ATHENS, Ga. - Former Georgia Bulldog defensive end Billy Payne finally got to make a carry in Sanford Stadium Monday - minus the cheer of the crowds.
Payne, the president and founder of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, took one of the shortest but undoubtedly sweetest legs of the coast-to-coast Olympic torch relay: 100 yards, from one end of Georgia's football stadium to the other.
There, he handed the Olympic symbol to his former coach, Georgia Athletic Director Vince Dooley, who trotted out of the stadium and across campus.
"I have been extremely fortunate to have lived my dream of helping to bring the Centennial Olympic Games to our state," Payne said before his run, "but nothing that has occurred since we were awarded the Games can compare to the thrill of this day."
Payne's children, Porter and Elizabeth, accompanied their father across the Sanford Stadium field. Payne's wife, Martha, ran the torch Thursday in her hometown, Moultrie.
The ACOG president didn't allow the media to witness the moment, saying he wanted it to be a private celebration.
However, he did invite dozens of ACOG staffers from Athens, who are helping put on the city's soccer, volleyball and rhythmic gymnastics events.
Amy Parrish, Athens ACOG venue staffing coordinator, called the moment "emotional but in a fun, laid-back way. This was special."
Payne, an All-American defensive end on the 1968 Southeastern Conference champion Georgia Bulldogs football team, will donate his torch to the university. During Olympic soccer, it will be placed in the stadium skyboxes. Following the Olympics, the torch will be moved to a permanent location in the stadium.
"This will be a lasting tribute to the unparalleled contributions of the entire Payne family to the University of Georgia," Dooley said.
The torch left Eatonton, Ga., at 4:30 a.m. en route to Athens, where it was greeted by thousands of people lining U.S. Highway 441, downtown streets and the University of Georgia campus. Some spectators along the route held impromptu breakfast parties at their homes.
The relay runners included 55 "community heroes" chosen by a United Way-appointed citizens' committee.
Louise Boyce, 83, carried the torch into the city of Athens. The retired school teacher elected to walk rather than jog.
"People ask me if I've been practicing walking," Boyce said. "I tell them yes, for the last 80 years."
The celebration was marred when Ben Aaron, 8, was struck by a car in downtown Athens shortly before the flame's arrival. The boy was taken to St. Mary's Hospital where he was reported to be in good condition, spokesman Mark Ralston said.
Torch-watchers started gathering at the University of Georgia Arch as early as 7:30 a.m. to position themselves to watch the flame pass through the heart of Athens. The city's center, electric with Olympic excitement, showed a festive face, festooned with balloons, flags and ribbons.
"This is better than winning the SEC and going to the Sugar Bowl," said Andy Walker, a housing authority worker who had been torch-watching around town since 5 a.m.
Edwin Kendrick, a Georgia graduate now attending medical school in Boston, used the torch to light a mini-Olympic cauldron at a pep rally that concluded his leg of the relay.
Payne, joined by other torchbearers who had already run their routes, said at the rally, "I can tell you wonderful stories of this flame as it has literally traveled all across America. It shows what I think of Athens, Georgia, where I chose to run this flame."
The relay was scheduled to end after midnight in the tiny mountain town of Young Harris, the home of Gov. Zell Miller.
Morris News Service writers Dan Bischof, Rich Copley, Beverly Cox, Kathy Folkerth, Lee Shearer, Richard Stenger and Joan Stroer contributed to this report.