As it often is, Twitter was abuzz with chatter about Georgia’s game against Auburn on Saturday night. At one point, the focus of that chatter briefly turned away from the events on the field and towards a couple of UGA fans in the stands...
Early in the second quarter of the Bulldogs evisceration of the Tigers, I received a text message from a friend who was at the game. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to hear the story behind the most interesting looking face mask I have seen since the pandemic began, so I asked Twitter for some help.
Though I beat him to the punch by over an hour, Barrett Sallee of CBS Sports also shared pictures of what I have come to refer to as “The Sanford Coneheads.”
Sent from my sister-in-law. That mask is not CDC-approved. pic.twitter.com/PkysJes0ng— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) October 4, 2020
Sallee’s tweet went out to over 93,000 people, and at that point the conversation about the Bulldog fans in cones spread like wildfire across social media.
By the time Monday had rolled around, I had all but forgotten about the unique accessories. Despite that, the tweet I sent out on Saturday night had traveled around the web, and soon the identity of the man in what he calls an “e-collar” was revealed.
His name is Flynn Nance, and he is the co-owner and head veterinarian at Honey Creek Vetrinary Hospital in Conyers, GA. Nance has three degrees from the University of Georgia, and has been a season ticket holder since 1984.
The idea for the collars started a week earlier, in the second half of Georgia’s game against Arkansas. Said Flynn, “Some friends had a viewing party out at Lake Oconee for the season opener. There was some barbecue and beer and they had some TV’s setup outside on their lawn. We were all watching the game out there and in the first-half we were pretty down.” (Georgia trailed the Razorbacks 7-5 at halftime)
As Georgia started playing better, the party picked up in the second-half. “We had started dancing and singing and having a good time, and by then the beer had kicked in. I was planning on going to the Auburn game with a friend of mine, and he and his brother were both at the party too. My friend’s brother said, “y’all should wear those dog cone things next week.” Flynn and his friend both thought the idea sounded good that night, and when sobriety and daylight came the next morning, they still did.
“The e-collars are something we use in veterinary medicine to protect an animal after a surgery or to keep them from harming themselves, so we thought it made sense since we are the Bulldogs and we have the pandemic going on.”
And so Flynn, who had to work the morning of the game, left his office with three of the e-collars in hand on Saturday afternoon. “I’m a small animal practitioner so we had them laying around for me to grab, but usually we take a dog collar and slip it through these things. All the nurses at work asked if I was gonna wear a dog collar, but I said nooooo,” said Flynn with a chuckle.
In total there were three men with e-collars on- Flynn, his son, and Flynn’s friend. Originally the men planned to just wear them into the stadium and then take them off once someone texted to tell them they had made ESPN’s broadcast of the game. Once they entered the confines of Sanford Stadium they realized the collars were going to be a much bigger hit than they expected.
“We had all positive responses at the game. We were heading into the game and about five different people stopped us to take pictures. Everybody was giving us a thumbs up and telling us they loved it. The picture that went around just showed my friend and I, but that’s because some folks had stopped my son to take a picture on the way out of the bathroom.”
Flynn did make it clear that the e-collars were just a joke, and the men did not use them as a substitute for a mask. “It was all in good fun. We were following the distancing regulations and wearing masks when we moved around the stadium. People who don’t have dogs and don’t understand what an e-collar is might have taken it the wrong way.”
When asked if the collars were comfortable Flynn made it clear they were not. Fortunately, it didn’t hinder his viewing experience too much. “The collars are clear so we could see through them just fine. It didn’t effect my ability to see the game at all. I just leaned my head forward and looked out of the top.”
In many ways it’s unsurprising that Flynn Nance would be willing to go through a little discomfort to make a gesture of fandom for the Bulldogs. Nance has been a UGA season ticket holder since 1984, and he started donating to the Hartman Fund during his freshman year in 1973. His father Bob Nance was a 1930 UGA graduate who played for Harry Mehre on the Georgia Football team. He was standing on Sanford Stadium’s turf in 1929 when it was dedicated, and celebrated with his teammates as the Bulldogs of Georgia upset the heavily favored Bulldogs of Yale 15-0.
Bob Nance settled in Jacksonville, Florida after his time in Athens, and that’s where Flynn was raised. The Nance’s would host a large group of family and friends for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party every year, and Bob urged Flynn to start accruing points for season tickets when he was a freshman in 1973.
“I started donating as a freshman undergraduate because Dad needed more tickets for the Florida game and they would only let each season ticket holder buy six. Virginia Whitehead was in the ticket office back then, and I would walk down to Stegeman Coliseum and give her a $600 donation plus an additional $90 for tickets to the Florida game.
Flynn has loved attending UGA sporting events ever since he was a child, and last year was his 57th consecutive Georgia-Florida game. He is also a season ticket holder for the Bulldogs men’s basketball and baseball teams.
While most of the folks Flynn and his party came across on Saturday night loved the cones, one person did try to poke fun at the thing around his neck. With a Bulldog assured, Flynn left his seat midway through the fourth quarter.
“I went to the bathroom and there were five different Georgia fans in there who were laughing and telling me they loved it. This one Auburn guy was in there, and he looked over at me and said, ‘cone of shame.’ I looked back over at him and said, ‘Nah it’s sure not shameful tonight.’ He just looked back at me and said, ‘Yeah... you’re right.”
Considering how well Georgia played against the Tigers, I asked Flynn if the cones would be making an appearance at Georgia’s game against Tennessee this weekend.
“I’m a little superstitious, but no we’re not planning on wearing them. We’ll be sitting in the 200 section, so I doubt the TV cameras could find us. It may rain Saturday... I could drown in that thing.”