Sanford Stadium, home of the University of Georgia Bulldogs football team, and now, perhaps, home to the newest and possibly most sinister curse in all of organized sports.
Chicago has their billy goat. The Red Sox suffered under the voodoo of the Babe for decades. The latest sports team to fall victim to other worldly influences of bad luck could be the Georgia Bulldogs. Its shunned name is currently being circulated in hushed whispers amongst the Georgia faithful. It has become known as “The Curse of the Track People”.
In its early days, the east end zone of Sanford Stadium remained open and devoid of seating. This gaping hole created free seats atop the railroad tracks that ran directly across the street from the venue. In the 1970’s, hordes of drunken Dawg fans too rowdy and cheap to gain admission enjoyed splendid vistas of Georgia football completely free of charge. The tracks eventually became so popular that fans would often show up early and camp out until game day in order to save a spot.
There were no “visitors seats” on the tracks. Opposing fans brave enough to venture near the area were met with raging hatred and alcohol-fueled violence. The Track People were sloshed warriors of the Bulldog Nation, sworn by blood and steel to protect and defend her at all costs.
As a 5-year-old in 1980, I saw firsthand what the tracks were all about when two Track People fought like rabid pit bulls over the affections of a young lady on a hot afternoon. The incident ended up costing my parents hefty fees for my therapy sessions later in life, yet I still look back on that moment with beaming pride.
“It was kind of like the Manson Family,” states William “Skeeter” Carmichael, a former Track Person, “except with football!”
“We’d see some beady-eyed bunch of Tennessee fans walking down near the street level, and then everybody would just start chucking our empties at them from up high on the tracks” says Roger Yearwood, who hung out on the tracks from 1974-80, “I split some Tech fan's head wide open one year from darn near 150 feet! He said he’d never wear red. Well, I changed the color of his shirt for him.”
A camaraderie developed among the frequent revelers, and a tradition had been born.
This letter—written prior to the 1980 season by legendary Georgia Icon Erk Russell to his defensive linemen—specifically mentions the “Track People.”
Gentlemen: (linemen) The football season of '80 will be my seventeenth as a Georgia Bulldog. During this time there have been many thrilling Saturdays of competition, each with its individual memories, because each game has its own personality.
There are two Saturday traditions and experiences which have remained basically the same throughout the years for me and I would like to share them with you.
The first one concerns the RAILROAD TRACK CROWD. These are my people because they love the Dogs almost as much as I do. Oh, I know they do some crazy things- like turn over our opponent’s buses sometimes and now and then they throw one another down the bank and into the street below. But they stamp out Kudzu and they pull for us to win and that ain't bad. If you can get off the bus to cheers of THE RAILROAD TRACK CROWD and walk down those steps to the dressing room and not be inspired to play football as best you possibly can, something important is missing beneath the Georgia jersey you wear. It is impossible not to be inspired. They choke me up!
The season of 1980 will be the last for THE RAILROAD TRACK CROWD. A great Georgia tradition will have passed with the new addition to our stadium. The view from the tracks will be no more.
Your team will be the last Georgia Team to be greeted and cheered by the RAILROAD TRACK CROWD. Wouldn't it be fitting if their last team was also the best Georgia Team ever? Think about it!
Another Saturday tradition which has meant so much to me over the years can be stated very simply. "THERE AIN'T NOTHING LIKE BEING A BULLDOG ON SATURDAY NIGHT-----AFTER WINNING A FOOTBALL GAME." I mean like whipping Tennessee's ass to start with, then ten more and then another one.
This is the game plan. We have no alternate plan.
Sincerely, Erk Russell
Old Erk may have been a huge fan of the folks on the tracks, but every Track Person I have spoken to agreed that the UGA fan who most embodied the spirit of the group was a man by the name of Rusty McKay. Rusty had been watching Georgia games from the tracks longer than anyone could remember, and he almost never missed a Saturday in Athens on the tracks with “his folk.”
He claimed to have attended the university briefly in his youth, but had spent the majority of his days serving in the Merchant Marine, until he was finally forced to retire after he suffered a knee injury in Haiti stumbling out of a cathouse. Rarely was he ever spotted wearing any color other than Bulldog red, and he has been credited with having printing the first foam trucker hat that read "Herschel for Heisman" in September of 1980.
He was a true Georgia fan and a decent man by all accounts, although it is widely acknowledged by those close to him that he had an ongoing problem with alcohol. More than one Track Person I interviewed for this piece described him as “The type of guy you would want on your side in a bar brawl.” Many also stated his fondness for taking stray cats into his Tibbets Drive residence.
After the miracle season of 1980, when Herschel Walker and the Bulldogs rocked the world of college football by claiming the national championship with a perfect season, friends recall Rusty’s demeanor as strangely melancholy. When asked why his mood was so somber, given the fact the his beloved Dawgs were now champions, Rusty would ramble on wildly about how the University had “finally done him in” by deciding to close off the east end zone and install more seating, effectively blocking his free view of the Georgia games forever.
He complained even more that all the friendships he had spent so many Saturdays forging over cold beers and Dawg talk would now be lost. A few folks became concerned about his mental state, so they took up a collection to purchase him 1981 season tickets, taking great care to reserve seats high atop the new east end bleachers in order to try and replicate the view he had witnessed from the tracks for so many years. But it was no use, Rusty refused to accept them, and his pitiful condition only grew worse as the months passed.
The last time he was seen alive was a hot summer night in 1981. Witnesses state that Rusty staggered out of TK Hardy’s Saloon at sometime around 11 p.m. on Thursday, July 17. He was found dead late the next day on the tracks, right in his old spot where he had enjoyed so many free games, an empty bottle of Night Train by his side.
Rumors circulated that his eyes were wide open—still gazing at the back side of the newly erected bleachers that had blocked his view and driven him to this horrible fate. It is said that one of his hands, in the first stages of rigor mortis, defiantly extended its middle finger upward toward the stadium. The other hand reportedly clutched in its grasp a crumpled piece of paper, across which was scrawled the words—The Track People will have their revenge! The Curse of The Track People is upon you! No more national championships for you guys!
Rusty was in the ground before the start of the 1981 season. The Track People all drifted back to places like the carnival and the various correctional facilities from which they came. And though the Bulldogs have had many a great season since Rusty’s passing, they have never achieved what they did the last magical year the Track People cheered them to supreme victory.
Is the “Curse of the Track People” for real? Is a human sacrifice in order to appease Rusty’s restless spirit? Is a supernatural entity reaching out from beyond the grave to prevent another national championship for UGA? Who can say for sure?
My enduring hope, as a Georgia fan, is that one day the university will pay some sort of penance to old Rusty, perhaps by foregoing the extra money these cursed seats generate by ripping them out permanently, opening a view for all the Track People of this great state, thereby allowing the Dawgs to once again claim a national title. Until that act of cleansing takes place, I fear many dark days are ahead for the University of Georgia football program.
Long live the Track People…