By: Steve Norris
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
Ross Smith had seen enough…and decided to let the world know about it.
It was Saturday, October 28th, 2000. Smith’s beloved Georgia Bulldogs had just suffered another frustrating loss to Steve Spurrier and the Florida Gators. It was the Dawgs’ 10th loss to the Gators in 11 games dating back to 1990, and Dawg fans were getting tired of it.
“We were angry that (Head Coach) Jim Donnan had decided to play Quincy Carter at quarterback over Cory Phillips.” Ross Smith, cousins and friends wanted people to know about it.
The week before, Carter was out due to injury, so Cory Phillips stepped in and led the Dawgs to a road victory over the Kentucky Wildcats, throwing for 400 yards and four touchdown passes.
“We thought for sure that Phillips had earned the chance to play against Florida,” said Smith. “Instead, Donnan went with Carter, who went out and threw three interceptions and looked horrible in yet another loss (to Florida).”
And that’s how The Barn Sign was born.
That night, Smith bought some red, white, and black paint and brought the dilapidated former corner store to life with its first message to Dawg fans everywhere: “TO HELL WITH CARTER…PHILLIPS FOR PRESIDENT”
“It was an election year, so going with “President” made sense to me,” said Smith.
The “barn” doesn’t actually belong to Smith. It is owned by his first cousins, James and Jonathan Hitchcock, who live on and operate the farm across the street.
It was originally a corner store from the mid-50’s to the late 70’s, according to Smith.
“There was a family that ran it and lived in a small room on the side of the building,” said Smith. “I’m not sure how they did it all those years. The room they lived in wasn’t as big as my truck and there’s never been any running water.”
After the first message in 2000, Smith began changing the sign a few times a year.
“I would change it at the end of the season, on National Signing Day (which was in February then), two weeks before the season to get Dawg fans pumped up, and then after the Florida game.
If we lost the Florida game, I would put up a message ribbing Gator fans, and if we’d won, I’d just put up the score. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to put the score up very much the first ten years or so,” Smith said laughingly.
Around 2010, the building began to rot in some places due to water leaks when it rained. Smith came home from a trip one day and noticed the building was leaning badly. “I just figured that was it. I was done painting The Barn Sign,” said Smith.
What he didn’t realize was how popular the sign had truly become. “People were sending me messages on Facebook asking me when I was going to fix the sign and paint it again,” said Smith. “I was fresh out of college and didn’t have a lot of money. I told the fans that if they wanted the sign back up, I needed them to donate money to help me pay for it.
I figured I needed around $1500 to make repairs, so I set up a PayPal account and raised $1700 in ten days. In fact, I had to turn the account off because money was coming in so fast.” Smith said.
Once the sign was repaired, its popularity began to grow exponentially. Smith has been interviewed by ESPN along with other large newspapers.
The Barn Sign Facebook page is approaching 55,000 “likes” while Smith’s daily page posts attract a lot of traffic.
Even while I was interviewing Smith in front of the sign, located on Highway 15 between Tennille and Wrightsville, around 15-20 people parked on the highway next to the sign to get a glimpse and take pictures in front of the iconic building. Of course, the current sign has a lot to do with that. Today it reads:
21-22 BACK-TO-BACK NATIONAL CHAMPIONS.
For Smith and all Georgia fans, it’s truly the best message ever and a “sign” that like Georgia football, The Barn Sign has a lot of great years ahead of it.