By Chip Towers, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga
ATHENS — Technically, no tailgating was allowed on Georgia’s campus Saturday, but there was plenty of tailgating going on, especially in and around downtown Athens.
UGA banned tailgating on campus for the 2020 football season as a safeguard to prevent further spreading of the coronavirus. But they did so with the caveat that, as long as groups had a parking pass and were all ticketed for the Bulldogs’ 7:30 p.m. game against Auburn, they could grab some grub and drinks set up at table at the back of their parking space with whomever was in their attending party. However, grills, tents, televisions or other amenities common at a modern tailgate were not allowed.
Those same limitations clearly were not in force elsewhere around town as there were plenty tents, televisions and grills going outside the perimeter that encompasses the UGA campus. And despite several electronic signs posted at the edges of downtown Athens warning visitors that “masks are required by law,” very few of appeared to be complying. Then again, most of them appeared to have food or drink in their hands.
There was a major party going on underneath a big tent on the front lawn of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house on Pulaski Street at the western edge of downtown. Meanwhile, up the steep hill that is Clayton Street, the Classic City was hopping pretty much like it would be most every home-game Saturday in a non-pandemic year. Sidewalks, restaurants and bars were busy and crowded. A long line snaked down the sidewalk outside Bourbon Street Bar on Broad Street, with no evidence of social-distancing and very few patrons wearing masks. There were similar scenes at Creature Comforts and Magnolias, with lots of young adults packed together, drinking and reveling in the clear, warm weather.
The scene seemed to validate the fears of Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Melissa Link, who told the Athens Banner-Herald this week she was concerned that UGA’s tailgating ban would drive revelers downtown. But the city and county have been limited in what they can do to quell crowds. Athens actually was one of the first cities in Georgia to mandate sheltering in place and shut down bars and restaurants back in March. But Gov. Brian Kemp’s orders superseded those local ordinances, and the city and downtown businesses reopened and eventually negotiated midnight curfews.
North and South Campus were decidedly serene in comparison. There were some significant tailgate spreads scattered about, and it appeared that several groups ignored the tent ban, including one that was erected right next to the Student Learning Center near the middle of campus. But the did not seem to be encountering any resistance from UGA police or officials.
The most intense tailgating appeared to be taking place in backyards well outside the town-and-gown boundaries of Athens and the UGA campus. David and Betsy Lilliston of Watkinsville welcomed most of the members of their group known as the “Take No Prisoners Tailgate” to the backyard of their home in the Lake Welbrook subdivision. They normally set up at 7 a.m. each home-game Saturday on Field Street, right behind the southeast corner of Sanford Stadium. Accordingly, Lilliston said his backyard tailgate opened at the same time.
“We’re a very dedicated group,” Lilliston deadpanned.
UGA alums and longtime Hartman Fund contributors, Lilliston said they all “opted out” of their season tickets this year and will take turns hosting the tailgate at their respective homes. But they were welcoming to all comers, including two Auburn friends.
Across town on the other side of Athens, Joey Tucker had a group of friends over to watch the game on a projector screen in the backyard of his Homewood Hills house.
“Even though we aren’t on campus, it was great just getting together,” Tucker said.