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August 8, 2014

Say Cheese!

Picture Day was a little easier back when Quincy
commanded a crowd in '98, and especially when
the likes of DAWG! and Rusty Gillespie roamed
the practice fields in '84.
Yesterday, I was given details regarding Georgia's annual picture day or "Fan Day," or "Fans' Picture Day," if you prefer, happening a week from tomorrow. 
I surprise some people when I inform them I've been to only one picture day in my life, and that was 30 years ago.  Therefore, I'm rather unaccustomed to some of the current event's specifics.  For example, for access to Coach Richt and Uga IX, special ticket coupons are requiredand just 150 of those are even available.  From the time the ticket coupons are handed out until Richt is actually accessible to those select few is a span of, oh, only six hours.  Also, as far as getting memorabilia signed by players, coaches, etc., fans are limited to two items per person.  And, UGA actually provides those two items in the form of 2014 Football Schedule posters; no other memorabilia can be brought inside picture day.
This all is likely not news to a lot of you, but it certainly was to me.  Apparently, besides being a big UGA football devotee, a requirement for attending a picture day of late is having a lot of patience. 
The event's modern-day guidelines got me thinking back to a time when picture day was, well, simpler.  A lasting image I have in my head is one of Quincy Carter in 1998, being mobbed by fans while signing much more than football schedule posters.  I also think back to my lone picture day when there were hardly any lines, and absolutely no wait at all if you found the right player, or Dawg.

When my sister and I were let free to roam the Woodruff practice fields in August 1984, my plan for the two-hour event was to first seek out those standing by their lonesome (I guess I didn't have much patience back then either.).  I first came across "Fluffie" or "Fluffie Dawg."  For you older Dog fans, do you remember UGA football's first costumed mascot, preceding the renowned Hairy Dawg by several years?  Although the first, Fluffie had become a distant second to Hairy in popularity by 1984, and would soon disappear altogether.  Nevertheless, on picture day 30 years ago, he signed the cover of a media guide I had brought into the event with simply, "DAWG!"

I next turned to a player standing alone that I didn't recognize.  I'll never forget, the player took my media guide, mumbled something on the order of, "I think I'm in here somewhere," and found and then signed his bio photo.  Senior Rusty Gillespie, a walk-on second-stringer at both placekicker and punter, was indeed featured in the media guide, but was actually the only one listed without a jersey number.  Regardless, Gillespie was a standout JV kicker for UGA, and would defeat Georgia Tech just over three months later with a game-winning field goal to capture the 50th annual Bullpups-Baby Jackets game.  Last I heard, Gillespie was an assistant coach at Kell High in Marietta, appropriately coaching kickers and punters.

I don't remember much from picture day of 1984, except for my memorable autographs from DAWG! and Gillespie, I only had to waita short waitin a line, maybe two, and above all, everything seemed rather laidback and easy.

Georgia's annual "Picture Day" was even more so effortless, yet perhaps more eventful, when it began to become popular during the 1970s, or when the media first started covering the event. 

At Picture Day in 1975, the greatest defensive coordinator
and mascot in football were both easily accessible.  And,
apparently, Uga III was even available for doggie rides.
In 1975, the Bulldogs were coming off a disappointing 6-6 season the year before, and were actually supposed to be even worse in the upcoming campaign.  The preseason predictions for '75 were said to be the "worst ever in Dooley's regime."  Yet, at picture day that year held literally on the field at Sanford Stadium, Georgia's head coach seemed to know something few others were aware of.  The always-pessimistic Dooley was unusually upbeat and optimistic, prompting a photographer to say, "Usually Dooley is down.  I never heard him say such good things [about his team]."  Picked to finish towards the bottom of the SEC, Dooley and his "Junkyard Dogs" would soon embark on a nine-win regular season resulting with a major bowl appearance.

Five years later on August 16, 1980, Georgia held what was believed to be the then-most attended Picture Day ever with approximately 2,000 fans.  Dooley unveiled the new pants his squad would be sporting that season—silver britches—while Leroy Dukes, a member of the last Georgia team to wear silver britches in 1963, was present passing out hats and bumper stickers declaring, "Go You Silver Britches."  Still, the day's biggest attraction was a true freshman tailback and wearer of those britches—Herschel Walker.

"I sure wasn’t expecting this," Walker said of the '80 Picture Day. "But I’m having a good time even though I’ve never held so many babies in my life."

After a young boy got Walker’s autograph, he asserted, "He’s the greatest football player in the country," and like Dooley had in 1975, the boy seemingly knew of something few others were aware of: "[Herschel's] going to make Georgia the best football team in the country."  And, we all know how the 1980 season transpired.
In 1986, the annual summer event essentially resulted in a noteworthy moment in the history of UGA athletics.  Henry King Stanford, who had been appointed the school's Interim President just a few months before, was seemingly unaware of the team's racial makeup until attending picture day.  There, he noticed "about half" the team was black, yet there were no African Americans serving on the Georgia Athletic Association Board of Directors at the time.  What soon followed was, according to Stanford, "I appointed two black colleagues to that board."
By the late 1990s, the spectacle Herschel "wasn't expecting" had grown even bigger.  In 1999, picture day attracted 5,000 fans and included representatives from every UGA team for the first time.  In 2000, it moved from the practice fields to inside for the first time at Stegeman Coliseum.  The next year—Coach Richt's first at UGA—the event moved again to the Classic Center.  For the first time, fans were asked to limit photographs, but the event still had a taste of the old by lasting just two hours.
By the mid-2000s, Picture Day had become a grand
event for many in the Bulldog Nation... if one was
willing to wait and try to find room to breath. 
It was a few years into the Richt era when UGA's picture day, or "Fan Day" as it was being called by then, began being distinguished not necessarily by foretelling coaches and fans, quotable players, or notable moments like in the past, but more so its sheer numbers of attending fans and how long they all waited in lines.
By 2003, picture day had increased to a four-hour event.  The next year, an estimated record 7,500 fans attended, including those that were in line by 7 a.m., or six hours before the doors opened.  
Over the last 10 years, Picture Day's location has changed again, but its number of attendees remain high, the lines long, while the guidelines and restrictions persist.  The event is now held at the Reed Plaza area of Sanford Stadium, while from the time the special coupon tickets are distributed until the affair officially ends is a span of a whopping eight hours.
In 2000, new offensive line coach Doug Marrone was astonished with the event, exclaiming, "I've never seen anything like this at a Picture Day.  This is really incredible."  You may question his judgement since the current head coach of the Buffalo Bills had just spent four seasons at Georgia Tech. Still, Marrone was witnessing around the time when UGA's Picture Day began its quick but drastic transformation to what it has become today: an event where patience is a virtue for many, and where there would even be a wait for a distant second-string kicker, and a forgotten second-string mascot.


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