ATHENS, Ga. – Downtown Athens is crowded but peaceful. Red and black cover every corner of the University of Georgia, but Myers Quad, a popular tailgating destination, is silent. Sanford Stadium, which holds 92,746 people on game day, is vacant.
A few miles away, the party has already begun at Bulldog Park.
When: 11 a.m. CT
Where: Sanford Stadium (Athens, Ga.)
A code gets you access to the 18-acre, gated RV lot, which has space for 223 RVs. Late Friday afternoon, a tailgating experience like you’ve never experienced was underway.
At the epicenter of this Georgia tailgating universe rests the “End Zone.” Four stone pillars hold up a wooden canopy, creating a structure that looks more like a house than a tailgating area.
Jo Duncan, 61, sat on a sofa under the shade of the “End Zone’s” canopy, glass of wine in hand as fellow tailgaters wandered by on foot and in golf carts. Her bulldog, Spanky, slept in his pen while ceiling fans provided a breeze for both of them. A high-definition television was on in the background, mounted on the wall.
Behind her, a full outdoor kitchen was ready for action. One sink was full of bottles of liquor; the other was reserved for preparing dinner; the granite countertops were for the ingredients of Friday’s feast.
The Duncans needed two RV pads to build the space that serves as their home on game weekends. With a family of 33, they needed the space. There are two other such structures in Bulldog Park, but the Duncans’ space is the main attraction.
Best of all, everyone is welcome in the “End Zone.”
“No intrusion at all,” Jo Duncan said, as people walking by poked their heads in.
“We all kind of know everybody,” she said. “RV’ers love other RV’ers. I’ve come to find out that RV’ers are the nicest people you’ve ever met.”
Jo’s husband, Paul Duncan, 88, wandered in with friends from a neighboring RV. Chris Couples, who was among those who helped found the lot five years ago, admits that the “End Zone” has become the headquarters of Bulldog Park.
“They didn’t necessarily want it to be the headquarters,” Couple said.
“Oh, yes we did,” Paul Duncan said.
It was unavoidable. When 30-plus RVs rolled in from Baton Rouge for Georgia’s game against Louisiana State, visiting fans were stopping in throughout the weekend. Jo Duncan even had people stop by and ask if she took credit cards while she was making breakfast and Bloody Marys one game day morning.
“We were really hoping to get some Bloody Marys,” the visitors said.
“Well, I’m not selling 'em,” Duncan said. “But I’ll give you one!”
That’s the attitude at the “End Zone” and throughout Bulldog Park. Golf carts casually roll through the lot. Residents wave at one another as they pass by, and seemingly every other RV has a bulldog inhabiting it. Food and drink are offered at every stop.
Bulldog Park is so comfortable that some residents aren’t among the 92,000-plus people who pack Sanford Stadium on Saturday, despite the convenient shuttle transporting residents back and forth.
“We have instant replay!” Jo Duncan said. “And the bathroom is right there.”
When you’re in the “End Zone," making your way to Sanford Stadium becomes less of a priority.
But don’t mistake any of Bulldog Park’s patrons as inauthentic.
“These are very serious University of Georgia fans, OK?” Couples said. “Very serious.”
Couples helped found the site a half-decade ago along with former Georgia greats David Pollack, David Greene and Kevin Butler. And while a certain amount of fandom is encouraged, there is a more obvious prerequisite: money.
One permanent spot at the lot costs $33,750, with more than $1,000 in camp and utility costs, and owners pay their own property taxes. The camp fees pay for several amenities, including, but not limited to, game day shuttles, grass cutting, tree maintenance, irrigation and electricity.
“It’s just like owning a home,” Jo Duncan said. “You pay taxes, and you have association fees.”
The lot serves as an actual home to some. David House and his wife live in their RV from mid-summer to December. Born on June 8, 1948, House joked that he became a Georgia fan on “June 9.” He talked while steadying a 1-year-old bulldog on a red leash.
The dog’s name is Herschel Walker, in homage to the Heisman Trophy-winning running back who played for Georgia from 1980 to 1982.
“He is the greatest football player of all time,” House said of Walker. “Not even just Georgia.”
Bulldogs are everywhere at the park. Paul Duncan joked that there are “about 100,” but House began naming each one and came up with a number “around 25.”
A 9-year-old named Scarlet is said to be the great-granddaughter of former school mascot Uga IV.
“Go Dawgs!” people yelled at the cluster of RVs. “Sic 'em!” yelled a group of children who proceed to emit a chorus of simulated barks.
At 7 p.m., a group of 15 Georgia-themed golf carts — or for one man, a Can Am Spyder — lined up near the pavilion for a parade. The vehicles were decked out with balloons, pom poms, bulldog statues, makeshift field goal posts and even a tiger stuffed into a coffin.
The Georgia marching band — dubbed “the Redcoats” — played for the patrons afterward.
“There’s no place like this in the world,” House said. “If there is a place with this atmosphere and these people, I don’t know where it is.”
Supervising editor is Nina Pantic.