One of the primary pleasures of life on this planet returns Saturday.
I mean, take a beautiful campus located in one of the coolest cities around, fill it with well-fed and lubricated folks cheering on their favorite college football team, and you’ve got game day in Athens.
Many of you are old hands at this and have your UGA home-game routine down to a fine art, from where you park to what you eat to when you arrive at your seats. But maybe you’ve got tickets for Georgia-South Carolina on Saturday and you haven’t been to a game at Sanford Stadium before, or perhaps not in a long time.
What can you expect as you and more than 92,000 others prepare to enjoy an evening Between the Hedges? Here’s a brief overview we call UGA Game Day 101. …
Maybe all roads don’t lead to Athens, but a lot of them do, so you don’t have to sit in congestion on Ga. 316 if you’re making the trip from metro Atlanta. You can take I-20 East to Conyers, then Ga. 38 to U.S. 78 (where you can still get on 316 if you wish). If you’re partial to I-85, you can take it to 316 or go all the way to Jefferson and then take U.S. 129 into Athens. Or you can just take U.S. 78 all the way into Athens, which is the route I’m partial to. From Augusta, most folks take I-20 West and exit on U.S. 78 North. And from Greenville, take I-85 South to Ga. 106 to Athens. Once you get into Athens, there are a lot of signs directing you to UGA. Best advice: Get there early so you can avoid the tie-ups and enjoy the town and campus a bit.
This is the one aspect of game day in Athens that isn’t heavenly. Many of the parking lots surrounding Sanford Stadium are available only to folks who’ve given a ton of money to the athletic association. If you’re not one of them, there is a limited amount of public parking near the stadium which is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Most of it is on East Campus, surrounding the Ramsey Center off College Station Road. East Campus offers multiple decks and surface parking. Once that’s full, overflow parking is located at the Intramural Fields, off College Station Road, where you can park until three hours after the game ends. (After that, you get towed.)
UGA also has a number of parking decks on both the North and South campuses where you can pay to park. Keep in mind, though, that no grills or other flammable devices are allowed in or on top of the decks. And, frankly, concrete parking decks aren’t very good places to tailgate anyway.
It used to be you could park on sidewalks, on city streets in neighborhoods immediately surrounding the campus and anyplace on campus you might be able to squeeze your vehicle into, but no more (except some sidewalk parking is allowed on the south side of Carlton Street from Sanford Drive to East Campus Road). Don’t park on campus unless it’s in a lot, or you’ll get towed. And the same goes for those neighborhood streets where the city police put up “no parking” signs early Saturday morning. Of course, game-day parking isn’t forbidden on all city streets, so if you don’t see a no-parking sign, you’re safe.
A lot of churches and schools in the vicinity of campus also offer parking, generally for anywhere from $10 to $20, depending on how close in they are. And there are commercial tailgate/parking lots as well.
One thing all the lots have in common: Only one parking space per vehicle. You’re not allowed to take up parking spaces with your chairs and tables.
Designated areas are provided for RV’s and large trailers. More information is available on the Gameday Gameplan site.
UGA’s campus transit system provides free shuttle service on game days from the East Campus Parking Deck/Ramsey Center area and from the Intramural Fields if they’re needed for parking. The shuttle buses run for 5½ hours before the scheduled game time and will drop fans off at Gate 6 of Sanford Stadium until 15 minutes after kickoff. (The gates to Sanford Stadium do not open until two hours prior to the scheduled kickoff.) Return shuttle service runs continuously for two hours after the game ends.
A lot of longtime tailgaters still grumble mightily about this rule instituted in the past five years, but no tailgating setups are allowed on campus before 7 a.m. on Saturday.
Tailgaters who want to watch television or use anything else requiring electricity must provide their own power source.
The most heavily used area for tailgating is on North Campus between the Arch and the UGA Library. Spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis, though a small area near the Administration Building is set aside as a alcohol-free “family friendly” area. (It used to be a much larger area and another one was provided on South Campus, but there wasn’t much demand and so the area was reduced.)
Deep fryers and low country boils are not permitted on campus because they’re considered dangerous.
Portable toilets are provided around the campus on game days. In addition, permanent restrooms are available at five buildings on campus: Boyd Graduate Studies Building, the Tate Center, the Student Learning Center and Joe Frank Harris Commons.
If you don’t want to tailgate, UGA has a variety of on-campus dining options, and there are lots of restaurants near the campus eager for your business.
Be aware: Consumption of alcohol is allowed on campus on game days (except in the family area) but if you wander off onto city streets, you’re liable to get busted by Athens’ finest for violation of the Athens-Clarke County ordinance banning open containers of alcoholic beverages.
If you’re tailgating, bring trash bags. Hundreds of garbage bins are also supplied all over campus, but there are still jerks who think nothing of leaving piles of trash behind after the game. Don’t be one of them.
With the Redcoat Band getting everyone revved up with school fight songs, the team enters the stadium about two hours before game time (or at about 5 p.m. this week) by walking through the Tate Center parking lot with fans gathered on either side (and on the Sanford Drive bridge above). If you’re not already pumped up at this point, the Dawg Walk surely will do it for you. Coach Mark Richt finds he gets so ramped up that he generally only participates in the walk about once a season.
The nearby Tate Plaza is a lively place to hang out before the game, with various student groups manning tables where they push their various interests and street preachers more than willing to tell you why you’re headed for damnation. The UGA Bookstore is open and provides just about anything a follower of the Red and Black could want. And outside it there’s usually a tent set up with hotdogs, hamburgers and such. Eating before you enter the stadium is recommended, as the lines are long and the prices high inside Sanford.
Everyone must have a ticket, regardless of age. No re-entry is permitted at any gate.
Ticket scalping is not allowed on campus but you’ll see plenty of folks offering tickets in the vicinity. As with any event, the closer you wait to kickoff, the better the price is likely to be.
If you don’t have a ticket, can’t find one at the right price and still want to hang out in the vicinity of the stadium, you can watch the game for free on video screens in the Tate Center, adjacent to Sanford.
The entire stadium has been declared smoke/tobacco-free. There’s also a long list of items you’re not allowed to carry in, which range from umbrellas to horns or other noisemakers, alcoholic beverages, food and drink, bottles of any sort, ice chests and large bags over 7.5” wide and 13” long. Still cameras are allowed inside the stadium; video cameras are not. You can check out all the stadium policies here.
Game programs are sold by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for $5. Souvenir and food and drink booths and stands are located all around the stadium.
And here’s a plea on behalf of stadium regulars: Don’t wait until the last minute or until after the game starts before heading to your seats. And if you’re thinking of taking a very young child or an infant, the best advice is: Don’t. They won’t enjoy it, which means you won’t enjoy it and neither will the folks sitting around you.
Oh, and if you need to use a restroom, try to avoid going in natural breaks in the action such as between quarters or at halftime unless you want to stand in a very long line. Especially for the women’s restrooms.
AFTER THE GAME
While the traffic trickles into Athens starting early on a Saturday (getting more congested as game time approaches), it’s just one giant mess after the game as most folks try to leave at the same time. If you can, hang around the stadium until the Redcoats are finished with their postgame concert. If you’re tailgating, you might want to wait out the worst of it by enjoying another chicken leg (watch the drinking, though, as you’ll soon be out on those city streets).
UGA’s postgame traffic plan tries to direct everyone leaving the East Campus area onto the Ga. 10 Loop. They make everyone go in the same direction, which isn’t necessarily where you want to go, but the Loop more or less circles Athens, so you can still get where you’re going eventually. Don’t try turning around in the median unless you want to pay a fine.
Lumpkin Street, the major traffic artery through the town and campus, backs up quite a bit going downtown and toward Five Points after a game. If you’re in a hurry to get out of town … well, unless you’re familiar with the side streets of Athens, you might as well forget getting out of town in a hurry.
Just resign yourself to the wait, tune in the postgame show on the radio and hopefully revel in another Dog victory!