Monday, February 16, 2009

Sanford Stadium Turns 80

Our home field, Sanford Stadium, turns 80 this fall. Here is a look at the history of our home field, known simply to many as "Between the Hedges".

"Building a stadium bigger than Tech"

In 1927, Georgia's football team was enjoying an undefeated season heading into its final game of the season again Georgia Tech. At the time Georgia did not have a football field that was able to accommodate a large number of spectators. For this reason, the annual match up between the two teams was almost always played at Georgia Tech's Grant Field in Atlanta. Georgia would lose to Tech, 12-0, and lost its perfect season. Allegations were brought that Georgia Tech had watered the field the entire night before the game, rendering Georgia's faster running game inept. This proved to be the final straw for Steadman Sanford. Sanford began a campaign asking Georgia alumni and friends to support the "building a stadium bigger than Tech" and he successfully raised $150,000. Construction soon began on the new stadium on area of campus above Tanyard Creek with a target opening for the 1929 season.

"All the while the sun was bearing down, and the Yale players, in their dark blue woolen jerseys and long blue socks, began looking for the water boy." - John Stegeman and Robert Willingham, Touchdown

On October 12, 1929, The University of Georgia officially dedicated Sanford Field as it welcomed Yale to Athens. The new stadium, with a final cost of $360,000, was completely sold out for the game that day. Nearly 30,000 fans had bought tickets in advance and another 3,000 standing room tickets were sold that morning to see the heavily favored team from Yale take on Georgia. Yale came in on the heels of an 89-0 beating of Vermont but would not be greeted kindly by the Dawgs that day. "Catfish" Smith would provide all the scoring Georgia would need as it blanked Yale, 15-0.
Between the Hedges

The man responsible for planting infant hedges around the field prior to the first game against Yale was Athletic Department Business Manager Charlie Martin. Martin had visited the Rose Bowl and had liked the rose bushes that circled the field. Because of the weather in Athens, privet hedges were used instead and remain a fixture in Sanford Stadium to this day.

Lights, an Upper Deck, and a National Championship
In 1940, lights were added to Sanford Stadium to allow games to go into the night and provide better visibility and 6,000 additional seats were added to South stands. In 1967, the field level lights were removed and architecture firm Heery and Heery was hired to add a second deck. The expansion cost nearly $3 million and expanded the seating capacity to nearly 59,000.

1980 would see the first undefeated National Championship season as Georgia won it all. The next year, the east end zone was enclosed, ending the days when students would watch games from the railroad tracks. Ten years later, the west end zone would also be closed, increasing capacity to 85,434.

Moving the Hedges for Soccer
In the summer of 1996, Atlanta played host to the world as the Olympics came to Georgia. Sanford Stadium was used as the venue for Olympic soccer. Due to the size of the field, the hedges were removed during the games and replanted before the start of the 1996 football season.

2000's Expansions and the Future
In 2003, the stadium once again underwent expansion as a second upper deck (the 600 level) was added. The following year, 27 additional sky suites were added, bringing the capacity of Sandford Stadium to its current level of 92,746.
A view of the new upper deck during the "Blackout" in 2007.
There is talk of potentially expanding the second upper deck around the East end zone. Below is an artist's rendering. If this expansion is completed it will bring the capacity of Sanford Stadium to more than 100,000.

For all its expansions and updates, Sanford Stadium remains a classic stadium filled with history. Here's to many more years of memories between the hedges!

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