Looking back, so many of my fondest college memories are set "Between the Hedges," taking in UGA football with classmates. Back then, it was about jumping up and down, producing a constant stream of noise (when the Dawgs were on defense, that is) and generally acting a fool.
Today, however, I remove myself from the student section with the intent to impartially evaluate glorious Sanford Stadium, that most hallowed of grounds"¦.
Whoops; this is supposed to be impartial, right?
Oh, who am I kidding? It would be even more dishonest to try to keep a straight face as I evoke 81 years of history and my time spent with "92,746 of my closest friends."
I can at least start with the easily worst category, though, so as to thinly veil my bias.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
I have tried just one of almost all the items available at concession stands at Sanford, so I can say this: Do not spend your money on this stuff. As an attendee of the University, it was straight laughable to think I'd cough up some of my minuscule quantity of cash to buy a Vienna sausage-sized hot dog for $4 or a seemingly day-old pizza for $7 or $8.
So where do any points whatsoever come from here? Well, there are certainly plenty of the stands. But they offer no variety and are supplemented rather poorly by the standalone carts that dot the perimeter of the concourse. Oh, frozen lemonade? I remember hating that even as a kid!
At least you can get a cold drink from one of the aisleway vendors instead of waiting in a massive line. Prepare to sacrifice a limb for it (at least $3, water is more), but you can indeed survive the heat of our late-August and early-September games. Not without severe dehydration, but I digress...
I'm the Southeast Regional Correspondent, and I approve the above score for any seat in the house, be it amongst the students or not; the focus here is on football, as well it should be. A member of the visiting team can turn to his left or right when standing on the field and face a sea of red.
On one side, there are the alumni and other season ticket holders, intimidatingly representing the legacy that is football in "silver britches." On the other, there are 10,000 rabid young adults, and you're right on their turf on a Saturday. The back-and-forth chants of "Georgia...Bulldogs" seriously sound like some sort of cataclysmic natural disaster.
And just wait until they crank up the latest hip-hop jam and a couple of the boys in red give the crowd a little dance. Now it's loud.
Sanford is in Athens; perhaps you've heard of it? And no, I'm not talking about some dusty old place in Greece, I'm talking about the birthplace of REM, the B52s, the Whigs and Widespread Panic, among other famous artists and groups. Please, I dare you to name a spot better known for its local music venues.
And in terms of the downtown nightlife, rest assured, we have college-kid bars (enough to shake a stick at) if that's your vibe. But there are also some decent restaurants here, like the Last Resort Grill, DePalma's, and the Grit. Expect everything to be packed on gameday, of course.
Then, for you more calm or scholarly types, there's the idyllic North Campus, now free of any tailgating thanks to our administration. Note that I say that with no hint of either bitterness or self-righteousness; the rules change is what it is, and I can comment on that elsewhere.
Don't worry, there are still plenty of tailgating locations - they're just farther away.
They say "there ain't nothin' finer in the land than a drunk, obnoxious Georgia fan." While it was never my cup of tea (or booze) to have drinks before a 12:20 p.m. kickoff in 90-degree weather, the fact that folks treat UGA football as a celebration, an escape from normal life, I feel is an appropriate form of reverence.
No, not everyone who shows up is a sports savant - that's just me, wink wink - but as mentioned before, people of any age are expected to pay attention to the game first, and they largely do. I go to these events for just that, a concentrated experience, so if you're looking for a meet-and-greet with your sorority sisters, follow protocol and please sit at the top of the section.
All around the stadium, you will find graduates, converts and local residents with solid knowledge of the team and football in general, which won't justify the experience if you have to babysit a wasted or heat-sick neighbor but typically will add to the experience.
The campus has continued to expand outwards rather than upwards as the University has grown, as there's not a whole lot of urban development to impede the crawl. This results in some decently long walks from parking locations, but one should only complain after the jaunt, as by the end it's likely that the scenery and/or weather will have won you over.
Coming from Atlanta, there are a couple choices: Highway 78 or 316. Both are going to be crowded on a gameday, especially one of consequence, but are not impassable. Various routes that allow circumvention of the direct approach open up as you near, thankfully; Route 10, or "the Loop," can take you to really any side of the town, where you're sure to find parking.
And as for facilities once you get inside, navigation is not difficult with a myriad of clearly marked entry/exit gates, spacious stair- and walkways, and numerous bathrooms. No, they aren't exactly clean, but what did you expect? They could be a lot worse.
I can admit that here is where the reader should be a touch wary of my favoritism. This score might be lower for a visitor from another SEC school who would have his own preferences, but I can tell you this: Not more than one point would come off this perfect nickel, regardless of the judge.
As a prospective student, I remember sitting with my father in the land of single-game ticket purchasers and thoroughly enjoying the game in the comfort of shade and seating, allowing me to objectively rate the experience and correctly gauge the general attitude of my future home.
As a scrawny ne'er-do-well (read: college student), I remember losing my voice within one quarter of the "Blackout" game against Auburn in 2007, yet continuing to scream as chills went down my spine with each hit.
And as an alum, I can relax again, perhaps with friends or family, and recall a fond past while simultaneously enjoying the present. Some things will never change, like the feeling I get when The Who's "Teenage Wasteland" comes screaming over the PA pre-game.
One for Larry Munson, the best sports radio broadcaster I've ever heard, and that's selling him way short. He made the press box his second home for an incredible 42 years, and when he retired, it was like somebody "just stepped on [my] face with a hob-nailed boot." I could put a collection of his calls on my iPod and jam out all day.
One more for how well each physical expansion of the stadium has managed to maintain the overall aesthetic and feel of the place. Normally, tripling capacity over this length of time would result in a hideous hodgepodge of materials and endless mazes of corridors on the way to one's seat, but on the whole, Sanford has avoided such a fate with careful planning on the architects' parts.
And a third for our line of mascots, the eight Ugas, all pure-bred English bulldogs. I can admit, before becoming a Dawg myself, I did not think this particular kind of canine was all that attractive. Surprising how a person's tastes can change; the newest of the Seiler family's beasts, Uga VIII aka "Big Bad Bruce," is perhaps the best-looking animal I've ever laid eyes on.
Ample nightlife in downtown Athens
Hedges, Uga mascots, and tailgaiting to boot
Parking lot-like drive in and out from Atlanta on game days
Better atmosphere than Neyland and Williams-Brice and similar to Jordan-Hare and Clemson's Death Valley. I have not been to Bryant Denny or Tiger Stadium (LSU) so I can't compare...even though admittedly they are most likely better.
Would give much better review if the food was worth ANYTHING! Possibly the worst food I have every experienced. High priced, poor quality, lack of variety, lines too long, sellers are rude, underage workers,...I could go on and on and on..
Not a positive fan experience.
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Athens, GA 30601
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