Savoring favorite memories from 50 years at Stegeman Coliseum!

stegeman anniversaryThe 50th anniversary of the opening of UGA’s Stegeman Coliseum won’t take place until Feb. 22 next year. However, since the basketball Dogs are currently playing their 50th season in the venue, the commemoration already is under way at Georgiadogs.com, where fans are voting to select the top moment in the arena’s history.

For those of us who grew up in the Five Points area of Athens, attended David C. Barrow Elementary School across the street and watched the structure that many thought looked like a flying saucer being built starting in 1962, this is a big deal.

The history of the multi-purpose facility originally known as the Georgia Coliseum is so intertwined with my own family history that I take personal offense when I hear clueless fans badmouth the arena and claim that the Bulldogs will never have a top-notch basketball program as long as they’re playing in “the Stegesaurus.”

Frankly, I think many of the people who talk that way likely haven’t visited Stegeman in years, probably not since the athletic department shared it with the ag school for cattle shows and rodeos — certainly not since it underwent a $3.6 million refurbishment a couple of years ago after having had a beautiful $30 million adjoining state-of-the-art basketball and gymnastics training facility opened in 2007.

Besides, the size and age of the arena doesn’t determine a program’s success. Certainly not in gymnastics or women’s basketball — in both of which UGA has been a longtime power — and not even in the arena’s flagship sport, men’s basketball, where the Bulldogs continue to struggle. Duke University’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, which is 24 years older than Stegeman and has 1,200 fewer seats, certainly hasn’t kept the Blue Devils from having one of the nation’s most successful basketball programs.

As anyone who attended one of the big games a couple of seasons ago when Mark Fox had an NCAA tournament-worthy team can attest, when UGA puts a talented team on the court, the Steg rocks with a fervor that the Cameron Crazies would find familiar.

Tipoff of the very first game at what was then called the Georgia Coliseum. (University of Georgia)

Tipoff of the very first game at what was then called the Georgia Coliseum. (University of Georgia)

But even with the Bulldogs’ intermittent success in men’s basketball, the past five decades have seen a lot of memorable moments, starting with that Feb. 22, 1964, dedicatory game when Red Lawson’s outmanned Bulldogs upset Georgia Tech 86-51.

That first game set an all-time attendance record because they let 13,200 people in even though the original seating capacity was 11,400 (now 10,523). Because of the building’s unique design — it’s actually two structures, the striking parabolic roof and the separate coliseum itself — my friend Dan Pelletier remembers one of his father’s colleagues in the UGA chemistry department who was a huge sports fan but nevertheless announced he was going to wait a few games and let the roof of the Coliseum “settle” before he attended. “He had grave doubts that the roof would hold up,” said Dan, who did go to that first game and remembers Coach Lawson played “an iron five” (no substitutes).

For families during my childhood the popularity of attending UGA basketball games really took off in the late ’60s when Ken Rosemond was coach and the Dogs had their first “big” man, 6-foot-11 Bronx native Bob Lienhard, who’s still Georgia’s career leader in rebounds. After 17 losing seasons, the Lienhard years saw the Dogs notch three consecutive winning campaigns.

My wife Leslie remembers that’s when her father started taking the family to games, driving over to Athens from Elberton and eating pizza afterward at Gigi’s on Baxter Street. And that’s when I started regularly going as well. As a teenager I was working part-time sports rewrite at the old Athens Daily News and they used to give me free passes to sit at the courtside press table. What a thrill!

Pete Maravich gave probably the greatest single performance at the Coliseum. (Associated Press)

Pete Maravich gave probably the greatest single performance at the Coliseum. (Associated Press)

Ironically, one of the greatest moments in Stegeman history, which came during the Lienhard era, involves a Georgia loss. On March 8, 1969, the Coliseum was packed for a sold-out game between Georgia and LSU that’s one of my friend Owen Scott’s favorite memories. The Tigers were led by Pete Maravich, who had one of his most impressive games, scoring 58 points. The Dogs led by 15 at one point in the second half but LSU roared back and the game went into double-overtime. In the end “the Pistol” proved too much, scoring 11 of the Tigers’ 12 points in the final overtime as LSU won 90-80.

But what folks who were there will never forget was the way it ended, as Maravich conducted a virtuoso dribbling display, putting the ball behind his back and between his legs as he kept it away from the Bulldog defenders. Then, finally, the superstar in floppy socks let go a ridiculous 35-foot hook shot that swished through the net as time expired. The Georgia crowd, appreciating what may have been the single greatest individual performance in an SEC game ever, swarmed onto the floor to congratulate him!

Georgia basketball went through some more lean years, including during my time at UGA in the 1970s, before Hugh Durham made it respectable again in the early 1980s, culminating in Georgia’s only Final Four appearance in 1983. (I always loved the way the student section shouted “HUGH!” when the coach was introduced at games.)

That tournament success ironically came without the era’s dominant Georgia player, Dominique Wilkins, who left school early to become an NBA legend. My brother Tim still has fond memories of “watching Dominique slamming 360-degree dunks” and seeing the Dogs play against another LSU star, Shaquille O’Neal. “He couldn’t hit free throws then, either,” Tim recalls.

Dominique Wilkins first unveiled "the human highlight reel" at UGA's Coliseum. (University of Georgia)

Dominique Wilkins first unveiled "the human highlight reel" at UGA's Coliseum. (University of Georgia)

A few years after that, my friend Steve Short fondly remembers the victory over LSU in 1990 “when Neville Austin (who couldn’t hit the side of a barn!) made a free throw to break a tie and help us win 86-85. What a wild game. LSU led 47-36 at halftime and the lead grew in the second half before the Dogs came back. When we held on to win, the crowd went nuts! That helped us en route to the SEC title. The crowd was absolutely awesome.”

Another favorite Stegeman memory of Steve’s is the 74-68 win over Kentucky in 2004, when Tubby Smith was coach and the arena was nicknamed the Tub. “We had beaten them in Lexington earlier,” Steve recalled, “and a sweep of the Wildcats is rather rare as you know.”

Another of Steve’s cherished Stegeman moments is a 78-51 win by Andy Landers’ Lady Dogs over Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols in the sold-out, nationally televised MLK holiday game on Jan. 17, 2000. Georgia, led by Deanna Nolan and featuring twin stars Coco and Kelly Miller, jumped on Tennessee early and never let up. “Summit called timeout after timeout, but nothing worked,” Steve remembers. “I loved every minute of it.”

The Lady Dogs' Coco Miller and Kelly Miller thrilled crowds at the Steg. (Associated Press)

The Lady Dogs' Coco Miller and Kelly Miller thrilled crowds at the Steg. (Associated Press)

To bring it into the next generation, my son Bill was a UGA freshman and one of the hundreds of students who rushed the court three times in early 2004 as Dennis Felton’s Dogs staged three major upsets, beating third-ranked and previously undefeated Georgia Tech in overtime, defeating Kentucky and topping Florida “in a rowdy Tuesday night game with a large student crowd due to the late start time on a weeknight.” The Gators felt so threatened by the flood of red and black onto the floor that the conference subsequently outlawed fans from taking the court after a game.

Bill also has fond memories of “seeing the gymnastics team win a bunch there, including beating Florida in front of a packed house in 2009 in an example of a team that always showed up for a big meet.”

Karin Lichey scoring four perfect 10s was a definite Stegeman Coliseum highlight. (University of Georgia)

Karin Lichey scoring four perfect 10s was a definite Stegeman Coliseum highlight. (University of Georgia)

The Gym Dogs also provided my brother Jon with his two favorite Stegeman Coliseum memories: a meet against Kentucky in 1996 in which Georgia’s Karin Lichey scored a perfect 40 — a 10.0 score on all four events — in the only time that’s ever happened in NCAA history; and Suzanne Yoculan’s 2008 team taking the fourth of its five consecutive NCAA national championships, this one particularly sweet because it was won on the Gym Dogs’ home floor.

There are many other high points in Stegeman’s history, of course, including serving as a venue during the 1996 Olympics. Having started a couple of months back with a list of 50 top moments — in men’s and women’s basketball and gymnastics as well as memorable nonsports events — the Georgiadogs.com voting is down to a bracket of 16 events, including some of the memories cited above.

Ironically, though, in talking with friends who, like me, grew up in and around the Coliseum, some of our most vivid and favorite moments there have nothing to do with sporting events and involve forays on the roof, lessons in the parking lot and a mix of rock ‘n’ roll and pomp and circumstance. I’ll cover some some of those memories in the upcoming second part of my salute to Stegeman.

In the meantime, check out the original Top 50 events listing here and vote in the bracket here. And feel free to share your own favorite memories of the Steg’s first 50 years!

(Special thanks to Claude Felton of the UGA Athletic Association.)

Got something you want to discuss about UGA athletics? Got a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? If so, send it to junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

44 comments Add your comment

old dog

January 18th, 2013
10:18 am

Bill,
I remember when Hugh durham came in. We were allowed ON THE FLOOR where we (quite frankly) often harrassed the other team. I was at UGA the first game ‘Nique played in, and only (even before that when Guthrie was the coach) only missed one game my entire time at UGA. It started when I was a ‘pup living in Myers and we would walk to the roundball games….Curtis “Stickman” Jackson, Walter Daniels, etc. I was hooked. I remember ‘Niques behind the head dunk on ‘Bama. I remember Eric “Skydog” Marburry stealing the ball and slamming on Tech. (I also remember Sammy Drummond for Tech grabbing a rebound for Tech in mid-air and slamming back in right after that.) Good times, man!

zzggyy

January 18th, 2013
10:28 am

I witnessed 2 historic basketball games during my time as a student at UGA. The first was the 2/22/64 inaugural game against Tech.

Another that certainly deserved to be mentioned in your blog was the game against Arkansas A&M on December 6, 1967 in which UGA defeated A&M by the score of 138 to 91. Several records from that game still stand & one will never be broken. I believe the 138 is still the most points scored by the ‘Dawgs in a game & the combined 229 points still stands as the Stegeman record.

The record that will never be broken: A&M had a black player on the team. He did not start, but definitely saw playing time. You may want to check it out, but I believe it was the first time a black athlete had ever participated in an intercollegiate contest at the University of Georgia. The crowd booed each time he entered then game. How times have changed.

Really?

January 18th, 2013
10:38 am

All credibility was lost when you compared the Steg to Cameron Indoor. That’s just silly talk.

phantom

January 18th, 2013
11:23 am

Micah is still the Chief!

DogGone

January 18th, 2013
12:41 pm

Actual Notable Milestones at Stegeman Coliseum:

1. Doobie Brothers Concert.

2. Registration, Fall 1972.

3. Former SGA President Steve Patrick’s Graduation.

4. Dolly Parton Concert (she knew what we were looking at).

5. Cyrus Vance Announces the Carter Doctrine on Law Day.

AltamahaDawg

January 18th, 2013
2:38 pm

Was in that absolutely awesome crowd in 1990. Long since graduated but a buddy of mine had tickets to the Hawks (starring quess who) that weekend so we made a double header out of it.
I remember being way down at halftime but for some reason there was still a sense of confidence that we would win. Kessler had a big game, and got Shaq to foul out.

as far as oldest memories, that was during my time as a student in the early 80’s. I always thought it (sitting in Stegman) gave a person, more of a feeling of being a student at the University of Georgia, than it did at Sanford. Football games were on such a different scale. But BBall games seemed more like it was “us”.

AltamahaDawg

January 18th, 2013
2:50 pm

You GOT to love a time in your life when your big burdens were walking from your dorm to the coliseum.

(BTW Bill, do they still refer to it as: The Coliseum, these days? I don’t really remember it being refered to as Stegman much back then.)

Owen Scott, III

January 18th, 2013
2:58 pm

The Dawgs gave LSU a great fight before Pistol Pete finally put the game away almost single-handedly. I saw numerous games back in the early days, even though the Dawgs were often outclassed by higher powered visitors. I still enjoy attending when I’m visiting Athens and our old pal Roy Bell has a spare ticket.

AltamahaDawg

January 18th, 2013
2:59 pm

I suppose that it not getting renamed Stegman till a decade AFTER “back then”, probably accounts for that.

AltamahaDawg

January 18th, 2013
3:01 pm

Stegeman. Sorry bout that, Herman.

Bill King

January 18th, 2013
3:05 pm

Altamaha:

I believe it’s generally called Stegeman or the Steg now. Yeah, in my day we just called it the Coliseum.

AltamahaDawg

January 18th, 2013
3:08 pm

Anybody remember Troy Hitchcock? A fan favorite (in slop time) during the great run of 83′.

hmmm

January 18th, 2013
3:28 pm

did jake scott really ride a motorcycle on its roof? folk lore to the max?
didn’t lynard skynard play there?

AltamahaDawg

January 18th, 2013
3:30 pm

Who remembers Troy Hitchcock? Fan favorite during the 83′ run.

Fidlin1

January 18th, 2013
8:15 pm

Lots of sporting events, but also a lot of musical memories. Billy Joel, Steppinwolf, Joni Mitchell, Leo Kottke, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap,. But my favorite was Steve Martin opening for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Talking about getting small, playing banjo, all with an arrow stuck thru his head.

Bill King

January 18th, 2013
10:00 pm

Yeah, I’m going to deal with all the nonsports memories, including the concerts, in Part 2.

James Scott

January 18th, 2013
11:17 pm

Curious that no one mentions the legend of the mystery man that rode his motorcycle over the Coliseum (!)

ala dawg

January 19th, 2013
1:00 am

to_{ REALLY if you dont know what you are talking about dont make stupid comments about bill’s credibility he is right about stegeman and cameron the diff is duke draws fullhouses

Cuz

January 19th, 2013
4:54 am

Riding up the arches on a motorcycle before they put the battlements to keep us from doing itl Cool view.

Deellen

January 19th, 2013
7:51 am

Great sports memories and great ag memories … what about concert memories? For example when Elton John first played, Greg Allman walked on stage with his guitar and the crowd went nuts! (early ’70s), Jethro Tull, Joni Mitchell etc.

Deellen

January 19th, 2013
7:52 am

Sorry, Fidlin1 , just saw your entry! p.s. Steve Martin “played” the Last Resort, too.

Brunns

January 19th, 2013
8:03 am

A few comments about UGA:

1. Four different SEC teams have won the last seven BCS championships.

2. UGA was NOT one of those teams.

3. During that period, UGA did not even win an SEC championship.

4. Red panties and Damon Evans.

5. 87% of UGA football recruits would not be admitted to UGA based only on grades and SAT scores. These clowns are called “Special Admits.”

In other words, UGA has sunk into total irrelevancy both regionally and nationally.

So why is UGA still paying Mark Richt millions of dollars a year?

Alan Powell

January 19th, 2013
8:46 am

You are overlooking the most famous happening at that arena.

Jake Scott riding a motorcycle over the building has to be number one in it’s history.

Fidlin1

January 19th, 2013
9:05 am

Thanks Bill, look forward to the concert issue. Great memories Deellen.

Bill King

January 19th, 2013
10:08 am

Alan Powell:

Nope, not overlooking Jake. You’re just jumping the gun. This part was just focused on sports highlights. Second installment covers all the other stuff. And Jake wasn’t the only daredevil when it came to the Coliseum roof. Stay tuned!

Bill King

January 19th, 2013
10:10 am

Brunns:

Yawn, you need some new material.

Bill King

January 19th, 2013
10:11 am

Deellen:

You should enjoy the second part of my Stegeman anniversary memories. Elton, Allmans and much more.

Bill King

January 19th, 2013
10:12 am

James Scott:

Check out the second part of the Stegeman story, coming soon.

Proud Athenian

January 19th, 2013
12:11 pm

Great topic. As a fellow Athenian, am REALLLY looking forward to some photos. How about the same for Stegeman Pool and the ceiling-high diving platform? The old Y with the warped basketball floor? 5 Points and the old man that threw berries at us? Kim Basinger at the Elks Club?

Dirty Dawg

January 19th, 2013
4:07 pm

I too resent those that simply have a knee-jerk, negative, reaction to Stegeman. Haven’t been to it since the renovation, but the look of it is as up-to-date, as attractive, as many of the latest architectural designs you’ll see. Seems to me that Jerry Jones new football edifice has a similar look to the entrances. I was in school when the thing was built, and was, as were we all, of the stories that there was something wrong with the concrete – probably a Tech Troll spreading rumors even back then – so much so that I too stayed away from the place until it had been filled up a couple of times…and for most of the times would seek out seats near the top, figuring that when those triangle-shaped, concrete, blocks that make up the roof started falling, those at the top would be the last ones and wouldn’t have fallen as far.

Graduated in that building, saw Georgia beat Kentucky and Bill Cosby do Noah, Lil’ Tiny Hairs and all the rest…I love the place.

Bill King

January 19th, 2013
6:08 pm

Dirty Dawg:
I think maybe the futuristic look and the unusual design, with those soaring arches, caught some folks by surprise back in 1964 and might have been behind any worries about the roof’s stability.

Hunkering Hank

January 19th, 2013
10:04 pm

My dad was on that first team to play in Stegeman. I think it was probably his favorite game as a DAWG. GO DAWGS AND GO DAD!

dawgdmd

January 21st, 2013
4:33 pm

Was at the 90 game against LSU. Had to stand in line that morning for tickets. It was cold. My room mate and I got two for us and two for our other room mates. My other room mates sold theirs. They missed a great game against Shaquille ONeal and the tigers.

Fridawg

January 21st, 2013
11:06 pm

Class of 2000 here. We called it the “Tub” when I got there, then the “Jir-cuzzi” (after Ron Jirsa), then “Yoculand”. Other than that, we just called it Stegeman.

How has everyone overlooked buying student football tickets there? During my years, we camped out all night just to stand in a line for hours in the hot August sun waiting on the little old ladies to sell the student tickets. People would always be passing out from the heat and crowd, and I always seemed to miss the first day of class to get tickets. Fun times!

Fridawg

January 21st, 2013
11:08 pm

Oh… I also remember seeing Jon Stewart do stand up a short time before he was picked up for the Daily Show. The B-52’s were fun, and the annual rodeo was awesome too. Although it seemed like the cattle got loose most years and the streets would get shut down for a few hours.

old dog

January 22nd, 2013
9:06 am

Yep, ‘Skynard played the coliseum and I was there for that, too.(so they tell me..lol!)

Castle Pines Canine

January 22nd, 2013
9:42 am

Three dog night, Steppenwolf,Chicago,Ike andTina Turner, watching this Freshman from NC State named David Thompson, graduation. Wilkins, tailgating, everything in between

Buzz-off

January 22nd, 2013
8:02 pm

Bill,
I was there when Pistol Pete hit that hook shot from almost half court. Didn’t he launch the shot and run toward the locker room…..never looking back at the shot going through? I think he then returned to the court to receive an ovation from the crowd. Easily it was the most incredible display of talent in the history of college or pro basketball. I remember that he also dribbled non- stop for the final minute. He drove several times under the UGa basket and didn’t take the lay-up…just dribbled back out toward mid court. UGa players were literally diving through the air trying to foul him, but he was so fast that no one could put a hand on him. DANG…..that was incredible!!! By the way, I think the “Great Herbie” (White) shut Pete down in the first half….holding him to around 10 points before fouling out. Then Pete came back and scored 45-50 points in the 2nd half + OTs. P.S. I’m glad you wrote about that game because it was so insane that I thought it was a dream/nightmare!!! How many times have any readers of this blog seen an opponent get a standing ovation after beating your team? It is the only time I have ever heard of anything like that happening.

bladder

January 25th, 2013
12:38 pm

I would like to know if the motorcycle is an Urban Myth. It was legend when I got there in 70 and Dean Tate held court as Dean of Men. I believe the Allman Bros. played their 1st concert after Duane died. It was very poignant. Steppenwolf was cool. Hope they fixed the sound quality w/ the renovation but it is probably not fixable in that type building.

Bruce

January 25th, 2013
1:15 pm

I remember getting to see Bob Hope do a Homecoming show here while I was a student at UGA. It was great to see Bob Calling the Dawgs on stage at the end of his show.

steve

January 25th, 2013
1:21 pm

Had first date with my first wife for Joni Mitchell. Arrested for smoking glm during Jackson Browne. Thanks for the memories.

BallCoach

January 25th, 2013
2:02 pm

Do not forget the rodeo or the Gorbachev speech.

playmeortrademe

January 25th, 2013
2:08 pm

late 90s uga alum and Athens resident for a few years after. Saw the return of the Tech game to the Coliseum when the Dawgs blew out Tech and Star-bury with Tubby’s first team. Was there for the near upset of #1 UNC with Jirsa’s first team, and had great seats for UGAs 16 point second half comeback against highly ranked Tennessee in 2000 or 2001, one of the loudest crowds I have experienced in any venue. Got to see Cosby perform there. Very funny but also a little sad because his son was killed not long before that show, and the Coz seemed a little worn out.

Bill King

January 25th, 2013
7:54 pm

bladder:

Jake Scott confirmed the Coliseum roof motorcycle story to our Chip Towers a couple of years ago.