The Night Georgia Fans Destroyed 'The Hedges'

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 27, 2016

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 28: Fans of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrate after the game against the LSU Tigers at Sanford Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia has had success over bitter SEC East rival Tennessee recently, with wins in five of the last six years. But it hasn't always been the case, as the Vols dominated the series in the 1990s. With the Dawgs set to host 11th-ranked Tennessee this Saturday, it brings back memories of one of the most infamous nights in history of the Georgia program. 

On Oct. 7, 2000, the worst fears of college administrators and facilities managers came true between the hedges in Athens, Georgia. 

Sure, emphatically breaking a nine-game losing streak to No. 21 Tennessee, 21-10, was the good news and will be a topic of discussion when the teams meet again this weekend at Sanford Stadium. The bad news, though, came when for the first and only time in program history, Georgia fans rushed the field, tore down the goal posts and damaged the famed hedges on a night to remember—and forget—in the Classic City.

"It was great to finally win the game and break the drought," said Vince Dooley, former head coach and the Georgia athletic director during that time. "Anytime you do that, there's an incredible celebration. But it was really bad because we had a great security situation that simply couldn't handle the rush of fans coming at once."

It wasn't a surprise event that led to the field-storming, like Auburn's "Kick Six" from 2013 or Ole Miss' win over Alabama in 2014.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

The game had essentially been decided early in the fourth quarter when fans surrounded the field, swung on the goal post and made it known to the entire world they were coming. In fact, with 1:13 to play, Georgia's fans got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and players—including tight end Randy McMichael—ran to the end zone to plead with them to stay back.

"That's not something a winning team should do," former Georgia spokesman Tom Jackson said. "That's not the Georgia way."

Fans in the stands were even upset with the rush of students and chanted "Get off the field!" during the waning moments of the game as quarterback Quincy Carter lined up the Bulldogs in the victory formation.

"We thought, at the university, that we had a great system in place," said Ray McEwen, who was the director of athletic facilities at Georgia in 2000. "The hedge was outside, and hidden inside the hedges was a 6-foot chain link fence and then a set of hedges on the outside of the field. But when that mass of people started storming the field, the fence was just not enough, and to try to turn that amount of people was just impossible."

What fans thought would be a memorable experience after a season-defining game quickly turned dangerous.

"When it happened, we got totally engulfed," said former head coach Jim Donnan, who earned his 100th career victory that night. "Unfortunately, some people got hurt, which was the real bad part about it."

Former Georgia head coach Jim Donnan
Former Georgia head coach Jim DonnanVincent Laforet/Getty Images

There had been rumors on campus in the week leading up to the game that, in the event of a Georgia win, the students might try to get in on what had become a national fad and storm the field.

"We actually coated the goal post that we thought they'd target with STP motor oil in an effort to make it so slick that they couldn't grab ahold of it," McEwen said. "We considered it like somebody coming into our home and destroying our home. It was hard to see it destroyed that night."

Donnan found himself conflicted during the chaos. 

Breaking the streak and earning career win No. 100 are both monumental feats, but attention shifted to ensuring the reveling fans' safety.

"From my standpoint, I quickly became worried about what was going to happen with our players and fans," Donnan said. "You're just never ready for that, no matter how much security you have. We had some of that at Oklahoma and at Marshall when we won championships—and that was kind of a championship moment for us—but attention quickly changed to make sure that everybody was safe."

One of those students who got injured on the field was 19-year-old Kristine Yu of Roswell, Georgia. According to Lee Shearer of the Athens Banner-Herald, Yu suffered a serious head injury during the stampede and was rushed to St. Mary's Hospital.

"She was over in the emergency room of the hospital, and I remember going over there and meeting her parents and everything," Dooley said. "She was in critical condition, and it could have been a disaster. We've been trying to avoid those things ever since and had been up to that point.

"The whole point of having hedges was to prevent people from storming the field and preventing injury. When you have one in critical condition and you have to go over and see the parents, it's pretty awakening."

Yu was released from the hospital three days later, according to the Athens Banner-Herald, and her family thanked the community for the support it received during her hospital stay. 

The damage to Sanford Stadium, however, lingered for the rest of the season.

Apr 16, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; General view of Sanford Stadium during the first half of the Georgia Bulldogs Spring Game at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

According to the archived story, fans caused more than $100,000 of damage to the field, and the university had to have a new $14,000 set of goal posts shipped from Oklahoma City to get the stadium ready for the Vanderbilt game seven days later.

It pulled off the mad scramble, and Sanford Stadium was salvaged for the rest of the season.

Well, sort of.

"We did not replant the hedges for that season for a couple of reasons," McEwen said. "One, the plant material wasn't available. Primarily, though, the thinking was, since we got some national attention from it in a negative way and that field storming was a national trend at the time, that TV needed to be able to see and show the gouged hedges for the rest of the year."

It worked.

The field at Sanford Stadium hasn't been rushed since that early-October night, which pleases everybody associated with the program.

"Between the crisis with the student in critical condition and the very visible damage to the hedges and the stadium for the next couple of games—at least half of the hedges were just sticks out there...they were ugly-lookin' things—that sent a message to the students and the nation," Dooley said.

The SEC changed as a result of the incident.

The NCAA and SEC led the charge to require spare goal posts to be on hand at every football game, and the conference began fining programs for unauthorized people entering the field or court starting in 2004. The initial fine was $5,000 for first-time offenders, $25,000 on a second offense and $50,000 on third and subsequent violations—with a three-year window that would reset the fine structure.

That got cranked up a notch in 2015.

The SEC passed legislation at spring meetings in Destin, Florida, that docks programs $50,000 on the first offense, $100,000 on the second and $250,000 on each subsequent violation without the presence of a three-year window. 

Part of the reason for the attention paid to field- and court-storming was because of the 2000 game between Tennessee and Georgia, when fans made it onto a field that many thought couldn't be penetrated. 

"We didn't anticipate that the fans would storm the field," Dooley said. "I'm not sure what we could have done unless we had dogs out there."

       

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Odds provided by Odds Shark.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.