When University of [tm]Alabama[/tm] fans - buoyed by visions of Nick Saban-led national championship teams - filled Bryant-Denny Stadium last year for that team's annual spring scrimmage, people all over the country scoffed.
And despite much of the Bulldog Nation fancying themselves more discriminating fans than their crimson-bedecked brethren, anticipation leading up to this Saturday's G-Day game is still at a level perhaps never before seen in Athens- at least not since a certain Goalline Stalker was still in silver britches.
Tim Cearley, head of the Athletic Association's ticket office, said in recent years the average number of tickets sold before the day of the G-Day game has been between 1,500 and 2,000. Through Wednesday, this year's pre-sale number has topped 11,000.
Cearley attributed that to several things.
"A combination of online accessibility, heightened fan interest and good scheduling - no conflict with The Master's this year - may explain the greater ticket pre-sales this year," said Cearley.
It is easy to recall Allen Iverson's familiar refrains of, "We're talking about practice!" when seeing the fever pitch Bulldog fans are at leading up to G-Day, but head coach
Mark Richt says he is glad the [tm]Georgia[/tm] faithful are excited.
"I hope a lot of people will show up. That'll be fun. The more people at the game, the more exciting it is for our players and the more it feels like a real game," Richt said.
If Cearley's estimate is any indicator, Richt will get his wish.
"Coach Richt, his staff, and the team have produced a level of unprecedented excitement. Average attendance in recent years has been 25,000. It's conceivable to expect attendance figures close to 40,000," said Cearley.
After a lackluster practice Wednesday, Richt said he tried to inspire his players by letting them know how many people could be at Sanford Stadium on Saturday and how much they want to see their team perform well.
"I mentioned that to our players after practice that it'll probably be one of the biggest crowds in a while" Richt said. "It's certainly going to be on TV, radio's picking it up. There'll probably be people here from around the nation that wouldn't normally be here just because of some of the expectations. Like I told the players, 'I hope you play with some heart and some spirit.'"
Reshad Jones said those expectations do not put additional pressure on him. The team already has plenty expectations of its own.
"I'm glad to have the (fans') expectations, but we all know our expectations right now," Jones said. "We really just have to keep working hard to live up to the expectations we have."
Coaches have made sure to reiterate to media this spring they see G-Day as just another practice, but Richt said it is a practice that carries some weight.
"If a guy has a great game, it'll get everybody's attention because it is a true game," Richt said. "It's also going to be the last impression anybody makes this spring."
Of this and that:
Richt laid out a few ground rules regarding this year's game:
• There will be extra point and field goal kicks, but no rush.
• There will be punts and kick offs, but with no rush.
• Each punt will net 35 yards, unless doing so would spot the ball inside the 10. After each kickoff, the ball will be spotted at the 25.
• As of now, Richt's plan is to play 10-minute quarters.
Some familiar faces will be on the sidelines Saturday. Former Georgia greats Greg Blue, Kevin Butler, Frank Ros and D.J. Shockley will serve as guest "coaches."
Gates will open at 12:30 for the 2:00 kickoff and Cearley urged fans to get to Sanford Stadium early to avoid long lines.
The main gate as well as gates 2, 4, 6 and 9 will be open.
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