What? No "Appleby to Washington - 80 yards! Gator Bowl rocking, stunned, the girders are bending now!"?
I don’t profess to know much about a lot of things but one thing I do know a little about is this football game that will kick off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on the banks of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville.
For if the Good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, I will be attending my 52nd consecutive Georgia-Florida game … the first one beginning way back in 1962 when I was a student at UGA and then the last 48, starting in 1965, coming when I was a sportswriter covering the Bulldogs.
And as you can imagine, during those five decades, we’ve had so many Dog-Gator thrillers that it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint a few of them as the greatest Georgia-Florida football games ever. But that’s what I’m going to do in this space today. For, you see, some of the Bulldogs’ best-ever victories in old Jacksonville are pretty clear-cut. Of course, the Gators have pulled out some last-gasp wins over Georgia down through the years as well but, I ask, who wants to read about Florida victories over our beloved Red and Black on this site? … Not me, and not you, either!
In going down my mind’s road on the greatest neutral-site game in America − yes, even topping that Texas-Oklahoma thing in Dallas − and it would be absolute heresy in the highest form to ever move this game home-and-home, I could easily come up with 10 of the Dogs’ greatest wins over Florida. But, for the sake of time and space and to make them even more special, let’s go with five of them today. Five heart-warming wins for Georgia over the Orange and Blue that all you old-timers here will surely remember and well, if you younger Bulldogs know your history of this great series, you should be familiar with also.
From top to bottom, here are my five (actually six, as you will see) most cherished beat-downs of the Florida Gators:
(1) 1980 − Georgia 26, Florida 21
Strictly a no-brainer and a game that’s been called the very greatest victory in UGA history. Because of the Bulldogs having signed the best high school running back in the country on Easter day, something magical was happening this football season. And by surviving a number of down-to-the-wire battles behind the thrilling runs of Herschel Walker, Georgia came into Jacksonville unbeaten at 8-0 and ranked No. 2 in the land, behind No. 1 Notre Dame and just ahead of the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles. Thanks to a 72-yard touchdown burst by Walker on the fourth play from scrimmage, the Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead on the Gators and went on to hold a 14-10 lead at halftime. But, in the second half, here came the Gators, overtaking Georgia and carrying a 21-20 lead into the game’s final two minutes. And with the Bulldogs pinned back at their own seven-yard line and their first two plays going nowhere, it appeared Georgia’s unbeaten season and national championship hopes were about to be thrown out into the St. Johns River. Indeed, the Gator players were already on the sidelines dancing the “Funky Chicken” in celebration of a sure victory over the hated Dogs. But then, there it came. On a third-and-long with the Bulldogs simply trying to come up with a first down to keep this last-gasp drive alive, Buck Belue rolled to his right, got a key block from tackle Nat Hudson and found Lindsay Scott on a crossing pattern in the middle. The former Jesup great stopped, caught Belue’s pass and had the crucial first down. But, he wasn’t through. Making a spin move to his right, Scott sped to the sidelines in front of the Georgia bench and was long gone, completing the 93-yard catch-and-run into Bulldog history that was completed with just 1:03 left on the old Gator Bowl scoreboard. The Bulldogs had their spine-tingling 26-21 win and with rival Georgia Tech’s stunning 3-3 tie with the top-ranked Irish up in Atlanta, Georgia was about to ascend to the No. 1 national ranking. Of course, as we all know, Dooley’s Dogs went on to the program’s only undisputed, unanimous national crown with a 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, finishing a perfect 12-0.
As for myself, here are my thoughts of those final moments in Jacksonville, which Robbie Burns quoted me on in his best-selling book, Belue To Scott.
“I remember I was in the press box. The writers would go down on the field with about five minutes left in the game. In a tight game, I don’t go down to the field. There’s always time to get down there later. Most of the coaches keep the locker room closed anyway for the players to have a little cooling off period. The Florida people were celebrating already and the players were dancing on the sideline. The Georgia fans over in the corner, near the St. Johns River, were really quiet. I stood up out of my folding chair, and I said, ‘I’m going to watch one more play. This is it.’ I had already taken one step toward the elevator to ride down from the press box. Then, there it came. I’ve never heard such a loud noise before or since in that stadium.”
(2) 1976 − Georgia 41, Florida 27
The Bulldogs entered this Nov. 6 game at 7-1, with a stirring 21-0 win over Alabama under their belts and the only setback being a disappointing 21-17 loss to Ole Miss in Oxford. And when the Gators ran into a 27-13 halftime lead, it looked as if Georgia’s SEC title hopes were going to be crushed. But that Bulldog deficit only set the stage for maybe the greatest half of football in UGA annals. The comeback started when Gator coach Doug Dickey decided to roll the dice and try to make a first down on a fourth-and-less -than-a half-yard at Florida’s own 29-yard line. But in what will be forever known as “Fourth-and-Dumb” among the Gator faithful, Bulldog defensive back Johnny Henderson came up and nailed Florida’s Earl Carr behind the line. Georgia took over, scored to tie the game up at 27 and then went on to complete a 28-0 second half domination behind eventual SEC Player of the Year Ray Goff’s three touchdowns running and two passing. Georgia, sparked by the great win over the Gators, then went on to the SEC championship and a final 10-2 record, losing to Pittsburgh and Tony Dorsett in the Sugar Bowl.
(3) 1985 − Georgia 24, Florida 3
Talk about a dagger being driven into the scaly Gators’ hides, this was it. Although in 1985 Florida was on probation and not eligible for the SEC title, the Gators still had aspirations of an AP national championship and came into this Nov. 9 game ranked No. 1 in all of the land. Georgia was ranked No. 17 but was still a couple touchdowns underdog against Florida that afternoon. But in a contest that these Bulldogs dominated from start to finish, Georgia’s rushing attack ran the Gators ragged. Freshman running backs Keith Henderson and Tim Worley ran for 145 and 125 yards, respectively, as all the stunned UF fans watched from their Gator Bowl seats in disbelief. Henderson had a 76-yard touchdown gallop and Worley topped that with under four minutes left in the game with still the longest touchdown run from scrimmage in Georgia history (tying Johnny Griffith against Furman), for 89 yards. And leading the Bulldog defense that stunned the Gators cold was Greg “Muddy” Waters, with 13 tackles, a sack and two pass-breakups. Not many more satisfying days than this one for Georgia fans in Jacksonville.
(4) 1983 − Georgia 10, Florida 9
There are probably 10 or 15 games that could go into these final two choices including the 27-10 1966 win over eventual Heisman winner Steve Spurrier and the Gators, led by Bill Stanfill and George Patton and which is illustrated in the photo BI web master Greg Poole inserted above. And I’m sure your favorite Georgia wins over the Gators would also qualify. But in 1983, Herschel was already gone, having won the Heisman Trophy the year before and led the Bulldogs to an unprecedented an staggering record of 33-3 over his three years in Athens. And Buck and Lindsay had been gone for two years, also. But Georgia had come up with another winning quarterback in John Lastinger, who had succeeded Belue as the signal-caller at storied Valdosta High School. And the Bulldogs entered this Nov. 5 skirmish with an unbeaten 7-0-1 record, the tie coming against Clemson in the second game of the season. But on this afternoon, the Georgia offense could go nowhere against the staunch Gator stop-em gang. However, down 9-3 with 5:44 left in the third quarter, the Bulldogs took over at their own 1-yard line, their backs clearly against the wall as the Florida fans roared with delight. But here came Georgia, fashioning a sterling 99-yard touchdown drive that is still tied with a couple of others for the longest in UGA history. Lastinger directed the Bulldogs on the 16-play drive that ate up 7:26 of the clock. Barry Young capped the march with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, with still 13:18 left to play. The Bulldogs then converted the PAT kick and turned the game over to their defense to protect the 10-9 victory. The one-point setback was even more bitter for the Gator fans than if they had been blown out by 40. Lastinger would go on to lead Georgia to a 10-1-1 season and, yes, a 10-9 Cotton Bowl victory over then No. 2 Texas.
(5) 1997 − Georgia 37, Florida 17; 2007 − Georgia 42, Florida 30
I have to go with co-victories in this fifth and final spot. In the 1990s, as we all painfully know, the Bulldogs had been thoroughly dominated by Steve Spurrier and his pass-crazy Gators. Entering the 1997 game the Gators had whipped the Bulldogs for seven consecutive years, many of them in blowouts. But on Nov. 1, 1997, Jim Donnan’s Dogs finally turned the tables, smashing the Gators by those 20 points behind the sterling performances of Robert Edwards, Mike Bobo and Hines Ward. Edwards ran for 124 yards and a school-record four touchdowns including a 37-yard jaunt down the left sidelines that knocked the Gators out for good. Bobo passed for 260 yards and Ward, who would of course go on to Pittsburgh Steelers greatness, had seven catches for 85 yards. After seven seasons of absolute misery in the River City, Georgia fans finally were able to celebrate long into the night. Donnan’s best team at UGA would then go on to a 10-2 record. After taking over the Georgia helm in 2001, Mark Richt had been able to go only 1-5 against the Gators, entering the 2007 season. The lone win had come in 2004, by 31-24 and particularly bitter was the 2002 20-13 loss to Florida, the only setback in Georgia’s 13-1 season and a defeat that likely prevented the Bulldogs from winning the national championship. But then came the Oct. 27, 2007 meeting and, finally, great redemption for Richt and the Dogs. With the Florida defense simply unable to stop Knowshon Moreno, who gashed the Gators for 188 yards and three touchdowns that afternoon, on 33 carries, and Georgia QB Matthew Stafford also throwing for 217 yards and three touchdowns, including an 84-yard bomb to Mohamed Massaquoi, the Bulldogs grabbed the Gators by the throats and never let go the game long. Another wonderful day for all wearing red and black in the northeast Florida venue.
So, that’s five, make it actually six, of the greatest ever Georgia wins I’ve seen over the Florida Gators down through the years. Of course, as they all say, maybe the sweetest ones are the latest ones. And let’s all hope this coming Saturday, Todd Gurley, Aaron Murray and the rest of these 2013 Bulldogs can ring up Georgia’s’ third straight over the Gators, to follow the 24-20 and 17-9 wins of the past two seasons.
What? No "Appleby to Washington - 80 yards! Gator Bowl rocking, stunned, the girders are bending now!"?
@GirdersRBending That 1975 game was indeed a thriller also and Munson's call on it was special, "Appleby just stopped, planted his feet and Washington, thinking of the Montreal Olympics, ran out of his shoes." I weighed that with Nos. 3, 4 and 5 and like I said, there were about 10 more that could have been in there, including that 10-7 win in '75. That's why this series has been the best in America. Thanks for bringing that one up and let's hope we make some more memories Saturday.