Gov. Lamartine Griffin Hardman was a progressive but stern governor. In 1929 he decreed no vehicles of the University of Georgia should leave Clarke County. Under normal circumstances, that’d be an easy rule to follow. But circumstances weren’t normal when President Steadman V. Sanford was determined to unveil “the best football stadium in Dixie” that fall. The Bulldogs were welcoming Yale to help christen the new gridiron in the valley between the north and south campuses.
Circumstances got more complicated when an Atlanta donor called with a gift of privet Ligustrum—hedges to ring the stadium’s field. That’s when President Sanford hit upon a scheme that might not invoke the governor’s ire. He involved the governor’s son, Lamartine Griffin Hardman Jr., who was a UGA student. And since the university’s fleet was limited, and the biggest truck belonged to the ROTC department, Henri Leon (Sarge) Farmer was recruited to guide the stealth mission to and from Fulton County.
When young Hardman and his ROTC instructor struck out for Atlanta, they had intentions of returning before dark. The truck’s headlights were on the blink. But the journey took longer than expected. On the return to the Classic City, the sun dropped. Sarge, ever prepared, pulled out a flashlight. He put his student behind the wheel.
Clinging to the running board, Sarge aimed the beam toward Athens. That worked—for a while. Then it got darker. Army-like, he crawled onto the hood of the big olive-drab truck. Hanging on with one hand and shining the light with the other, Sarge—sprawled out—guided the governor’s son back into town and to the gate of yet-to-be-dedicated Sanford Stadium.
Workers were waiting to spade the privet into the red clay. Legend suggests they, too, needed flashlights to beat the deadline before the Oct. 12, 1929, kickoff.
No one knows whether Gov. Hardman ever yelped, but he was in the 50-yard line seats—along with eight other Southern governors—to see the Bulldogs bite Yale, 15-0, between the hedges.
There is more than one version of this story, but before the governor’s grandson, Lam Hardman III, died, this is how he retold it. I’ve been carrying Lam’s story around for 30 years. And then it hit me—the great-grandsons of Sarge Farmer and L.G. Hardman Jr. live in Athens.
With the help of their mothers, Catherine Hardman and Rebecca Farmer, Lamartine G. (Lam) Hardman V, Henri Leon (Beau) Farmer IV and I took a trip to Sanford Stadium to touch the hedges. That was in 2013. Lam was 7, and Beau was 9. For 50 minutes, between the hedges, I was younger than 10, too. The three of us imagined the roar of 95,000.
As I was looking at the privet Ligustrum, I flashed back to 1996. Vince Dooley was on the phone. “The Olympics are coming,” he said. “If you want some of the hedges, you best get on over here.”
Years later, I bragged to Coach Dooley how well my hedges were doing. He trimmed my pride, adding, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you can’t kill privet hedge.”
The iconic football coach—turned green thumb—was right. Privet is an invasive-like weed. Not only will it take over the farm; it will take over the imagination of millions in the Bulldog Nation. Followers of the Red and Black believe there’s something magic about playing “between the hedges.”
Just ask Fran Tarkenton, Herschel Walker or Stetson Bennett IV.
You can’t kill privet Ligustrum.
And you can’t kill the legend of how the hedges got to Sanford Stadium.
Just ask Henri Leon Farmer IV or Lamartine Griffin Hardman V.