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A Brief Lesson on the History of the Hedges

Since we in Bulldog Nation had nothing better to do today (sigh), I thought I’d take this opportunity to follow up on a comment thread from a few weeks back. When SG Standard explained how much he hated Auburn, much discussion ensued (to put it mildly), including a fair amount of back and forth about the hedges.

That discussion included several observations concerning the Plainsmen’s practice of taking pieces of the hedges as souvenirs whenever Auburn wins a game in Sanford Stadium and how that tradition ought to be viewed in light of the fact that several Georgia fans stormed the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 1986, some of whom tore up the grass on what is now Pat Dye Field.

Some light upon these issues may be shed by an article I recently uncovered from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Below are excerpts from a piece written by Thomas O’Toole, which appeared in the sports section of the major Atlanta newspaper on September 19, 1986, two months before the "between the hoses" game:

Seven seasons later, the memory stirs Rex Robinson’s anger. On Nov. 17, 1979, Georgia lost to Auburn 33-13 at home, the Bulldogs’ fourth home loss of the year and the worst Sanford Stadium season under coach Vince Dooley.

To celebrate, Auburn’s players attacked the hedges that surround the field, ripping off branches as souvenirs. That, as much as the defeat, is what Robinson recalls.

"They tore it apart, and I was ticked off," said Robinson, a former placekicker. "I had never seen a Georgia player deface any other stadium, and I couldn’t imagine anyone doing something like that to our hedges. It’s like someone ripping your heart out."

Because the hedges are such a meaningful symbol, opponents delight in taking home a piece after victories. The 1979 and 1983 Auburn games and the 1984 Tech game are vivid examples. No Bulldog will forget the picture of Tech quarterback John Dewberry – a Georgia transfer – holding a piece of the hedge and smiling with glee.

"Look at what Tech did," said offensive guard Mack Burroughs. "It must mean something to them, or they wouldn’t do it." . . .

Tech offensive lineman John Davis attended several Georgia games while growing up. He understands about the hedges. Before Tech played at Athens in 1984, Davis took a small piece of hedge and stuck it in his sock.

After Tech won, he grabbed a bigger chunk.

"I got me a nice piece of it," he said. "That might not have been the right thing to do. But under the circumstances . . ."

According to game manager Greg McGarity, the school does not want to risk a confrontation between players and security officers. Control is left to the coaches.

Dye said he gave his players no special instructions before last year’s 24-10 victory. "That’s their deal," he said. "I don’t think they would abuse it." . . .

Dooley believes coaches should exert tighter control. After all, it is private property.

"I think it (breaking hedges) is a little sign of poor sportsmanship," said Dooley. "I understand their defiance. But it has to be worked out with the head coach. It’s the responsibility of the other team."

What, then, is the proper way to protect the hedges? Personally, I don’t have a problem with arresting and prosecuting every opposing fan and player who engages in destruction of property on our campus. However, as O’Toole’s 1986 article made clear, an even more direct method previously was employed:

The year was 1935. Huey Long, who ran Louisiana, wanted LSU to play at Georgia.

"He called Harold Hirsch, who was big in the Coke company (as an attorney)," recalled Bill Hartman, a Georgia player then and an assistant coach now. "Harold told him that they couldn’t play that year because schedules were made up too far in advance. Huey told him Louisiana was thinking about putting an additional tax on Coke. Harold told him whenever you want to play, we’ll do it."

The teams met Nov. 16. LSU brought nearly the entire student body – mostly military cadets – and won 13-0.

"The cadets wanted to come down on the field and tear down the goalposts," said Hartman. "They didn’t know there was a fence in the hedges. They started to go through the hedges and got hung up at the fence. It had been some kind of souvenir day, and the Georgia fans had been given 18-inch bats. When the cadets got hung up, the Georgia students descended on them and started beating them with the bats."

I’m not advocating that approach, mind you. I would like to point out, though, that we haven’t had a problem with that particular fan base since.

Go ‘Dawgs!