By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Athens, Ga. – I was surrounded by an eerie silence. It was as if I could hear the history.
There I sat, in the South end zone of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium, 24 hours before Georgia’s conference matchup with Mississippi State. In one of the league’s biggest football cathedrals, a place usually filled with 92,000 screaming fans, I was all alone.
A guest of the Georgia athletic department Friday, we toured the campus as part of our “Life in the SEC” series
. We saw every nook and cranny of Athens, and as the afternoon came to close, we headed to the southern part of the school.
Having been to a few SEC universities, you start to familiarize yourself with a general idea of the landscape. Most places have a traditional feel, an open “quad” area that centralizes on the football facility. Georgia’s set up is unique, as Sanford Stadium is somewhat hidden. Considering it is one of the nation’s biggest football venues, this is an idea that doesn’t seem possible.
Yet I found myself in complete surprise as we headed down Sanford Drive. The stadium sneaks up on you, appearing on the horizon as if it didn’t belong there. Shaded by trees and an unusual curb, the home of the Georgia Bulldogs is nestled in the heart of campus, a place where the entire fan base can congregate on Saturdays.
I wasn’t expecting it. As Sanford Stadium appeared around the bend, it kind of took my breath away.
The sheer size jumps out at you, as you can picture its stands filled with 90,000 Bulldog patrons wearing red and black when the home team plays. The scoreboard, facing the road the stadium shares its name with, is a massive billboard, announcing the field’s name and reminding you of the current location.
Thanks to our wonderful tour guides (thanks Aimee and Jen), we got to experience Sanford Stadium even further. As we made our way into the stadium, it was a surreal experience.
SEC venues are more than just places to watch a game; they are the house of Saturday religion that families in the South swear by. These stadiums are the location of reunions, the gathering of generations, and a place where love of school trumps all.
But, at the very moment I walked through the gate, there wasn’t a soul to be found.
Our group, consisting of myself and three others, stood around observing the scene. We made our way through the galleys of Sanford, headed down to the field for a closer examination of Georgia’s crown jewel.
After a quick elevator ride and a brisk walk, there it was. Entering through the same tunnel the Bulldogs do on Saturday, you could see everything. The scoreboard was in front of me, UGA’s house to my right, the press box off in the distance to the left, and the home team’s end zone right smack in front of me.
We took a seat in a set of bleachers just inches from “the hedges”, as I peered out over the top of the famous foliage to take in the view. The remainder of my group continued their conversations, all the while as I stared in amazement.
When working in sports becomes your profession, you often forget exactly what it means to do what you do. Your “job” is what everyone else enjoys as their entertainment, and the moments you experience are memories that fans use to mark their lifetimes. We often forget that, because the more you “work” in these situations, the more the aura wears off. That’s a shame, because that special feeling we tend to forget is what the game is all about, the chance to witness something amazing when two teams collide.
All those thoughts ran through my mind, as I ignored repeated inquiries from my travelling partners. I couldn’t stop thinking how amazing this particular moment was. Sans my crew and a few other television workers, there was no one else around. The building, just a few hours from being the center of two Bulldog teams universe (Georgia and Mississippi State) was at rest, preparing itself for another Saturday in the fall.
Even though the field was empty, my mind’s vision of it was full. I peered out onto the grass, trying to picture the special moments I’d seen take place on this very patch of grass.
I tried to visualize what it was like in 2007, when Georgia’s first ever “Black Out” invigorated its team and fan base to a key win over Auburn. I gazed over at the Georgia sideline, thinking how cool it must have been to see the entire team doing the “Soulja Boy” dance as they defeated the rival Tigers.
I turned my eyes to the field, trying to pinpoint just where former running back Knowshown Moreno made the “leap”, famously jumping over an opposing player during a game. I pictured DJ Shockley escaping the pocket, David Greene throwing a deep ball, and tried to figure out how many different spots on the turf David Pollack threw down quarterbacks.
My mind went back further, realizing that greats such as Herschel Walker, Hines Ward and Champ Bailey played on this very field. The enormity of the moment overtook me, and all I could achieve was a humble silence while my eyes gazed over the stadium. I was honored to be there.
After I regained my composure and returned to the present, we got up and began to leave. My group pressed me, wanting to know what had just happened. How could I get so quiet at a point when they had so much to talk about?
“Words couldn’t do it justice,” I said, walking out of the very tunnel where my Georgia flashback began, “I just witnessed history.”