Date: Sun 11/30/1980
Photo credit: Steve Deal
First, I was neither of age to celebrate amongst the Track People, nor was I conceived among them. That puts me about knee high to Amp Arnold around the time of their hey day. On Sunday mornings I recall riding along East Campus Rd on the way to church. After a home game the rocky embankment that led up to the railroad track was completely littered with bottles, tailgating remnants and the occasional underclassman.
If you wanted to party with these guys you had to be ready Friday afternoon and your insurance had to cover the occasional tumble down the rocky slope to the street's pavement below. Saturday November 29th, 1980 was the last home game before Sanford was enlarged and enclosed on the east end (in the picture you can see the beginnings of the construction). About 4000 fans took to The Tracks for one last view of a football game from the perch they had come to know and love. No doubt feeding off of that energy, the Bulldogs used two 4th quarter touchdowns to beat visiting Tech 38-20 that day. It finished an undefeated regular season and put Dooley's team in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day against Notre Dame.
The fact that the last team they saw became Georgia's best team ever was no coincidence. You see, Erk Russell had written that it was to be so. On July 7th, 1980 the Georgia defensive coordinator wrote a heartfelt letter referencing the "Railroad Track Crowd" addressed to his "Gentlemen: (and Linemen)". He openly challenged his Dawgs to not only be the last team they saw from the tracks, but also the best.
And it was so.
But in the years leading up to that time just before and during the magical 1980 season, the citizens of the tracks had already begun to wear out their welcome. In the article that accompanies the picture, Alan Truex explains that a student suffered a spinal injury due at least in part to a fight on the tracks in 1979. If you speak to those around campus at the time this was fairly frequent behavior, along with thrown bottles and confrontations with local police. And all that was before even the first trashbags were used to clean up the free seats.
As with the more recent case on North Campus, the UGA tailgating scene knows that it takes just a few bad apples to kill the buzz. It's hard to imagine the decision to enclose the east end being about anything more than money, but doing away with the free seats was surely a welcome byproduct of the stadium's growth.
Still, the Railroad Track Crowd is largely and affectionately remembered as they should be: die hard fans that cherished their spot, greeted the team before and after each home game, and generally bled red and black. But don't take my word for it, here's Scott Woerner:
"It's gonna be sad not having those people there. I can tell how much the team is gonna miss these people. When you drive up and see all the people, and know that some of 'em stayed out all night long up there, you get chills and a warm feeling."Yes. It might be hard for today's fan - and player for that matter - to understand. But back in the 1970's the Track People were as big a part of the Georgia football gameday tradition as Munson, the cheerleaders and even Uga. They won the hearts of the players. And they gave each game their all.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Some bonus readings:
- I certainly don't believe in the curse (it's Bleacher Report after all), but the "legend" of Rusty McKay provides a decent picture of who many of these fans were.
- Rex talked about what it was like to be a player during the tradition of getting off the bus to the Tracks. The comments provide some great memories as well. I especially chuckled at the reference to the "hippie lettuce".
- Same is true for Garbin, "as long as there was whiskey to drink and Larry Munson on his radio."
- And make sure and visit the official website where you can read Erk's letter in its entirety as well as grab a commemorative t-shirt.