It’s time again for the Georgia Bulldogs to step outside of their friendly confines Between the Hedges and explore hostile territory.
And once again, that territory is going to be bathed in Orange. The Dawgs are making their way north to Knoxville, Tennessee, where the Volunteers are waiting.
I’ve been to Knoxville a few times before, including the “Hobnail Boot” game back in 2001.
The Redcoats aren’t going to Tennessee (only a pep band–which I am not a member of–will be making the trip), something they haven’t done since 2009. I’ll be there in regular UGA civilian attire.
Overall I enjoy the gameday experience in Knoxville compared to a lot of other venues I’ve sampled, but where does it stack up against the rest? Let’s have a look!
(NOTE: This are in order from best to worst.)
1) Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, AL: I’ve only been the Crimson Tide’s stadium once in my life, and it is definitely in my Top 10 favorite games. I went in 2007. College Gameday was on hand for the late kickoff. Georgia really dominated most of the game, but Alabama mounted a late drive to tie it at 20-20. The Bulldogs moved right back into field goal range, but the normally sure-footed Brandon Coutu’s kick was wide. The game went to overtime. The Tide got the ball first, and couldn’t muster a first down. They kicked a field goal to grab their first lead of the day 23-20. The very next play, it was over. Sophomore quarterback Matt Stafford connected with Mikey Henderson for the 25-yard walk-off winner 26-23. My brother and I were sitting in a section full of Alabama fans, and we could not have been treated more courteously. We chatted with the alums around us during the game about how much we hate Auburn, and they all smiled an congratulated us on a great game as we exited the stadium. More fans would do that along the way back to car, too. I’ve never seen such gracious fans in defeat before or since.
2) Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, Jacksonville, FL: If you’ve never experienced a Georgia-Florida game, then you need to ink it onto your bucket list right away. It’s a mid-season bowl game in terms of how intense the atmosphere is. My very first Cocktail Party was back in that magical 2007 season. Stafford and Knowshon Moreno ended a two-game losing streak to Urban Meyer’s Gators in the infamous Endzone Celebration game. I went again in 2008 (though I try to forget), and have been with the band in 2010-2012. It is one of the most enjoyable atmospheres in all of college football (even if you have to walk past jorts-wearing Florida fans).
3) Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, TN: This game is always a family affair in my household. I have relatives that are UT grads, and we often meet up when the Dawgs and Vols play each other. Generally speaking, I’ve had pleasant experiences in Neyland. I remember the pleasant “Wow! What a game!” exclamations the Tennessee fans offered to the Bulldog faithful back in 2001–similar the kind words the Tide fans said after that 2007 game. The students weren’t nearly as nice in 2009 or 2011 to me, but I can write that off as…well, college students being college students. And the seats are way too small, even for 5’10” 160 lb. me. Still, if you want to see an intense gameday atmosphere with some fantastic tailgating, then look no further. The Vols know how to do it right.
4) Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL: The first time I went to Auburn, I absolutely hated it, but that’s probably because I was bitter about the questionable play of Nick Fairley and sting I felt from a hard-fought loss. Now that I’ve been there one more time, I can say the stadium is actually a pretty cool place. It’s very Sanford-esque for Georgia fans, even lined with hedges. Seeing the eagle fly down from the top of the stadium down to the field is a neat spectacle. (That is, of course, is he doesn’t crash into a window.)
But still, Jordan-Hare fits right into the “college town” look. Great venue, and especially if Georgia wins!
5) Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC: This might be the loudest stadium I’ve ever been to. It’s a giant, steep block of concrete that holds in noise incredibly well. Clemson really packs a punch with its crowd noise, and their fans stay focused. The scene outside the stadium was pure pandemonium, with people seemingly packed in miles away from the stadium in rows of tailgate tents. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the Dawgs win, but the experience is something I’ll never forget. It’s as strong as any venue in the SEC (and more so than several).
6) Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN: I’ve only been to one Georgia-Vanderbilt game, and it was back in 2011. I’m going again this year, and I hope I don’t have another near-heart attack. Georgia barely escaped with a 33-28 win last time up there. And I have to say, their stadium is an interesting experience. For one, it’s substantially smaller than almost every other one I’ve been to (it seats just under 40,000). I’d say it’s like a college-sized high school stadium. Their fans were kind of annoying when I was up there, and they don’t really have much of a tailgating scene. They’re situated in a city, so there’s plenty of good restaurants and bars nearby where you can hang out, but overall it really didn’t feel like a college gameday experience. Maybe Athens spoils me, though.
7) Williams-Bryce Stadium, Columbia, SC: This is easily one of the worst places I’ve ever been as a fan. The stadium is old and rickety. It’s inconveniently located, and the fans were downright nasty both times I went. My girlfriend and I were harassed all the way back to the car after last year’s 35-7 debacle, and the Gamecock fans weren’t just good-naturedly smack-talking. Most of what they said…I can’t write in this publication. Maybe it’s different after a win (I’ve been twice, and Georgia has lost both times), but for now I’m content with never going back if I can help it.
8) Bobby-Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, GA: This place isn’t in last because of Georgia’s rivalry with Georgia Tech. It’s in last because I’ve never had a good experience here in my three trips–and all of them were Bulldog wins! In 2011, Larry Munson passed away in the week leading up to to the game. The Redcoats prepared a tribute, spelling out “Munson” and playing the Battle Hymn, his favorite song. The classy Tech students started a “To Hell with Georgia” chant in the middle of the song (1:55 in the video), and I’ve never been able to respect them after that.
And that’s not the only thing Tech does. I can remember back in 2009 (and maybe someone can confirm this still happens?), before I was in college, going to Atlanta for the game. I went to the restroom, and in the men’s urinals they have a picture of a bulldog with the caption “I’m a dog, p*** on me!” I was appalled. And I can’t even imagine what it must be like leaving that stadium with a loss. Fortunately, Mark Richt has never lost there, and it doesn’t look like he will any time soon, either.
Those are all the stadiums I’ve been to, save for bowl games and the Georgia Dome (Boise St. game, and SEC Championship). Obviously, nothing will ever beat out Sanford Stadium in my heart, but that’s not to say everywhere I’ve been is bad.
Maybe Neyland will move up by this time next week.