On February 26, 2011, four days following the 47th anniversary of the inaugural game played in Stegeman Coliseum, my son attended his first sporting event in that venue. Thomas has attended a college basketball game before---twice before, actually---but this was his first time seeing the Georgia Bulldogs play at home . . . and, come to think of it, I’m pretty sure it was the first basketball game I’ve been to in the Classic City since the Coliseum was nicknamed "The Tub."
I had to talk Thomas out of a do-it-yourself Georgia face tattoo, but he did wear a homemade Trey Thompkins jersey and used a black magic marker to draw pads on his palms to make his hands look like paws. We arrived in Athens right at 5:30 and headed directly into the arena, getting there in time to grab a bite to eat, look around the renovated Coliseum, and be in our seats to see the teams warming up beforehand.
Coincidentally, we were in Section KK---the entrance is between large wall hangings depicting gymnasts Katie Heenan and Courtney Kupets, which is a plus any way you want to look at it---and our seats were on Row 17. That is the last row before the wooden benches bolted into the walls with seat numbers seared into the lumber with a soldering iron; Thomas wondered aloud whether they had been installed in 1929, and I had to explain to him that, although a venerable Red and Black athletic arena opened in that fateful year, it was the one named for Steadman Sanford instead of Herman Stegeman.
Sitting up that high makes one keenly aware of the truth underlying the joke Dennis Miller made in that venue nearly two decades ago, when he said in concert at the Coliseum that he felt like he was inside a golf ball. Thomas was curious about the disco ball suspended from the center of the ceiling, but the only purpose I saw it serve was to obscure my view of the matrix board on which the Georgia statistics were displayed.
The building filled up slowly, but the students were there on time, in force, and with enthusiasm, and the nosebleed seats were occupied before the better sections were full. Since I know the game was a sell-out, I am able to state with certainty that some tickets that were purchased went unused, but it was a fairly rowdy crowd that kept the excitement appropriately high. If Saturday night was any indication, I think it’s fair to say the Georgia fan base is about as good a basketball crowd as it is a football crowd; which is to say, we’re not as good a fan base as we ought to be, but we’re a lot better than we used to be.
The efforts of the band contributed to the quality of the atmosphere, although not everything translates from the gridiron to the hardwood. The fight song medleys are just as effective in Stegeman Coliseum as in Sanford Stadium; having the Battle Hymn soloist at midcourt worked better than I expected; the four fingers raised to "Krypton Fanfare" at halftime was a weird non sequitur.
The game itself was far from perfect---the Fox Hounds’ passing, in particular, was less than crisp on multiple occasions---but it nevertheless represented one of the Classic City Canines’ better efforts of the season. Thompkins remained appropriately aggressive even after drawing a couple of fouls, leading all Georgia scorers with 20 points. Although the South Carolina Gamecocks predictably went on a run early in the second half, the comeback attempt was short-lived, and the Bulldogs turned a 17-point halftime lead into a 16-point victory margin.
The Red and Black led in turnovers by the selfsame 17-12 differential by which the Palmetto State Poultry led in fouls, and the Athenians were the better team by nearly every measure. Georgia led in blocks (4-1), assists (12-4), and rebounds (42-34) while out-shooting the Gamecocks from the field (23 of 50), beyond the arc (4 of 11), and at the charity stripe (14 of 19). South Carolina hit 17 of 60 field goal attempts and one of 19 three-point tries in a game in which the home team never trailed.
Following the game, Mark Fox noted both the Bulldogs’ flaws and their areas of improvement, ultimately concluding: "I was proud of our team. I was proud of our crowd. I was proud of all things Georgia tonight." I’d say that about sums it up, except that I would phrase it slightly differently: it was great to be a Bulldog on Saturday night.