Dust off your #1 foam finger, hang that team banner from the porch, and get ready to spend the next five months cheering on your favorite college and/or professional football team(s).
With almost nine hundred football colleges in five different levels of the NCAA and thirty-two teams of the National Football League, both locals and visitors alike can find any game they want to watch simply by visiting one of several Savannah sports bars.
Over the past two years, many college alumni associations have reduced the number of events, understandably so, due to the pandemic. However, as vaccination numbers continue to climb, Savannah sports bars and restaurants are anticipating locals and visitors alike who want to socialize and share in the excitement that is football season… especially in the South and here in The Hostess City.
“We pride ourselves in giving you the atmosphere of being at the game with other fans who are excited and really into the action,” said John Henderson, owner of Coach’s Corner on Victory Drive. “We’re up to about seventy televisions, so we’ve got every game… and we have lots of seating outside allowing folks the chance to social distance more, if they’d like.”
While Coach’s Corner caters more to a local crowd, downtown Savannah businesses know they will be inundated with locals and visitors seeking space to watch their favorite team on Saturday and Sunday.
The Savannah Taphouse on West Broughton Street is well-acquainted with the gridiron crowd. Since Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is one of two owners of the sports-and-beer-centric eatery, Pittsburgh Steelers fans regularly gather at the establishment to enjoy every down together.
“It really is Sunday fun day,” Ashley, a server, shouts out.
The restaurant has twenty-eight high-definition televisions on two levels. Like many bars, the Taphouse offers drink specials during each game as well as mixed bucket specials. They do suggest planning ahead for your game day festivities.
“We’d love for you to watch games with us. Our advice is to get here early. If you visit with us on Saturday or Sunday, feel free to arrive before your game so you and your guests can secure seating,” a marketing representative said.
On the east side of Broughton Street, amidst the organized chaos of urban rehabilitation, World of Beers wants to remind people that despite the barriers and detours, World of Beer is open and ready for this year’s football season.
“Construction may halt you from parking in front, but don’t let it stop you from coming in,” World of Beer general manager, Rico Penaranda said. “We have beer specials, discount appies, and plenty of room for groups to watch games together.” The two-story location has fifteen televisions downstairs with ten upstairs.
“We have a lot of Florida State Seminoles fans who gather upstairs. Also, a lot of University of Florida fans come by regularly. Of course,” Penaranda added, “we’re open to any team and hope people will come see us to enjoy watching their game with friends.”
Many places are gearing up to host college football’s opening day game of the University of Georgia versus Clemson University—a game that is sure to be a shoot-out to start the season and possibly have ramifications for the playoffs later down the line.
“I am a Clemson fan and I always look forward to watching the Georgia game out with friends,” Walt Rhame of Savannah said. “Any team wanting to be the best has to play the best. I’m looking forward to another undefeated season for Clemson with UGA being first on the list.”
UGA’s Savannah alumni president, John Freeman, agreed about the scope of the game, but not the outcome. “Savannah has a long tradition of being a Bulldog town. We’re excited to once again have game watching parties for alumni, fans, and anyone else who wants to cheer on the Dawgs.”
UGA’s alumni group meets at B&D Burgers on Congress Street. “Throughout the football season, we’ll have a DJ, do T-shirt tosses, and have UGA swag giveaways, in addition to our Smart Bomb shot special,” said Sean Robb, Brand Manager for B&D Burgers. The shot is named after Georgia’s head football coach, Kirby Smart.
B&D Burgers’s Congress Street location has a large outdoor seating area with giant screen watching for featured games. “Our Pooler location gets a hodge-podge of SEC and ACC fans and we cater to a group of Notre Dame alumni and fans at our Southside location,” Robb added.
“There is nothing like being a Notre Dame fan,” noted Caleb Harkleroad of Harkleroad Diamonds and Fine Jewelry. “The tradition of game day in South Bend are some of my greatest memories. Notre Dame fans share such a bond through our faith, heritage, and love of the game. It’s the same feeling you get watching the game with fellow fans here in Savannah.”
Buffalo Wild Wings in Pooler and near Oglethorpe Mall offer changing weekly specials. “We always have college and pro games on and welcome groups for watching together,” said Chance Porter, a Buffalo Wild Wings manager. “If you don’t see your game, just ask.”
Wild Wing Café in Ellis Square offers game viewing inside on both levels on the weekends even while local bands and musicians entertain outside. Beer specials give all fans the chance to cool down while watching the heated rivalries.
“The most perfect Saturday for us is when Georgia has the early game and Bama has the later game,” Robb from B&D Burgers said. “That way, we get a great mix of fans flowing in and out throughout the day to take in the big games.”
Teresa Wiser, who dropped off her daughter—third generation—in Tuscaloosa to begin her college adventure, is an alumna of The University of Alabama who is working on rebuilding the Savannah chapter.
“There are a lot of ’Bama alums in the Savannah area and we hope to make the chapter bigger and better with community support, networking opportunities, and, of course, supporting our National Championship-defending Crimson Tide with watch parties.”
Alabama alumni and fans can also find comrades in arms at Tailgate Sports Bar and Grill on Abercorn Street on the Southside where the owner is an unabashed Bama fan.
“We are so excited about the season,” Mike Bartlett, owner/manager of Tailgate said. “We mostly get support for the SEC here with fans of Georgia and Florida enjoying themselves here with us.”
The bar is fitted with plenty of high-definition televisions, standard bucket-deals, and drink specials, but Bartlett says it’s really about the people.
“We understand the concerns due to the pandemic and the new rise in infections—we’ve taken it seriously from day one—but, I have eleven people whose livelihood for them and their family is dependent on me. We made the decision to keep providing the excellent customer service, food, beverage, and entertainment we regularly deliver and welcome everyone back to an eventful, fun, and safe football season.”
NFL fans can also enjoy their time at Tailgate.
“We have a lot of fantasy football leaguers who come in and cheer on their teams,” Bartlett added. “We also see a lot of Atlanta Falcons fans (certainly), but there’s a group of Buffalo Bills fans and Philadelphia Eagles supporters who frequent the restaurant.”
“There was a Green Bay Packers fan convention in town many years ago and they needed a place to watch the game. We catered to them and ever since then, we are an official NFL bar.”
Packers fans who are downtown can gather with fellow “cheese heads” (how Packers fan refer to themselves) at PS Tavern on Bay St.
Décor and memorabilia of the Wisconsin team covers the walls leaving no doubt who they support.
During games, when the Packers score, they give out free yellow and green Jell-O shots, representative of Green Bay’s colors.
So, it makes sense that on fall Saturdays and Sundays, throughout Savannah, folks are decked out in their proper colors, jerseys, and head gear, ready to support their team at a moment’s notice with a random, “Go Dawgs,” a shared “War Eagle,” or a high-fiving Florida State tomahawk chop.
Just as Savannah is a melting pot of creativity, culture, and Southern living, it fosters these myriad football fandoms, not only from local colleges and universities, but programs all over the country. and NFL teams from coast-to-coast to provide shared experiences for everyone.
“It’s great to be around others dressed in their Georgia red and black,” Freeman said. “I love meeting new people who share similar interests. It just adds to the overall energy level during the game.”
There are strict traditions and rituals that occur for game day, as well.
“One time a customer got really upset because someone was sitting in his ‘lucky chair’ he sat in every Saturday,” one manager said with a laugh. “Some people only have certain drinks they’ll order or sip at specific times or things like that,” he continued. “Hey, we respect what fans feel they have to do to help their teams win.”
Tailgate’s Mike Bartlett got a “ridiculously good deal” on an Alabama 1965 National Championship ring from a jewelry store going out of business. Now, he wears it every game. “It’s got the luck of Kenny ‘Snake’ Stabler,” he said.
Similarly, Walt Rhames shares his ritual for his game watching with his friends. “I have a T-shirt I got when I was in high school. Thirty-five years later, I still wear it for every Clemson game. It’s been torn in a friendly tussle and sewn back together, but it makes an appearance for every game.”
Gil Werntz from Savannah never misses his Georgia Southern games when they play at home in Statesboro, but when his Eagles are on the road, he and his wife, Realtor, Alice Werntz, head to their favorite gathering spot.
“Coach’s Corner is always the go-to for Eagle Nation,” Werntz said. “John, Adele, and the whole crew make it feel like home. A gathering of Eagle fans on a fall Saturday is like being with family.”
And, thanks to advances in technologies, fans won’t ever miss a favorite team’s game when they’re away on vacation. Not only are high-definition televisions nearly standard today, but establishment managers are willing to go the extra mile to locate a game for someone.
“Thirty years ago, we started with one of the biggest satellite dishes around,” Henderson of Coach’s Corner said. “Today, if we can’t find a game on the TV, we can get it streaming online using the Wi-Fi. Times have certainly changed.”
With a deep sigh, he noted, “Now… if we could only get chicken wings that easily.”