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A spectator films as the stadium lights up. The game finishes with Georgia topping Notre Dame by a score of 23-17. (Photo/ Ryan Cameron, rcameron@randb.com)

A night game at Sanford Stadium is no longer just synonymous with an array of cell phone lights. A new tradition was born when Georgia debuted an LED light display during its 23-17 win over Notre Dame on Sept. 21.

The Bulldogs will have another chance to show off the lights when they face Missouri at 7 p.m. on Saturday. But this time around, the lights won’t just be red.

The LED lights — which cost $950,000 to purchase and install — have the capability to shine other colors. On Saturday, Georgia will use different colored lights during its military appreciation game, according to Mike Bilbow, the assistant athletic director of digital and production.

Bilbow, who was in charge of interfacing the lighting system to the existing Daktronics computers, was one of three people who spent time in Sanford Stadium programming the lights during the summer of 2019.

Bilbow, a Daktronics employee and assistant athletic director of promotions Emily Deitz had to wait until the sun went down around 7:45 to begin their work.

“We sat in the stadium a lot of nights timing stuff out, listening to the music, making sure things hit on the right beat,” Bilbow said. “It’s a very labor-intensive process.”

The moment it finally came together in an empty stadium was Bilbow’s second-favorite memory throughout the process. His favorite? The Notre Dame game.

“There was a little bit of terror,” Bilbow said. “Computers are still computers. Your phone doesn’t always work right the first time. But it was really amazing to hear the crowd gasp.”

The players also enjoyed the spectacle.

“That was crazy,” tight end Charlie Woerner said. “Seeing those, they got me pretty juiced up, pretty amped up for the fourth quarter. It was a lot of fun.”

Sanford Stadium wasn’t the first athletic facility on campus to install LED lights.

When Stegeman Coliseum underwent renovations in time for the 2017-18 season, it received LED lights of its own. They can’t change color, however, because that wasn’t even an option when Georgia bought them, Bilbow said.

The first time Bilbow became aware of the Sanford Stadium project was about 18 months ago when he was asked if he could connect the lights to the Daktronics computers.

In an emailed statement, longtime Georgia sports information director Claude Felton said “there was a process over a two-year period of researching options as well as studying other stadiums and arenas.” The move to install the lights was an administrative decision, but the idea for the colored lights originated with Melvin Robinson, assistant athletic director for facility operations, Felton said.

The plans weren’t made official until the University of Georgia Athletic Association Board of Directors approved it in February.

Alabama also installed new LED lights at Bryant-Denny Stadium in time for this season, but Bulldogs and Crimson Tide fans can’t agree as to who had the idea first.

“I know we rolled them out there for the Notre Dame game,” Bilbow said. “But I have no idea who had them first.”

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