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Track people kept Bulldogs in the zone

POSTED: October 10, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Maybe what the University of Georgia Bulldogs ought to do to salvage their football season is tear down the seats in the east end zone.

The Bulldogs and Herschel Walker won the national championship in 1980, the last year the most rabid Georgia fans could gather on the railroad tracks at the east end of the field. After that, the new seats blocked the view of those who faithfully and fiercely watched from the tracks.

"Seats" around the tracks on the hill were free, and the fans were the most boisterous. Many would watch games there every Saturday, so they were disappointed when the 19,000 seats were added to that end of the stadium.

Walt Snelling of Gainesville, although a Georgia Tech fan, remembers watching games from the railroad. "It was a lot of people and a lot of fun," he said.

Bradley Lawson of Gainesville spent a few games on the tracks, too, having to get out of the way when a train came by. But he remembers also school students being able to go to the top of the hill on the south side of the stadium and buy tickets for $2. And he recalls sliding down the grass banks around the stadium on flattened cardboard boxes.

Back to the railroad tracks, one story is that some "track people," as they were called, would throw their empty beer cans at the opponents' fans as they walked on the street to the stadium.

One yarn that made the rounds was about legendary Bulldog defensive coach Erk Russell trying to inspire his players in the last game that would be played in front of what he called "The Railroad Track Crowd."

"These are my people because they love the Dogs almost as much as I do," he is said to have told them. "Oh, I know they do some crazy things, like turn over our opponent's buses ... and now and then they throw one another down the bank and into the street below. But they stamp out kudzu, and they pull for us to win. ...

"If you can get off the bus to cheers of The Railroad Track Crowd and walk down those steps to the dressing room and not be inspired to play football as best you possibly can, something important is missing beneath the Georgia jersey you wear ... "

Another legend is that one fan with an affinity for alcoholic beverages had been watching games from the tracks longer than anybody. Finally, the Dawgs won the national championship, but this fan's celebration was subdued because he knew the prime seating, or standing, along the railroad tracks would be no more.

Friends were so concerned about his mental state that they collected money to buy him season tickets for the next year.

The fan refused the tickets, and later that year was found dead on the railroad tracks behind the new stadium seats, which by now blocked the view of the field.

You can decide for yourself whether any of that is true. But it makes for good Dawg lore and revives memories of when Georgia football really was on top of its game.

Georgia won that first game without the track people, beating Tennessee 44-0, part of a home-winning streak that continued for 24 games.

A few seasons later, the Vince Dooley era ended, and Georgia has had some up-and-down years since, although there have been some SEC championships, bowl wins and high finishes in the national rankings.

Fans would like to get back to those days of 10- and 11-win seasons, and some probably pine for the times when they didn't have to pay $50 for a ticket and see a game just as well for free from high on the railroad tracks.

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The first University of Georgia football game played in Sanford Stadium was in October 1929. The stadium is named after S.V. Stanford, longtime university educator and chancellor of the University System. The Bulldogs upset Yale 15-0 in the inaugural game.

Benny Rothstein and Tom Paris Sr. played for the Bulldogs that year. Both Rothstein and Paris had been stars on Gainesville High School's first undefeated team in 1923 and unbeaten powerhouse teams in 1924-25.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

 



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