The following feature story was written for JOUR 3190, Reporting and Writing Across Platforms, during my junior year.
The “Why” Behind The Famous UGA Football Barn Sign
By Marlee Middlebrooks
Trust the process.
This is just one of many messages that have been painted on the side of a barn in Washington County, a barn that has since become a landmark for the Bulldog nation.
Sixteen years ago, Ross Smith, originally from Tennille and resident Barn Sign artist, along with some friends painted a message out of frustration on the side of his uncle’s abandoned barn. Over a decade later, people continue to flock to the what is famously known as the UGA Football Barn Sign.
“[The Barn Sign] started in 2000. Some of my best friends and myself were following the football program back then, and just like any unreasonable fanatic, we felt like we wanted people to know what we thought about the quarterback situation at the time,” Smith said.
Quincy Carter was the starting quarterback for the University of Georgia in 2000. Smith said that he had great athletic ability but not in the position of quarterback. According to Smith, Corey Phillips, the backup quarterback, could have done a better job.
“It was election year, so we put ‘To Hell with Carter, Phillips for President,’” Smith said. “At 20 years old, we really didn’t think about the selection of wording. Obviously, we don’t put profanity on the barn anymore, but at the time, it sounded like a great idea.”
This message should have been the first and last painted on the barn. Smith said he never intended to paint it again. That was until 9/11.
“9/11 happened the next year, and I was thinking this was a perfect opportunity to put our support up for what happened. I painted an American flag on the side of the barn over the previous message and put ‘United We Stand,’” Smith said. “This was the second message, and it was almost a whole year later.”
Smith said from there, painting the sign turned into a fun pastime.
“We started putting messages up about how we felt about the program and which direction it was headed, and people started to notice,” Smith said. “It turned into two times a year and then three times a year and now there have been approximately 35 messages.”
Now, Smith paints a message three times each year: before the start of the season, the night of the Georgia-Florida game and after signing day.
The message Smith chooses to paint following the game in Jacksonville is heavily influenced by the outcome.
“I was not very optimistic about the game this year, so I had already decided what I wanted to put up in the case that we lost,” Smith said. “Typically, if we win, I will put the score up. I’ll put some kind of phrase after [the score]. It is the way I pick fun at the Florida fans.”
On her way home from attending the game, Cassidy Long, a sophomore biology major from Vidalia, stopped for a picture next to the Barn Sign.
“The message was an encouragement because even though we had been let down from the game, it made me realize that we do have to trust the process, trust Kirby and trust the team because that is all we can do,” Long said.
As a whole, Smith describes the barn as a canvas to vent frustrations and to give praise when needed.
“[The Barn Sign] is unique. People really enjoy it. They have the same feelings that I do I guess, so they really connect with it,” Smith said.
First a general store in the 1930s, Smith said the barn was a place where people could get their haircut and buy a Pepsi cola. It closed in the 1950s. By 2011, environmental factors began taking their toll on the barn.
The tin on the top of the barn started to peel back. Rain penetrated down into the building, and the wall rotted and fell. Smith said that people began asking him when he was going to build the barn back.
“I came up with a budget. I started a website with a PayPal, and in 10 days, I had $1,800. I had to cut off the website,” Smith said. “We built it back better than ever, and we hope it will be around a while.”
The Barn Sign’s popularity has only increased as Deep River Outfitters, a local Washington County business, has designed t-shirts about the Barn Sign. The first t-shirt was released over Labor Day weekend in 2015.
Keith Lindsey, director of sales and marketing for Deep River Outfitters, said the Barn Sign t-shirts are a huge hit online at shopdeepriver.com and at fairs and festivals Deep River Outfitters visit.
Its popularity has succeeded in helping First Love Kids, a nonprofit organization in Washington County. Lindsey said to date nearly 4,000 shirts have been sold and approximately $40,000 has been donated to First Love Kids from the sale of the shirts.
“Virtually, all of the proceeds from the sales of the Barn Sign shirts go to support First Love Kids which works with at-risk youth in our county,” Lindsey said. “Because [the Barn Sign] is a local landmark, we wanted to support some organization locally.”
When he reflects on how the Barn Sign has become a staple among the Bulldog nation, Smith said it is “funny.”
“A lot of people just like the fact that there’s a sign on a barn. That’s kind of funny to me,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, it’s just somebody painting messages on a barn in a ridiculous fashion, but people like it.”
Long said she believes the sign is special.
“I think [the Barn Sign] shows how dedicated UGA fans are and how much pride UGA fans have,” Long said. “It shows the pride of the football nation.”