There is nothing like Georgia-Florida. One of the most intense and passionate rivalries in all of college football reconvenes on the banks of the mighty St. John’s Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville with the old Gator Bowl split in half.
For the record, it was preferable to this old Bulldog when the stadium was cut into quarters with the fans. Of course, the half and half has likely cut down on the number of in-game in-stadium fisticuffs, but what a sight that used to be. Red and Black from the 50 to the Goalposts, Blue and Orange from the Goalposts to the 50, Red and Black from the 50 to the Goalposts and Blue and Orange from the Goalposts to the 50.
Credit goes to the former columnist for the Florida Times-Union, Bill Kastelz, for coining the phrase “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” back in 1958. This annual gargantuan gridiron gathering didn’t necessarily invent professional college football tailgating, but the Georgia-Florida game certainly mastered it.
Now it’s not like this is the only game the cold beverages are flowing fast. Fans fly the friendly skies each and every Saturday. Where Georgia-Florida gets its, ahem, reputation, is that the numbers are even. When the Bulldogs visit Auburn, when Tennessee comes to Athens, when the Gators go to LSU, or when Florida State heads to Gainesville, the home faithful are outnumbering the visitors around 10-to-one, that’s approximately 80,000 to 8,000. Even with sufficient “liquid courage,” the road warriors best not growl too loudly.
In and around the stadium in Jacksonville, it’s around 40,000 to 40,000, plus a whole lot more who don’t have tickets.
Then you throw in the invasive “Gator chomp,” and well, tempers can flare. And there’s proper back-up.
The emotion, passion, pride, and fervor will be on full display Saturday afternoon. Second-year Gator coach Dan Mullen’s not so subtle shots across the bow at the Bulldogs have added even more fuel to a festering fire.
Georgia has won the last two meetings in impressive fashion, securing highlight victories on the way to outstanding seasons. The Gators, with Mullen holding the proverbial megaphone, have made it clear that they are gunning for the Bulldogs and the seat atop the Southeastern Conference’s East Division.
Smart’s Dogs are also striving to become the first time from the East to go to three straight SEC Championship Games since Steve Spurrier’s Gators went to the first five, winning four, from 1992-1996.
That was in the midst of Florida’s dominance over the Dogs.
When Spurrier was hired as the Gators head coach, Georgia led the all-time series 44-22-2. At the Florida helm, he went 11-1 against his most hated rival, with several of those finals, embarrassing blowout losses for the Bulldogs.
His ire towards Georgia goes back to 1966 and a top ten battle when the once-beaten Bulldogs beat undefeated Florida 27-10 in Jacksonville. The stingy Dogs defense held Florida without a first down in the second half, and All-American safety Lynn Hughes had the biggest play of the day, intercepting Spurrier and returning the pick 39 yards for a touchdown. Georgia would go on to win the SEC crown, sharing the title with Alabama. Florida would not win its first SEC championship until 25 years later, Spurrier’s second season as the Gators head coach.
From 1971-1989, Georgia went 15-4 against Florida, including an electrifying six-game winning streak over the Gators from 1978-1983 that featured some of the most unforgettable moments, plays and triumphs in the pantheon of Bulldogs football lore. Vince Dooley was 17-7-1 against Florida, while the Gators ran through a series of coaches until they found their guy.
Which they most certainly did.
With Spurrier, two bad losses to Ron Zook, and then Urban Meyer, Georgia was dominated in Jacksonville (plus once in Athens and once in Gainesville) by the Gators. Florida went 18-3 against Georgia from 1990-2010.
From 44-22-2 to 47-40-2.
Upon Meyer’s exit, Georgia won three straight over Florida, as Mark Richt’s Bulldogs defeated Will Muschamp’s Gators in a trio of nail-biters. Heavily favored Georgia then fell to Florida in 2014, and Florida won three in a row, one with Muschamp, then two with Jim McElwain.
Enter Smart. Exit McElwain following the 42-7 Georgia thrashing of 2017. Georgia born and bred, Smart had a stellar performance in Jim Donnan’s Dogs 37-17 win over Florida in 1997, Spurrier’s lone coaching loss in the series. But he also played in the south end of 52-17, 47-7 and 38-7 losses. Like Spurrier from ‘66, those aren’t forgotten.
With a 2-1 record against Florida, he’s the first Georgia coach with a winning record against the Gators three games into rivalry since Dooley from 1964-66.
Mullen is in his second season as Florida head coach. The offensive coordinator during Meyer’s reign in Gainesville, he was right there when emotions ran extra hot following Georgia’s 2007 field storming in a 42-30 Bulldogs win, and Florida’s 2008 trio of less-than-a-minute timeouts in a 49-10 Gators rout.
So what’s at stake beyond the obvious of keeping the biggest dreams alive?
This would be sweet for Georgia: a 3-1 record in Jacksonville and three-game winning streak for its coach, an 0-2 record for Florida in the series for its coach, and six of the last nine, plus a 6-4 record against the Gators in the decade. After the previous two decades against the Gators, every Bulldog would sign up for that.
We’ll see Saturday which team is still alive, and which will try and rebuild the energy, forced into salvage mode.