I’ve been thinking lately about how my game day routine in Athens has changed over the years and how it’s about to change again.
My wife used to accompany me to the games in our early years as UGA alums. Since my Dad was with C&S Bank in Athens and we could use their reserved parking lot downtown, we never really got into tailgating. With my Mom preparing lunch for everyone and a guaranteed parking spot, there wasn’t any need. We could be downtown in 10 minutes and then enjoy a leisurely stroll through beautiful North Campus, which wasn’t packed with tailgaters back in those days.
Tailgating finally became part of my game day routine when the bank lot went away and we started parking in various church lots along Lumpkin Street. By this time, my wife’s work schedule kept her from attending Saturday football games and so my son occupied the fold-up stadium seat next to me. Our tailgating was never very elaborate, though. No tent. No propane grill. No full bar (mostly just soft drinks in the cooler; I think occasionally one of my brothers brought a six-pack of beer). No bean-sack toss game. No satellite TV. We’d just pack fried chicken or sandwiches, and we used a tiny fold-up table for our drinks.
Back then my Dad was still going to games, and for a while both my brothers, Jon and Tim, would join us under the pecan trees as well. Eventually, though, they began tailgating closer to the stadium with some of Jon’s friends from the gymnastics program. (If you’ve ever seen the Gym Dogs dressed up for a game, you’d understand why.) And once my Dad got to be about 80, he found the trek to the stadium too much and opted to stay home and listen to Larry. That was sort of a sad rite of passage for us.
My son continued to sit with me much of the time even after he entered college (I think the protection from the sun and rain that the overhang offers us was more of an attraction than my company), but sometimes he chose to sit (stand, actually) with friends in the student section. On those occasions, my daughter Olivia has eagerly joined me at games.
So the past few years it’s been just my son or daughter and me, and we didn’t really want to bother with tailgating. I’d read the paper sitting under a shady tree in the morning at the church lot, listening to the Redcoats rehearse across the street at the Woodruff Practice Fields, while young Bill was still asleep. Then in late morning we’d meet up at the Waffle House in Five Points or at the nearby Five Points Deli. Simple, quick and no packing or cleanup.
The WH staff is friendly and efficient, which is a good thing since the place is usually packed with a mix of barely-awake college kids (a steady stream from fraternity and sorority row on nearby Milledge), townie regulars and those of us just in town for the game (usually including some fans of the visiting team). One time the governor and his aides came in and took a booth. (I took the opportunity to lobby for saving the Hope Scholarship.)
Usually while we’re there, Hairy Dog and the UGA cheerleaders pull up in a couple of pickups for their traditional stop at Coach Mike’s Corner in Hodgson’s Pharmacy across the street.
Depending on game time, we’ve then either headed straight to the stadium or gone back to the church parking lot, where sometimes I talk football with the folks who sit next to me at the stadium while my son goes off to visit various tailgate parties.
Occasionally I get to the Sanford Drive bridge in time for the Dawg Walk, but more often I arrive while the band is making its way into the stadium, doing the Redcoat Band Chant that brother Jon helped write back when he was a Redcoat. That really gets me into the game mindset.
One year, when my son was living in Reed Hall, right next to the stadium, we often watched TV in his room until it was time to make the 2-minute walk to our seats. The location was great, but let’s face it, a dorm room isn’t the most comfortable hangout. Once he started living off-campus, his apartments usually weren’t located within walking distance of the stadium.
This past year, though, was the best. I had the luxury of spending time at my son’s latest place, a strategically located house right around the corner from Foley Field, until it was time to head to the game. Air-conditioning and ESPN … now that’s the way to tailgate!
However, with my son now packing up for a move to D.C. next month after six years in Athens earning his undergrad and master’s degrees, my football Saturdays are going to have to change again.
(I half-jokingly asked him if his roommates would mind me hanging out with them at that great house even after he’s gone. The look he gave me was all the answer I needed. Still, I could just imagine their friends asking, “Who’s the old guy in the front room?” “That’s Bill’s Dad.” “Who’s Bill?”)
I’m already planning ahead for when my daughter gets to UGA and figuring how I can get her into that house.
In the meantime, I think I’ll keep the Waffle House routine going instead of tailgating. I don’t know yet how many games my son will make it down from Washington for, but my daughter is ready and willing to take his place … assuming her mom doesn’t bigfoot her and reclaim the seat now that she’s no longer working Saturdays.
One thing’s for sure: I’ll continue to be in place at the stadium before the Dawgs gather at midfield for their pregame walk toward the East End Zone to the strains of the Redcoats playing the “Krypton Fanfare.”
It’s one of those goosebump moments that fandom is all about.
What’s your game-day routine?