ATHENS — From 7-month-old Daniel Leuthner of the Samford community in Madison County to 86-year-old Curtis Bell of Dublin, Ga., thousands of Georgia football fans of all ages turned out Saturday at Sanford Stadium for the annual Picture Day ceremonies preceding the season.
Unlike previous seasons, however, Georgia will start the year as The Associated Press pre-season No. 1 pick. The prevailing word among Bulldog fans about the lofty ranking was awesome, followed by exclamation points.
"I think it is awesome!" exclaimed Cassie Maxwell of Athens, clutching a football signed by coach Mark Richt. She spent three hours in line to get Richt's signature on the football. It is a birthday present for her boyfriend.
What if she had failed to get the coveted Richt autograph?
"I would be in big trouble," she said.
"I think it is awesome,"! said Leney Byrd of Carrollton. He was carrying a 25-pound mirror cut in the shape of the official Bulldog mascot and painted red. His brother makes the mirrors, so Byrd was doing some marketing.
Chip Hamilton of Atlanta was there with his three sons, Zachary, 9, Jacob, 3, and Caleb, 2.
"We are very excited," he said, keeping an eye on Caleb, who was drawn to Hairy Dog, the costumed sideline mascot. "We have season tickets, tickets to the Georgia-Florida game and tickets to the Arizona State game. It's going to be fun to go out west."
John Rowell of Atlanta said he is glad Georgia is ranked No. 1.
"I just hope they finish the season No. 1," he said.
"Nobody is going to beat the Dogs this year," said Cassie Massey, a high school student from Macon.
Georgia fans filled the common areas underneath the upper decks at the stadium. The players were placed strategically around the stadium. The longest lines were for the quarterbacks and for the running backs. Despite the congestion, it was a high energy gathering.
Last in line for the running backs was Melissa Johnson of Jefferson. She was standing at section 118. The line streteched to section 110, where it started a queue for the popular running backs, headlined by Knowshow Moreno.
She was realistic that time might run out before she got to Moreno, but she is thrilled about the upcoming season.
"I am so excited," she said. "I was here in 1985, and I took it for granted and didn't pay attention like I should have. Now I can't get tickets.
Hugh Morgan of Athens arrived at 7:30 a.m. to get a pink ticket that would gain admission into the Richt line. Even seven and a half hours before the gates opened for picture day, Morgan was No. 120 in line.
Morgan was one of the few who expressed some trepidation about the season ahead.
"I think we have a hard road ahead of us," he said.
Rodney Yancey of Columbus said he was worried about how the media would treat Georgia as the season went on.
"The ESPN announcers don't like us, and by the end of the season we are going to be ranked far down the list," said Yancey.
Athenian Matt Lund was in the wide receiver line, so he could get Mohammad Massequoi's autograph on a newspaper published the day after Georgia's black-clad win over Auburn.
"The best thing I ever did was go to that game," he said.
Lund said he is not worried about Georgia s tough schedule.
"Everybody else in the Southeastern Conference has the same tough schedule," he said. "As far as injuries, the loss of Trenton Sturdivant is tough, but they have other players who can fill in. We don't rebuild. We reload.
"As far as being No. 1, if there is any team, any coach who can handle it, it is that coach standing over there."
Family members of the players are excited, but they are also realistic.
Frank Ros, captain of the 1980 national championship team at Georgia, and his wife, Jan, came to support their son, Bryce, a freshman tight end.
Pointing to Frank's national championship ring, Jan said, "I want one of those for my child who is on the team."
Frank said, "To win a national title takes a lot of talent, but it also takes a lot of breaks created by players who have worked hard and made those breaks."