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. With the return of football comes its associated traditions we have come to love, cherish, and embrace. No football game weekend in Athens is truly complete without taking part in the age-old traditions of the Bulldog Nation.
Inside the Stadium
Sanford Stadium: Home of the Dawgs When you think of UGA football, the beautiful Sanford Stadium likely comes to mind first. Built in 1929, Sanford Stadium is entering its 90th season as the home of our beloved Georgia Bulldogs; if only that grass and those hedges could talk! It is currently the 9th largest college football stadium in the country, but that is hard to tell when it is filled with 92,746 rowdy Bulldog fans!
Between the Hedges
The most treasured component of Sanford Stadium may, in fact, be more well-known than the stadium itself. The iconic, emerald green hedges that encircle the field of play are nationally recognized as identifying the home of the Bulldogs. 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, 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 for women's soccer and what was at the time the largest crowd ever assembled to watch a women's sporting match; however, hedges grown from cuttings of the original ones were planted after the conclusion of the games and continue to surround the field.
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. Starting with the phrase, "Who's that coming down the tracks," -- alluding to the railroad tracks that can be seen from the stadium -- and ending with an emphatic "GO DAWGS, WOOF WOOF WOOF!", this historic chant never fails to enthuse Dawg fans, regardless of when and where it takes place. We love being able to share our school spirit with any dawg, anywhere, giving this battle cry complete validation!
I am about to enter my last football season as a UGA student and this tradition never fails to give me chills. Let me first set the stage for you: it is minutes before kickoff and the entire Redcoat Marching Band 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 played before each home football game since 1987. Within seconds of the trumpeter starting, the entire student section points towards the upper South Deck, 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 past and present Georgia football. 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 mascot in college football. The current Uga, Que, is the 10th in a long line of all white English Bulldogs. All ten hail from the Seiler family down in Savannah, GA, forever sealing their family in the bowels of Georgia football history. Que is entering his fourth full season as Uga and has led the Bulldogs to 42 victories in his tenure as the face of UGA football. Uga will always have a special place in our hearts and on the field in his air-conditioned dog house, cheering on his fellow dawgs while curled up on his infamous bag of ice!
Outside the Stadium
On game days, the party starts hours before kickoff when more than 100,000 people set up to tailgate throughout campus. With most of them setting up shop as early as 7 a.m. and staying until well after kickoff, these fans sure do know how to celebrate their love for the Dawgs. Not only do dozens of tailgates fill campus, but the entire downtown scene is full of Dawg fans making the most of the dozens of bars, amazing restaurants, and quirky shops that make Athens a unique experience. Looking to find a tailgating spot? Check out some options here.
Another tradition that fans take part in is the Dawg Walk, which takes place before every home game. Thousands of people line the main entrance to Sanford Stadium, located by the Tate Center Parking lot, 2 hours and 15 minutes prior to kickoff to welcome the players and coaches as they make their way to warm ups. With cheering fans and tunes of the Georgia Redcoat Marching Band filling the air, 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. An early way to signal classes beginning and ending, the chapel bell once was used as a World War II air raid signal. Since the early 1980s, however, the bell has signified football victories. 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 state seal. For many, if not all, of the students here at UGA, the arch signifies a rite of passage only granted after you have been handed your diploma at commencement. 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. Meanwhile, those who have finished their degrees at the University smile as they walk under the arch with the utmost 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. There is simply nothing like Saturday in Athens. The campus buzzes with past, present, and future Dawgs. Fans clothed in red and black flood the streets. The game, the rivalry, the revelry, and the rich traditions all combine 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 worthy 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.
This post, originally published on September 28, 2015, has been thoroughly updated and re-published by Beth Quillian on July 8, 2019.