It is the most wonderful time of the year here in Athens, and we're not talking about Christmas. We're talking about football season! As a current Bulldog, I am proud to say the entire campus, town, and state is filled with excitement as we gear up for home football game weekends. Just the thought of being able to yell, "It's a Saturday in Athens" puts me in a better frame of mind. It's also a great time to look back at the traditions we have come to love, cherish, and embrace. No visit to Athens to watch the Bulldogs play is truly complete without taking part in the traditions of the Bulldog Nation.
Inside the Stadium
Sanford Stadium: Home of the Dawgs It goes without saying when you think of UGA football the beautiful Sanford Stadium pops into your mind. Built in 1929, Sanford Stadium has been the home of our beloved Georgia Bulldogs; if only that grass and those hedges could talk! It is currently the 10th largest college football stadium in the country, but will always be number 1 in our hearts.
Between the Hedges
Another key component of Sanford Stadium may in fact be more nationally known than the stadium itself; I'm talking about the iconic, emerald green hedges. The phrase "Between the Hedges" was coined in the early 1930's when the hedges were planted around the field merely hours before the first game. Standing 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide, this UGA staple serves as a beautiful landmark protecting our most sacred space. "[The hedges] are something magical," says the legendary coach Vince Dooley, "one of the greatest traditions of college football." A tradition that, nearly 90 years later, is still growing, both figuratively and literally. The hedges had to be removed during the 1996 Olympics to accommodate the size of the soccer field as Sanford Stadium played host to women's soccer and what was at the time the largest crowd ever assembled to watch a women's sporting match.
Calling the Dawgs
Calling the Dawgs is something every Georgia fan loves to do, whether they like to admit it or not. Best known as our battle cry, the song is also full of references to our past traditions. With lyrics starting with the phrase, "Who's that coming down the tracks," referring to the railroad tracks that can be seen from the stadium, to ending with the cry of "GO DAWGS, WOOF WOOF WOOF!" this historic chant never fails to heighten your love of the Dawgs. We love being able to share our school spirit with any dawg, anywhere, giving this battle cry complete validation!
Let me first set the stage for you. I am about to enter my last football season as a UGA student and this tradition never fails to give me chills. It is minutes before kickoff and the entire Redcoat Cand is on the field, with the exception of one, a solo trumpet player in the upper South Deck. The whole stadium is silent as he belts out the first few notes of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a sacred tune within the walls of Sanford Stadium. Within seconds of him starting the entire student section is pointing towards the trumpeter acknowledging the depth of what is happening. At the end of the solo, the stadium is brought to life by a highlight reel narrated by the late Larry Munson celebrating Georgia football both past and present. While the quintessential stragglers who enter the game 15 minutes into the first quarter may overlook this tradition, the call to attention by the trumpeter and Larry Munson is something that die hard fans always look forward to.
Since the 1950's, our beloved Uga has established himself as the most well known college mascot. With the line of succession happening every few years, we are saying goodbye to the beloved Uga IX, Russ, and celebrating the welcoming of Uga X, Que, this season. The line of all white English Bulldogs hail from the Seiler family down in Savannah, Ga, forever sealing their family in the history of Georgia football. Uga will always have special place in our hearts as well as a special place on the field in his conditioned doghouse, cheering on his fellow dawgs while curled up on his imfamous bag of ice!
Outside the Stadium
In the hours before kickoff, the real party starts on North Campus and Myers Quad with over 100,000 tailgaters. With most of them setting up shop as early as 7 a.m. to staying well after kickoff, these fans sure do know how to celebrate their love for the Dawgs. Not only does the campus have space for so many tailgates, the entire downtown scene is in full swing for fans who would also enjoy the dozens of bars, amazing restaurants, and quirky shops that make Athens a unique experience.
Another tradition the fans can enjoy is the Dawg Walk which takes place before every home game. Thousands of people line the main entrance to Sanford Stadium, right outside of the Tate Plaza, to welcome the players and coaches as they make their way to warm ups accompanied by the tunes of the Georgia Redcoat Band. The Dawg Walk is always a great destination for families because of the kid friendly environment and up close and personal contact with the players.
The Chapel Bell, located on the beautiful North Campus, has a longstanding tradition here at UGA. Its particular uses have evolved over the years from a signal of classes beginning and ending to once being a World War II air raid signal to now signifying football victories since the early 1980's. After the Dawgs win in Sanford Stadium, fans rush to have a chance to ring the ball in joint celebration of the triumph, lasting until the late hours of the night!
Constructed in the late 1850's, the most recognized symbol of the University of Georgia stands watch over North Campus. The three pillars of the black iron arch symbolize justice, moderation, and wisdom, just like the three pillars on the Georgia flag. For many, if not all, of the students here at UGA, it signifies a rite of passage only granted after commencement when you have been handed your diploma. With fear of never graduating, the faithful undergrads keep their vow of not walking under the arch by going out of their way to step around it, evident by the worn down steps around the edge of the structure. It is especially fun to notice the smiles on previous grads as they walk under the arch with the utmost of pride.
After reminiscing on our most sacred traditions here at UGA, it is easy to recognize the admiration we have for our school and our team. Saturdays in Athens-there is simply nothing like it. The simple beauty of campus buzzing with students present, past and future. The fluidity of red and black taking over the streets, becoming an organism of its own. The game, the rivalry, the revelry, and the rich traditions all combining to form emotions that are indescribable. Athens on a Saturday becomes a little piece of the best part of life. Larry Munson summed up our slice of heaven best when he said, "There is no tradition more worth of envy, no institution worthy of such loyalty, as the University of Georgia." Regardless of the outcome of the game there is one thing I know for certain- you'll always be coming back for more! Go Dawgs!
To plan your football weekend in Athens, check out our Football Guide with last-minute hotel room availability, where to park & tailgate, and plenty of other things to do while you are in Athens.