- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- College football season unofficially starts a few days earlier for Georgia fans than at other SEC schools, who wait for next week’s SEC media days to propel them into preseason practice.
For the last eight years, Georgia’s Countdown to Kickoff has served as the Bulldogs’ unofficial jumping-off point for the upcoming season. And the popular fan festival effectively has served a charitable purpose, as this year it will cross the $1 million threshold of funds raised to benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Georgia Transplant Foundation.
Dozens of current Georgia football players attend the fan festival each year, along with a number of past Bulldogs greats who reached the NFL. In addition, an unofficial theme for Saturday afternoon’s event -- which runs from noon to 3 p.m. at UGA’s Woodruff Practice Fields -- is a reunion for Georgia’s 2002 SEC championship team.
“It’s fun for us, because there are guys that we haven’t seen for 10 years that we’ve contacted from the ’02 SEC championship team that have said they’re coming,” said event co-organizer Jon Stinchcomb, an All-America offensive tackle on the 2002 team. “Well, I’m looking forward to it, because I haven’t seen them, and I’m sure the fans are the same way.”
Traditionally there are games for children available at the event, as well as the UGA cheerleaders, band and mascot, Harry Dawg. But the main attraction is the opportunity for fans to meet and take a picture or get an autograph from some of their favorite Bulldogs.
“Most of us are just dads. We’re not getting asked for our autographs anymore. We’re old and washed up,” laughed co-organizer David Greene, the 2002 team’s quarterback. “So you come out here and get to see some old players, you get to see some old buddies that you played with, and you’re raising money for a good cause.
“And the fans love it, because they’re not having to sit in line for seven hours to see one person. They get to interact, they get to see what’s behind the helmet and actually get a chance to have fun with the guys.”
The weekend’s events begin with Friday’s celebrity golf tournament, which sold out a month ahead of time for the second year in a row. The Countdown to Kickoff will continue with Saturday’s fan festival -- tickets are $25 for individuals and $75 for a four-person family pack -- with all proceeds benefiting the two medical charities.
That, according to co-organizer Matt Stinchcomb, makes attending the event an easy sell for his fellow former Georgia lettermen.
“The experience that anybody has here as a player is so positive that if you can think of a good reason to come back to Athens, then a lot of guys will jump on it,” he said. “And if there’s a charitable component, they’ll jump on it.”
4dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough