There is a temptation to look at what went on yesterday and oversell it, so I think I’ll lay off the ALL CAPS and the dawn of a new era dramatics to be on the safe side.
But I don’t think it’s overstating things to recognize that a page has been turned in the story of the Georgia football program. And that’s to Kirby Smart’s credit.
There were so many things happening, both big and small. Taken together, the day definitely had a different feel to it than G-Days past.
Take the emphasis on reaching out to former players.
I saw it walking up to the stadium, where I passed a huge tent in the area where former lettermen tailgate. And there’s no question it all led to plenty of good vibes.
Some will say that feeling was noticeable on Saturday given the record-breaking crowd of 93,000 that was on hand for G-Day. But to former UGA quarterback Cory Phillips, the good feelings were actually evident the night before.
“We got here (to Athens) last night, and there seemed to be a lot of people here,” Phillips said “The enthusiasm is high — which makes it fun.”
Phillips believes Smart’s energy and the way fans are responding to it sends a valuable message to recruits, and Phillips has been impressed with the first-year coach’s aggressive approach to gaining the attention of the next generation of college stars.
“I don’t think those guys sleep,” he said.
It isn’t just recruits who are being won over. Ex-players like Phillips are being courted too. Phillips said he couldn’t even count the number of messages and correspondences that have gone on between the former lettermen and the football program since Smart took over.
That level of communication is a welcome addition to the UGA program by Smart, according to Gilbert, who likes everything he’s heard from the coach so far.
“When we found out he was going to be hired it just changed the whole attitude,” Gilbert said.
Kirby gambled on the size and enthusiasm of yesterday’s crowd, a gamble that paid off handsomely. First, orchestrating a spring game Dawg Walk that ended bringing the team through a gauntlet down one of the stadium sidelines was both a new experience and a success.
Just as unprecedented and brilliant a call was the move to honor the 2016 class at halftime.
Both served as a reminder that things were changing in Athens – a reminder to the fan base and to the recruits who were in attendance. Add to that a well timed announcement of a 2017 commitment, and the momentum on the recruiting front felt palpable.
If you recall Smart’s Q&A with Stewart Mandel, he spoke about his value as a former player returning as head coach. That was in the context of recruiting, but it was on display for the fan base yesterday, too, as mention was made in the pregame video of his returning home. It wasn’t oversold and that’s what made it effective.
There were other little things, too, that served as a reminder that changes have been afoot.
All told, it was a day to savor. Kirby’s efficiency and management may have even rubbed off a little, as the pregame concert went off without a hitch and served to pump the crowd up nicely. I got to the stadium two hours early and stayed until the end, so I can’t say I’m a particularly good judge of how the crowd was handled, but things appeared to run smoothly in that department. Traffic control postgame, though, was its usual train wreck. (Not that that’s on the school, of course.)
I don’t know how you couldn’t have been there yesterday and not come away impressed and optimistic about the direction things appear to be headed, even if just a little. I know I was. What time is the North Carolina game?