Glory to Ol' Georgia

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September 7th 2019
Published: September 8th 2019
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My third game of this season wasn't much of a trip. Even though there wasn’t much travelling in a vehicle, however, there was plenty of walking. Full disclosure: I’ve been to probably 100 games involving this team, and basically every home game (except maybe 5) since 2008. It is my 22nd consecutive game in Sanford Stadium, and that streak will end next week because I’ll be in West Virginia.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This week was the one I had circled on my calendar for the shortest “trip” in the football season, and after last weekend’s whirlwind trip through Michigan and the Big 10, I was glad to have a week with no major movements. For the past few years, since 2012 I suppose, I’ve had my buddy Jack to spend game days with. But he’s moved back to South Carolina this year and wasn’t able to make it over to Athens today. No worries—he’ll be the one going with me to West Virginia next week. But without my partner in crime, I had to make do on my own. That included procuring a ticket, finding seat buddies, and any pre-game activities.

One of the things we’ve discovered is that Barberitos, the locally-owned Tex-Mex restaurant chain in town, is virtually deserted on game days. No lines, no problems finding a seat. The food is good, and it’s always enough to last through the end of the game. Because who wants to pay for stadium food? I should add that this is the Barberitos in 5 Points, which is about a 20-minute walk from my place. Normally this walk isn’t so bad, but it was hotter than five hells out there today. I think the forecast I saw before I left the house was 97˚. By the time I got to the restaurant, I was ready for some air conditioning. It was as expected: no line and plenty of seating. And the food was oh, so good. I spent about 45 minutes there, trying to gather up the courage to brave the heat again. This time, however, the walk was up Lumpkin Street, which is where a LOT of the traffic would be found. It was also about a 30-minute walk to the stadium.

By the time I got to the main part of campus, I imagine people behind me could see how sweaty I was. Even in the shorts, which is pretty embarrassing. But along the way, I did run into a Mormon missionary lady. She was on my side of the street at an intersection, handing out small cards with directions on how to download a free Book of Mormon (the religious book, not the musical). The other missionaries were on the other side of the street, in front of the LDS church. I took her card and actually chatted for a few minutes. I told her about my trip to Salt Lake City back in December, and when she told me she was from Boise, we had more to talk about because I had ALSO been to Boise on that same trip. We both commiserated about the heat and humidity that was oppressing us today. And then I was back on my way.

There’s so much tailgating to be seen along Lumpkin Street, but the parking is atrocious. The cheapest lot I saw was $25 near 5 Points. Then it was $30, then $40, and the closest lots along this street were $50. These were “public” lots, which just means you don’t need to buy your parking ahead of time. I don’t really want to know how much a parking space like that costs.

I got to the Student Center around 2:15 for a 4:00 kickoff. The main reason to hang out in the Student Center was, again, the air conditioning. They also have a movie theater in there, and on game days, the theater has free seating and shows other college football games until the game across the street begins. Then, presumably, they will show the Georgia game live. I guess that’s for people who don’t have a ticket, or who can’t be bothered to walk across the street. I have no person experience with this phenomenon.

In the past, when it was just me and Jack (or sometimes just me), I would get into the stadium about 90 minutes prior to kickoff. I like to enjoy the atmosphere, get a cold drink, and beat the crowds. Especially that last part, which also affects the lines for entrance to the stadium and getting a drink. But that’s when I have my own ticket.

Last year, we learned not to buy UGA football tickets for home games too early, since we could probably get them at their cheapest on the morning of the game. Face value for even the crappiest games is $55, which is outrageous. I had been looking on StubHub, and they were available for just under $30. But there’s something most people either don’t know or have never realized about Sanford Stadium. Most college (or anywhere) stadiums are oriented north-south. This means that the sun will bake both sides evenly during a day game. Sanford Stadium, however, is oriented east-west, which means there’s always one side that’s mostly in the shade, and one side that will always be baking. It’s like the planet Mercury. As a student, we were ALWAYS baking. I guess that’s the price for being young and only having to pay $8 for the privilege. The opposite side is usually about two-thirds in the shade. That’s where a good number of the faculty and big donors sit. Again, privilege. All that to say, if I’m getting a ticket to a Georgia game in the daytime, I’m gonna make damn sure it’s not on that sunbaked side.

I had the good fortune of being offered a FREE ticket to the game by the associate pastor of my church, and her father, who has been a season-ticket holder since forever. Not only was it free, but it was also in the shade! And when someone offers you a free ticket, you do as they say. At least in terms of when and where you arrive and meet up. We arranged to meet at 3PM in a parking lot about two blocks from the stadium. So I went there a little early (not wanting to be late) and found some glorious shade. And when they arrived, we made our way to the stadium. We were greeted by some long lines out of the gate. But you know what? They knew how to keep the lines moving, unlike Michigan State. At this stadium, there’s a clear-bag policy, so no one has to empty their bags or have them searched. There’s also no pat-down, and no one has to remove hats. Maybe in the colder months, jacket removal is a thing, but that was certainly not the case in this heat.

We were at our seats by 3:35. There was a special ceremony for Vince Dooley, the long-time head coach (from the 1960s through the 1980s) and athletic director (until 2004). They were renaming the field in honor of him, so now it will be called Dooley Field. At least they didn’t rename it Kroger Field or BB&T Stadium or something corporate like that. But all that ceremonying all lasted about five minutes. Then there was the Redcoat Marching Band, which played through the normal pre-game routine of UGA cheers and fight songs. And then the lone trumpeter from the southwest corner of the upper deck, bringing in the band as they play “Glory, Glory to Ol’ Georgia” to get the crowd in the spirit (if they needed any more of that).

I’m probably (definitely) a little biased, but this crowd definitely put the other two crowds to shame so far this year. In terms of noise and electricity, I can say for sure that Michigan State had nothing on this crowd. Michigan may have gotten as loud as the Georgia people, but they also had about 15,000 more people in the stadium. I don’t know if the game was a sellout (they didn’t announce the attendance like they did at the games in Michigan), but if it was, and all those people actually showed up, they must’ve been hiding in the shadows. Not that I would blame them one bit. Our side of the stadium, mostly in the shade, looked full. As I looked across to the other side, however, there were noticeable gaps in the student section of the second (middle) deck, and then many holes in the third (uppermost) deck. The stadium holds around 93,000 people, and I wouldn’t be surprised if only about 90,000 of those seats were occupied at any given time. At least the student section showed up and early in the lower bowl. By halftime, however, there were even more noticeable gaps. And not just in the student section; that whole sunbaked side was filtering out slowly.

And it wasn’t just good skin care that they had in mind. I had overheard one dad tell his 5-ish-year-old son while I was walking to the parking lot that they were definitely going to stay until halftime and then probably leave. How could they make such plans ahead of time? I guess I’ve never really had to deal with individuals who were likely to make staying at a game miserable for me. There’s also the matter of the quality of the opponent. Murray State University doesn’t exactly strike fear into anyone’s hearts in Athens, GA. I never saw the official Vegas line for this game, but someone said that UGA was favored by 50 or so points. So, yeah; I can see why some people might make plans for an early exit. And I can’t blame the sunbaked fans on the other side of the stadium for making a swift exit once the score got up to 35-7, and then 42-7 at the half.

But it didn’t always look like it was going to be so lopsided. Sure, Georgia made a quick touchdown to open the game, scoring in less than 90 seconds. But then everything seemed to slow down. Not that Murray State was getting anywhere, until the end of the first quarter, when they scored thanks to some terrible defense on Georgia’s part. I think there were many Michigan fans from last week who felt the same way at the end of their first quarter. No one in this stadium, even the visiting team, expected to be tied with the supposed third-best team in the country.

But the second quarter put all those worries to rest. Within six minutes, UGA had scored 4 more touchdowns to go up 35-7, and by the half, it looked like Murray State had given up. We were taking guesses on the final score. I wanted to see 70 points for UGA, but I was denied. The Dawgs scored one touchdown in the third quarter (and allowed ten points from the visiting team, seven of those thanks to a pick-six) and buckled down in the fourth to score two more touchdowns and allow no further points from the opponent. Both the slow-down on scoring and the allowance of points for the visiting team can be attributed to the second- and third-string offense and defense that was allowed to play for the entirety of the second half. I guess they need their practice, too, and better to get these kinks out of the system against an opponent that can’t really hurt you. Still, not bad. The final score was 63-17. If they were supposed to win by 50, they came 4 points shy of that.

For those of us who remained until the clock hit 0:00, most of us were in areas shaded by either the upper deck, a few trees, or the massive scoreboard. And I imagine that there was not much partying going on until after the sun had set. Truly, how much more excitement can you handle when you can already barely move in the oppressive heat? I got home and took a cold shower. And then I watched some more college football on the television, in the quiet and coolness of my own living room.

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