’re just thankful for everyone, our fans, our donors, our students,” Georgia athletics director Josh Brooks said Friday. “You know, it definitely takes a village to raise a champion, and we never take that for granted. It takes everyone pulling in the same direction, and we have that here. It’s just a blessing to be at Georgia.”

Last year, crowd estimates exceeded 100,000, including the tens of thousands of fans who lined the parade route down Lumpkin Street, many of whom did not enter the stadium.

Because Phase I of a $63.5 million construction project to the southeast corner of the 94-year-old stadium is well underway, there will be some tweaks to last year’s celebration format. First, the entire south side of the stadium is closed. Therefore, the stage set-up for the trophy celebration and speeches will be facing the North grandstands, where the majority of spectators will be located, rather than east from underneath the west-end videoboard like last year.

Also, the Dawg Walk into the stadium that will conducted at the conclusion of the parade will be routed just north of Baxter Street between the Tate Student Center parking deck and the Zell Miller Learning Center. The normal route through Tate’s lower parking lot and into Gate 10 is blocked. as it is being utilized as a “lay-down area” for the two-year construction project.

UGA is widening the South 100 concourse and adding restrooms and concession areas, as well as an entrance off Gillis Bridge. In Phase II, it will erect an upper-level addition above the concourse which will house a new press box and additional seating.

Brooks, 42, succeeded Greg McGarity as athletic director in January 2021. Since then, the football program has gone 29-1 on the field and became the first back-to-back national champion since Alabama in 2011-12. Georgia’s streak of 17 consecutive victories ties the mark established from 1945-47.

“Better to be lucky than good,” Brooks quipped.

Pulling the levers during this historic run has been seven-year coach Kirby Smart. Now 81-15 (48-9 SEC) with the Bulldogs, he’s on pace to become the fastest FBS coach to 100 career wins in history. Washington’s Kalen DeBoer is 90-11, but his record includes wins at a lower-division school in Division II Sioux Falls.

Smart’s winning rate at Georgia so far has exceeded even that of Alabama’s Nick Saban, at least for the first seven seasons. Saban was 78-15 (46-10 SEC) in the same span to start his 16-year tenure.

Brooks said Smart’s drive to succeed has had a trickle-down effect on UGA athletics.

“I think we’ve adopted Kirby’s mentality of focusing on the process and focusing one-day-a-time, one-task-at-a-time, and getting better at what you’re tasked with,” Brooks said. “That permeated the entire athletic department and everybody, from student workers to coaches to student-athletes to administrators, with everybody just focused on doing their job the best they can. You don’t focus on results; you focus on the process. And then when the season’s over, you look up and go, ‘wow, together we achieved a lot!’”

Not coincidentally, according to Brooks, Georgia’s other sports have picked up the pace. With 200 points accumulated already this fall, UGA sits at No. 26 in the Directors’ Cup standings. Averaging No. 60 at this point the past two seasons, that’s the Bulldogs’ highest point total ever at this stage of the year.

“When you have a phenomenal home-game atmosphere in football, that really helps recruiting in other sports,” Brooks said. “We have a bunch of other sports that use football home games as a recruiting weekend. So those weekends turn out to be very helpful for those sports, and those teams start performing. But also, it just produces a winning mentality. That mentality is contagious. That mentality bleeds over into the administration, and it bleeds over into other sports.”

Saturday’s program will be similar to last year’s. Dignitaries such as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, UGA President Jere Morehead and Brooks will join Smart on the stage for the official trophy presentations and remarks.

Also, dress warmly. The forecast for Saturday in Athens is a low that could get below 30 degrees and a high of 50.