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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

The sights and sounds of game day in Athens, Georgia

Since returning to campus on Sunday, I’ve been asked several times about the game day festivities in Athens. How did they compare to Notre Dame’s? Were they as crazy as they appeared on TV? What is the vibe in Athens?

Well, I have bad news for Notre Dame fans — the Bulldogs may have us beat in that category. I know what you’re thinking: How can Notre Dame — the pinnacle of tradition among college football — get beat at its own game? That’s not to say that Georgia is unequivocally a better place for college football, but Irish fans could learn a thing or two from our opponents down South.

Playing “between the hedges” has cemented Sanford Stadium as a sort of lore within college football, up there with the Big House, Death Valley and the Coliseum. I can’t judge what the atmosphere was like when the Bulldogs took on Murray State earlier this month or what it will be like in a year when they host East Tennessee State University, but I can tell you that they were the loudest fans I’ve ever heard at a college football game — and I was at the 2012 Notre Dame-Oklahoma matchup which was pretty darn loud.

Let’s start with tailgating. This is one area where the dawgs definitely aren’t on top. While the sea of red and black was certainly imposing and looked like a perfectly respectable tailgating scene, it’s primarily set along a long road, Lumpkin Street — try and forget that name, I dare you — with some pretty significant hills. (Georgia is hilly, who would’ve thought?) I’ll take the central location of Joyce and Stadium lot any day over Lumpkin Street.

I also learned that Georgia fans enjoy embodying their mascot to extreme lengths. I personally wasn’t a big fan of the dog barking — perhaps because I was the victim of a group of fraternity brothers barking at my Notre Dame t-shirt early Saturday morning — but I have to admit, it’s effective. It’s so ridiculous sounding that you can’t help but take note.

The game day attire is also quite unique from what flies in South Bend. Being from Oklahoma where many of my high school friends slip on a dress and cowgirl boots to support the Sooners, I wasn’t particularly surprised by the outfits we saw on Saturday. However, I think it’s fair to say some Notre Dame fans might have been taken aback by the seemingly fanciness of the affair.

Now moving into the stadium. From what I’ve heard having talked to other people who attended the game, the concourse had some major issues. Personally, I had a perfectly fine experience finding the press box.

As I sat in the press box frantically trying to locate my notes, a spotlight found a lone trumpeter in the top right corner of the stands. While I sat on in confusion, there was a sense of honor and respect that swept over the stadium. The trumpeter played what I later learned were the first 14 notes of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” followed by a hype video. Add in the deafening boos of the Georgia faithful every time a Notre Dame player even dared to emerge from the tunnel during warmups and the message was delivered from the start: You’re in our house.

Throughout most of the game, the pure volume of Sanford Stadium was enough to place the Bulldogs in a league with some of the most elite college football fans. However, the real gem came at the close of the third quarter. A relatively new tradition, the fans lit up Sanford Stadium, bobbing their flashlight phones in tune to the Krypton fanfare. At a point when the game was at peak tensions, this seemed to reset things and fire up the Georgia sidelines. Need a reminder of this tradition? Just check out this video from 2017 when they did it to Notre Dame again … on the road.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d still take the Notre Dame experience over Georgia any Saturday. There are some things that flashy light shows can’t replace. But there’s something to be said for the pure, unadulterated passion these fans showed for a consistent four quarters. Hopefully, next year when Arkansas and Clemson pay us a visit we can show them we belong in the big leagues.