Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.43
Sanford Stadium N Sanford Dr and Field St Athens, GA 30602
Year Opened: 1929 Capacity: 92,746
Vince Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium - University of Georgia Bulldogs
It is hard to beat the experience of football down south and “between the hedges” – for over 90 years, football on the University of Georgia campus has been played at the same location as the stadium has grown around it.
Football in the South takes on a whole different importance that makes the whole experience seem more of an event than just a Saturday football game.
Food & Beverage 4
Each weekend the Athens campus is transformed from an institution of higher learning to a campuswide tailgate party. Throughout the University of Georgia campus fans set up tailgating spreads from the basics to elaborate grill stations and mobile bars. With most tailgating, fans are more than eager to share their spread, or with the bigger tailgating set-ups a nominal donation to help offset the cost can easily get you a plate and a couple of drinks.
If tailgating is not what you’re looking for, pre-game dining options at the neighboring Tate Student Center are plentiful and provide fans with many options before the stadium opening.
When moving to the food inside of the stadium, it is a bit of a letdown; concession stands have many of the traditional burgers, hot dogs, sausages, BBQ sandwiches, and fries – they are fine but are just your run-of-the-mill concessions, with several grab-and-go stations scattered around the concourse to help the lines move quicker.
With the addition of a handful of specialty options in the stadium, it has helped to improve the overall food choices. Popular local Williamson Bros. Bar-B-Q is an upgrade from the regional chain used previously, or for a bit of lighter fare, Chicken Salad Chick offers fans various styles of chicken salad by the scoop, in a sandwich, or the Stadium Chick combo that includes the previous choices plus a side item. Of course, with it being Georgia, there is also Chick-fil-A.
As expected, Coke products are Sanford Stadium’s beverage of choice – it almost feels as if there might be laws that would make it illegal to sell anything else. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, though, these are available in the suite but are not around the rest of the stadium.
Saturdays between the hedges have a completely different feel than any typical college football experience; upon walking through the gates fans are met with a sea of red and black at every turn, from fan apparel to murals, to the stack of pom-poms piled on the hedges. Right away it is obvious, that red and black will be the theme of the day.
Sanford Stadium resembles a rather wide horseshoe that towers three levels above the field. The west end of the stadium remains open to the outside. Until the recent renovations, fans would line Gillis Bridge outside the stadium for a chance to catch a glimpse of the action at the far end of the field.
The excitement of the game day experience begins as the Red Coats, Georgia’s marching band, take the field for all the pregame festivities. Georgia fans are downright obsessive with the traditions of the school’s fight songs and heritage – the production team knows exactly how to get the Bulldog fans into game mode.
Clips of beloved play-by-play announcer Larry Munson are used as part of a pregame montage to prime the fans for excitement. Munson’s calls of “Run Lindsay Run”, his plea for the Georgia defense to “hunker down” for a pivotal stop, and the call of Georgia’s 2002 win over Tennessee when Larry exclaimed, “We just stepped on their face with a hob-nailed boot! We crushed their face!” are just a few of his famed calls included.
Georgia’s Red Coats do a great job throughout the game keeping the fans involved. The Red Coats along with the cheer squad lead the call and response pieces, chants, and fight songs. Everything comes together perfectly to beautifully complement the game; it is a near-perfect atmosphere of college football.
Sanford Stadium is one of the largest football stadiums in the country. Despite its size, there is not the feeling you are completely removed from the action. The atmosphere of the game, along with the large video board in the west end zone, helps keep those in the uppermost reaches of the stadium feeling as if they are part of the complete experience.
When choosing where to sit, as with many football stadiums there is not a lot of shade to be found. The enclosed end of the stadium, though, can have some difficult sun fields to contend with when it comes to late afternoon games. If possible, the southern bleachers will provide the most relief from the sun.
Athens, Georgia is everything one would expect in a college town – close enough to a major city in Atlanta, yet far enough away that the town itself provides enough for fans to fill their visit.
The Athens entertainment district, to the north of Sanford Stadium off Broad Street, is a manageable walk from the tailgating areas on the north side of campus. Downtown Athens provides fans with many restaurants and bars to catch games and grab a bite to eat for later Bulldog kick-offs or to make for a late night following an afternoon game.
Fans looking for craft breweries will not be disappointed; Creature Comforts, one of Georgia’s top breweries, is in the downtown area, while Terrapin Beer Company, one of the other top breweries in the state, has a taproom just on the outskirts of the city.
It is not only that there are many options to complement a visit to Sanford Stadium, but the pre -and post-game vibes on the streets of Athens let fans know that this is THE event to be at in town.
For those looking to stay the weekend in Athens, plan well in advance because hotel rooms go quickly. The prime location will be anything in the downtown area, in proximity to Broad or Clayton Streets – this will put you in the heart of the entertainment district and within a reasonable walk to Sanford Stadium.
With the number of shops, restaurants, and nightlife stops just steps from the Georgia campus, Athens is the quintessential college town and helps in creating a top-notch game day atmosphere.
College football season might kick off in September and run through early January, but in the state of Georgia, football season never ends. The bowl season is followed by signing season, spring football season, and the season there is not any football. Football is the undisputed king of Georgia, and this passion for the sport is definitely on display, with its statewide love of the University of Georgia football.
You would be hard-pressed to go anywhere in the state and not get a “Go Dawgs” from someone for simply wearing red. It is not just the passion for the current crop of “Damn Good Dawgs,” but an admiration for the history of Georgia football that endears the program to its fans.
It is this near obsession with the state of the Georgia football program that feeds the passion within Sanford Stadium each weekend. The ups-and-downs of every big play and every dropped pass can be felt with jubilation or disappointment no matter the situation; 3rd-and-5 needing a defensive stop against the Week 1 MAC opponent feels just as important as converting 3rd-and-15 in the 4th quarter against Tennessee.
The product on the field in recent years has been something to get excited about, but the ongoing and never waning passion of the Georgia fanbase does so much in creating one of the most spectacular college football experiences in the nation.
For most, a trip to Athens will be taken via State Highway 316, which is where much of the difficulty begins. A two-lane highway ushering close to 100,000 fans to the midsize city can get a bit congested, as it is probably the most direct route to Athens. UGA does suggest using US-129, US-29, US-441, SR15, or US-78 instead – though they might add a bit of distance to the trip, these approaches should save time in the long run.
Once in Athens, parking is spread around campus, but fans are at the mercy of game day traffic in Athens getting to parking areas. The best bet is to plan to arrive either the night before or almost ridiculously earlier than kickoff.
Fans start filing into Sanford Stadium following the team’s Dawgwalk, outside of the Tate Student Building. After stadium renovations for the 2023 season, the Gillis Bridge, on the western side of the stadium, is now one of the main entry points; renovations to the south side of the stadium have greatly improved the flow of fans. The concourse has also been divided into inner and outer pathways – the inner pathway has several restrooms and allows fans to easily get to their seats, while still providing a view of the field, while the outer pathway has more concession stands and some portlets.
As fans begin making their way around to the eastern side of the stadium, travel patterns and concessions lines start to intersect and make navigating the concourse more of a challenge; this is a common drawback around Sanford Stadium. The upper-level concourses are also rather narrow, and paired with the location of concession stands there, makes passage difficult.
Though it does not look as such, Sanford Stadium is a rather old football stadium, and older stadium walkways do tend to be crowded. The athletic department has started to remedy some of these issues, but there are still many areas that can be a challenge to get through.
Return on Investment 4
Determining the return on investment for the Georgia football experience can get a bit tricky. With Georgia football having the success they have had in recent years, coupled with the state’s undying passion for college football, tickets can get expensive. Even non-conference games run close to $100 when purchasing tickets off the secondary market, with tickets for the 2022 matchup between #1 Georgia and #2 Tennessee starting at just over $600 before fees. Needless to say, Georgia football tickets can get expensive quickly – given the Dawgs popularity most are left to the mercy of the secondary ticket market.
Despite the high prices on the secondary market, there are several opportunities to save. For example, campus parking starts at $20 but can quickly get expensive, so those looking to save on parking can park at the intramural field parking lot. This is a bit of a walk if you want to get to the stadium early, but a shuttle runs from that lot to Sanford Stadium starting 3.5 hours before the game, although it does not run during the game.
Another surprisingly affordable area is the concessions; prices are kept reasonable and will not feel like another fee piled upon an already expensive day. Despite expensive tickets, the overall experience does well to make you feel as if you’re getting what you paid for.
A tribute to “The First Five” is on display in the northern plaza area – monuments to Richard Appleby, Chuck Kinnebrew, Horace King, Clarence Pope, and Larry West recognize the first five Black scholarship football players in UGA history, circa 1971.
UGA might be the most beloved mascot in all of college football; now in the 11th generation, the white English Bulldog has been a staple on the Georgia sidelines since 1956.
The Fourth Quarter Light Show is downright impressive. To start the fourth quarter of night games, the stadium lights dim as 90,000+ fans turn on the flashlight in their phones and bob them up and down to the ‘Krypton Fanfare’, followed by ‘Hail Georgia’. As the music ends, it gives way to a hype video as the LED lights turn the whole stadium red.
Fans who might not have a ticket to the game, or just want to watch the game from the comforts of an air-conditioned environment, can watch from a pair of locations around Athens – the theater of the Tate Student Center and the iconic Georgia Theater both simulcast the game.
Much of the seating at Sanford Stadium is aluminum bleachers, so an afternoon on them can get a bit uncomfortable. There are padded seat backs that can be rented for the game, however, to make the afternoon a bit more comfortable.
The amount of tradition connected to University of Georgia football goes such a long way in making the game experience one of the best in the county; from the historic echoes of famed Bulldog play-by-play announcer Larry Munson used in the pregame montage to the traditions of the Red Coat Band, to the frenzied noise level created by fans, a Saturday at Sanford Stadium and throughout Athens is a bucket list event for any college football enthusiast.