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Bill King

20 of life’s amazing moments for a Dawgs fan

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Players and fans celebrate after last year's big win over LSU. (Radi Nabulsi / UGA)

Players and fans celebrate after last year’s big win over LSU. (Radi Nabulsi / UGA)

Recently I was looking at some photos from last year’s LSU game, which was not just the high point of the season but probably of the past seven or eight seasons.

As I wrote after that memorable late-September day:

“I’ve been going to Georgia football games for 50 years and I can say without hesitation that was the loudest I’ve ever heard Sanford Stadium from first kickoff to final whistle. On that last futile drive by LSU, particularly the fourth-down incompletion, the place was literally vibrating with a decibel level that must have approached that of a jet engine. A spine-tingling moment that never will be forgotten by the fans who were there.

“Overall, from ‘GameDay’ on the Myers quad to the terrific ‘Awaken the Nation’ pregame video to the team coming back out on the field 10 minutes after they’d gone to the locker room to celebrate some more, it was one of the most electrifying game day atmospheres imaginable. And thanks to the ‘redout’ and the fact that a free red shaker was provided on every seat, it also was the reddest I’ve ever seen that stadium. A magnificent sight for the national TV audience.”

Thinking about that day, it occurred to me, how special and unforgettable it must have been for anyone there who was attending their very first Georgia football game!

Attending your first game is one of those wonderful rites of passage for a college sports fan, but there are others as well, and some folks like to check them off, much like UGA students do with school traditions in their “G-Book.”

And it’s not just the fans. I asked former Georgia great Matt Stinchcomb for his “amazing moments,” and he offered: “First Dawg Walk. First time you heard the solo trumpeter. First walk down the railroad trellis. First home win over Tech!”

What follows is not really a bucket list for a Bulldogs fan as much as it is a sharing of those fan moments that make college sports so colorful and exciting and different from the pro variety. They’re part of what engenders the kind of loyalty that sees people still supporting their school, decade after decade.

So here, with comments from me and some of the fans who helped me compile this list, are 20 amazing moments in the life of a Georgia Bulldogs fan. How many have you experienced?

Your first game at Sanford Stadium. Game day in Athens has changed over the decades. My friend Betz Kerley remembers attending her first game with her parents when she was 4 years old. “People dressed up for games back then. Men wore suits and women wore heels.”

The atmosphere is a lot different now. But, from the “Krypton Fanfare” to the Larry Munson video to the Redcoats scrambling on the field, experiencing a game in person is so much better than watching it on even one of those giant flat-screen TVs. And there’s nothing like that moment when the fans rise and the student section points toward the southwest corner of the stadium’s upper deck as the solo trumpeter plays the opening of the “Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation.”

Ringing the Chapel bell is a must for all Dawgs fans. (Olivia King / special)

Ringing the Chapel bell is a must for all Dawgs fans. (Olivia King / special)

Your first time ringing the Chapel bell. This is a particular favorite of young Bulldogs fans. I can still see the rope of the bell pulling my son up high off the ground as he rang the bell for the first time when he was a boy. This is definitely something you want to have your children experience. Doc Eldridge, former mayor of Athens and now head of the Chamber of Commerce there, has special memories of his first ringing of the bell. It was when Vince Dooley, after his early success, was courted by Oklahoma. Recalls Doc: “As Jimbo McDonald and I were coming out of the ‘Y’ that morning (where the Holiday Inn is now), cars were honking their horns, and the KAs were shooting their cannon. It had just been announced the Vince was staying. Jimbo and I … crossed Lumpkin Street and went to ring the bell. We were the first to arrive and stayed there ringing it by ourselves until our parents came and got us around 4:00. By then the students had consumed large amounts of liquid courage and had gathered to take our place. The bell rang until midnight.”

First time down on the field at Sanford. I’ve never been on the field when the stands were full, but even walking on it in an empty stadium during some autograph sessions down there gave me a new appreciation for the immensity of the place and what it must be like for a UGA player running out for his first game Between the Hedges.

First time tailgating on campus. While it’s easier and more convenient to just grab a meal at one of the game day outlets outside or inside the stadium, there’s nothing quite like sitting under a tree or on a grassy quad with friends and family and sharing some fried chicken, or whatever your game day preference is, while you anticipate that day’s matchup.

Tailgating has become an art form at UGA. (Photo by Bill King)

Tailgating has become an art form at UGA. (Photo by Bill King)

Getting your first Dawgwear. For fans who grow up around here, this usually happens when you’re quite young, often still in diapers. But whether it’s UGA footies or a T-shirt or cap or a replica football uniform or cheerleader’s outfit, kids love sharing their parents’ devotion to the Red and Black.

And it can lead to special moments like my friend Dan Pelletier recalls: “When my son was 2 ½ I bought him a UGA replica uniform, complete with pads and helmet. He wore it all summer in the 90-plus degree weather. That fall I took him to his first game Between the Hedges. When UGA came on the field, his eyes got as big as saucers and said, ‘Dad, they have uniforms just like mine!’ A priceless moment at Sanford Stadium with a third-generation Bulldog.”

Your first away game. Whether it’s on the road in the SEC, traveling to some faraway place like Arizona, or just making your way to the Joke by Coke in Atlanta, there’s a very different but special feeling about watching the Dogs win at the opponent’s home stadium.

Your first Georgia-Florida game. With the stands in Jacksonville split 50/50 between orange and red and many in attendance having spent several days getting “primed” for the game, it’s one of college football’s classic experiences.

There's nothing like a win over the in-state rival. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

There’s nothing like a win over the in-state rival. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

The first win over Tech. Fortunately, this usually comes pretty early for anyone who starts attending Georgia football games.

First big win over a highly ranked team. From last year’s Athens victories over South Carolina and LSU to the Ray Goff-led upset of Clemson, I’ve seen a bunch, but I still have spine-tingling memories of the first big win I saw, the 1965 flea-flicker shocker over the Crimson Tide.

First time attending Picture Day and, even better, your first time taking your child to Picture Day. Or a similar gathering like the annual Countdown to Kickoff. Getting to meet the players is fun for fans of any age, but watching a child come away with an autograph from their favorite player is very special.

First time petting Uga. Whichever number Uga, it doesn’t matter. Adults and kids alike get a real kick out of petting the wrinkled brow of the best college mascot around.

Dawg Walk is exciting for both the fans and the players. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Dawg Walk is exciting for both the fans and the players. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Your first Dawg Walk. The viewing conditions aren’t ideal unless you get there early, but there’s nothing to get you cranked up for a big game like watching the players make their way through the throng of fans and the Redcoat Band and into the stadium. But you’ve not truly experienced the full Dawg Walk unless you hang around for Rooster Call, a good-spirited slamming of the day’s opponent from a couple of members of the band, who then lead the “rooster cheer” that’s become a tradition over the past 15 years or so.

Your first Bulldogs bowl game. Whether it’s in New Orleans or Orlando or just at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, attending a postseason game is a very different sort of game day experience that every fan should try at some point.

Your first trip to the UGA Bookstore for souvenirs and Bulldogs clothing. It’s fun (and can be quite expensive) at any time, but on game day, when the place is packed, it’s a another great way to get into the spirit.

Watching an SEC basketball game at Stegeman Coliseum. Big moments in UGA fandom aren’t limited to football. Georgia’s aged indoor arena has its detractors, and attendance can be pretty spotty for early-season nonconference games, but when the place is packed for a big SEC opponent like Kentucky or Florida, the Steg really rocks.

Attending a Gym Dogs meet. The atmosphere isn’t quite as raucous as during the Suzanne Yoculan heyday of numerous national titles, but the gymnastics team still is a major draw and the performances are usually pretty exciting.

Watching a baseball game at Foley Field. Currently undergoing major renovations, UGA’s baseball stadium is admittedly one of the smallest in the conference. But it’s still a fun, intimate place to watch a ball game and, when it’s packed for a big one, the atmosphere can be pretty electric (though I miss the days of the more outlandish fans on Kudzu Hill).

Visiting the place where it all began. In my days as a student, what had been Herty Field was just a parking lot. But now it’s a beautiful green space with a fountain, where UGA students play Frisbee golf, read, eat lunch or, increasingly, get married! If you haven’t checked out this North Campus jewel, be sure to do so next time you’re in Athens.

And a new opportunity for Dawgs fans: attend a UGA hockey match in downtown Athens. After years of having to play “home” matches elsewhere, the Ice Dogs club team finally has a true home arena in the Classic Center, and they’ll begin their first full home season there this fall. This is one I’m looking to check off myself.

Your first special moment. Maybe it was Herschel’s first touchdown at home. Or the emotional ovation when David Jacobs took the field on Senior Day after a career-ending stroke. Or the team running out in black jerseys against Auburn. One thing’s for sure: If you attend UGA football games regularly, you’ll definitely have memories that will make you smile … and maybe get a little misty-eyed.

Meanwhile, UGA is asking fans to “Spread the Red!” by wearing red for the season opener against Clemson Aug. 30.

“We’re really looking for a big turnout for the ‘Dog Walk’ and for the student section,” Mark Richt said. “We’re asking everyone to wear red and black and make it one of the those memorable games, memorable atmospheres.”

Maybe it’ll be another of those amazing moments.

Go Dogs!

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

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