There’s been some good-natured joking among UGA fans about how the athletic association came up with that supposedly record attendance figure of 46,815 for last Saturday’s G-Day game, considering no one appeared to be counting folks as they entered free of charge.
Cracked one fan: “They must have used a drone flying high over the stadium.”
Still, as someone who was in the midst of that crowd, I have to say the ridiculously specific figure seems like a pretty good estimate. Attendance at G-Day during the Richt era has about doubled, though it should be noted that no longer charging to get in no doubt has been a factor.
And if there’s some padding in the attendance figure, well, it’s understandable since some college football programs have started making a big deal of packing the house for their spring scrimmage.
Last year, of those schools that announced their spring attendance (not all do), Georgia’s 46,073 ranked seventh, behind Alabama (73,506), Penn State (72,000), Auburn (70,465), Tennessee (68,548), Nebraska (61,772) and Ohio State (61,058).
So far this year, Nebraska leads in announced spring game attendance with 76,881. Michigan is in second place with 60,000 and Georgia is third. But last year’s top four have yet to hold their games.
Of course, it’s only fair to point out that Georgia’s game took place Masters weekend, which probably reduced attendance a bit. And, as one college football observer joked, even if there wasn’t a game, Alabama probably could draw 50,000 fans to come sit in the stadium just by opening the gates.
While I am pretty satisfied with Mark Richt’s current format pitting the first-string offense against the first-string defense (a truer test than when they were choosing up teams, playground-style), I think it’s fine that the quarterbacks generally wear noncontact jerseys (though Faton Bauta asked last year to be able to take hits so he could do some running). But I wouldn’t mind them adding the special teams factor back in by at least rushing kicks. (I can understand not doing kickoffs, since that’s the play considered most likely to produce injuries.)
However, I’ve heard various suggestions on ways to juice interest in spring games in general and G-Day specifically.
Some liked the games featuring the current Dawgs against an alumni team staged in the past. I’ll admit the first of those games put on by Vince Dooley back in 1984 was a lot of fun, featuring such names from the past as George Patton, Kent Lawrence, Buzy Rosenberg and, in a unique twist, father vs. son with Leroy Dukes jumping offsides to try to sack his QB son, David.
Quarterbacks were fair game in the spring in those days and they also they let the alums play kind of fast and loose with the rules, which backfired in the 1989 game against a group of younger former players when the refs allowed the alums to have about 14 players on the field. They blitzed and ended up breaking the wrist of Preston Jones, a Georgia QB considered to have a lot of potential. The injury derailed his (and perhaps the team’s) season, though Jones did eventually end up playing in the NFL.
Since then, alumni have been relegated to playing in a flag football game before the main G-Day game.
To me, a more intriguing idea for revamping the spring game was floated in 2010 by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who noted that in spring practice players “get tired of going against each other” and suggested, “Let’s go play Georgia. Don’t you think that could generate some good money with all the Clemson fans and Georgia fans? Let’s split the gate down the middle.”
The Clemson coach’s idea was to still keep it along the lines of your typical spring game, with no hitting of quarterbacks and the coaches agreeing beforehand when to play the first team and when to play second- and third-string players.
As I wrote at the time, I like the concept of a spring exhibition game, especially against Clemson, one of Georgia’s greatest traditional rivals that, unfortunately, only shows up on the regular season schedule a couple of times per decade now.
Such a game would draw a capacity crowd, no question, even if an admission fee was charged like Swinney suggested. The likelihood of injuries wouldn’t seem to be much greater than in an intrasquad game. And playing against a comparable program would be an even better test than the 1’s going against the 1’s.
In fact, just about the only downside I can think of to an exhibition like this is that, even agreeing ahead of time to play second- and third-stringers, the full roster wouldn’t get as much playing time as it does when you divide up the Dogs into the Red and Black teams.
But the excitement generated by playing another team would certainly get the players revved up more. And such a match would more closely resemble the pressures of a real game and perhaps provide a more accurate picture who which players are really ready for prime time.
Of course, there’s the question of where to play such a game. Swinney’s “let’s go play Georgia” might have indicated he’d be willing to bring the Tigers to Athens, but it probably would be more likely to be some sort of two-year home-and-home deal. Or perhaps this would be a good opportunity for the two programs to play a game in Atlanta other than in a Chick-fil-A bowl.
Judging by a poll I did in the Blawg back at that time, there’s definitely fan support for such an idea, with 83 percent of those voting saying they’d like to see Georgia and Clemson play a spring exhibition game.
What do you think? Are you happy with the current G-Day format or would you be more likely to attend if they did something different? Would you be on board with Georgia-Clemson in the spring?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.