Every year around the end of October something magical happens. No. It’s not the ‘Great Pumpkin.’ I am talking about the week of Georgia-Florida of course. Fondly known by fans as the WLOCP or as the great Larry Munson stated on more than one occasion, “the Worlds Greatest Cocktail Party.
Georgia and Florida have met 94 times; although, the Gators dispute the number of said meetings to be 93. That means depending on whether you wear red and black or sport jorts and the orange, blue and white, this will be the 95th or 94th meeting between the two SEC rivals. You can trace this contest all the way back to October 15, 1904, where Georgia took Florida to the woodshed in Macon, GA 52-0. The two schools would play each other off and on sporadically a total of 4 more times in 1915, 1916, 1919, and 1920 before the game became an annual affair in 1926; with the only interruption taking place in 1943 due to Word War II. The location of the game has been in Jacksonville since 1933 except for two years, 1994 and 1995, when the old Gator Bowl was reconstructed into Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, now known as EverBank Field, for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars inaugural season. As it stands now, Georgia leads the series 50-42-2.
And for me, I grew up with the Dawgs during the late 70s and throughout the 80s; so, as a youth and teenager, I have fond memories of Georgia-Florida on the radio or TV screen. After graduating high school, I was excited to get the opportunity to be able to attend the game in person and experience all the wonders the WLOCP had to offer. It was unknown to me, however, as I enrolled at the University in Athens in the fall of 1991, toting my footlocker and duffel bag up 7 flights of stairs in Russell Hall, that there was about to be a ‘Dark Ages’ for Bulldog football, especially when it came to the Georgia-Florida series.
You see the University of Florida had gone and hired this Coach by the name of Steve Spurrier from Duke, and in his first season with the Gators, he led them to a 9-2 season, which included a 38-7 win over the Dawgs. That was just the start of the misery. My first trip down to Jacksonville and my first live WLOCP experience was to witness Georgia get whipped 45-13. And it didn’t stop there. Each year during the decade of the nineties would find the Dawgs on the wrong end of the scoreboard but for one.
In 1997, both Georgia and Florida came into the annual contest at 6-1, with the Bulldogs ranked 15th and the Gators at number 6. However, Georgia was a 3 touchdown underdawg and given a snowball’s chance in hell of coming out of Jacksonville with a win. Despite the odds, my WLOCP buddies and I packed up our tents, hitched up the pop-up camper, and made our way down to Tybee Island to camp out over the weekend to enjoy copious amounts of adult beverages and grilled meats. It was my 5th time down for the Jacksonville game, and well, let’s just say, we weren’t very hopeful as the Dawgs had lost 7 straight to Spurrier.
I remember it was hot on that November 1st, but Robert Edwards made myself and the other Dawg fans forget about the heat in the first quarter. Number 47 would run through a massive hole for a 23-yard score and Georgia drew first blood going up 7-0. The Dawgs’ defense was stout and opportunistic in the first half. Champ Bailey would come up with a big interception and Kirby Smart would grab one as well. Edwards would add a second touchdown, and Georgia would go into half-time with a 14-3 lead leaving a stunned Gator crowd dazed and confused.
The start of the second half and things began to fall apart as Florida would score 14 unanswered points and go up 17-14. My buddies and I looked at each other, thinking “Not again!” But, oh you Robert Edwards. The senior running back would get his third rushing touchdown on the day and put the Dawgs up 21-17 right before the end of the third quarter. The game was far from over, though, as the fourth quarter was to be an expected battle. Could the Dawgs hang on to get the win?
They would do more than hang on. Georgia dominated Florida in the fourth. Kirby Smart would nab his second pick of the day, but the offense was not able to capitalize on the good field position and ended up having to punt the ball back to the Gators. That Dawg D would step up once again and forced a three and out. Georgia would start the next offensive series with good field position off a solid punt return by Michael Greer. That is when Robert Edwards said ‘good night Gators’ with a 37-yard scamper off a toss sweep down the left sideline following a block by Hines Ward to put the Dawgs up 30-17 with just five to six minutes remaining in the game.
Georgia’s defense would buck up yet again and stop the Gators on a 4th down desperation play that saw Kirby Smart almost get his 3rd interception of the day. With a short field, Olandis Gary, who had been demolishing blue and orange defenders blocking for Edwards, would put the final nail in the Gators’ coffin and the Dawgs up 37-17.
And that would be the final score of the game as the clock ticked down to double zeroes. A stunned Florida team and fanbase, those that were still in the stadium, looked like someone had just stolen their lunch money and kicked ’em in the groin. The Dawgs did just that, and oh how sweet of a win it was. My memory gets a little fuzzy after that, but I can tell that that Sunday afternoon drive back to Athens, GA was a lot more cheerful than the previous four.
It was Georgia’s one and only win versus a Steve Spurrier coached Florida team, and it was also the Dawgs only win over the Gators in the nineties. That probably leaves some of you reading this as to how I can remember the WLOCP with any fondness, to the point that I title this article “Does it get any better than Georgia-Florida?” Don’t get me wrong. Losing is not fun, and losing to Florida just plain sucks. However, that doesn’t completely take away from the experience of the WLOCP week and weekend, especially the hospitality from and wonderful people of the Golden Isles who are near and dear to my heart. Granted, winning makes it that much sweeter, and the drive or flight back home is definitely not as long after a victory compared to a loss.
That 1997 Georgia-Florida is going on 19 years in the past now, and those ‘Dark Ages’ of Georgia football are in the history books. Over the last decade, the Bulldogs have gone 4-6 and over the last five years, 3-2; although, those two losses are the most recent 2014 and 2015 games. So, now, it is the Kirby Smart era at Georgia and time for a new group of Georgia players and fans to make their own WLOCP memories as well as for some of us veterans to make more.
Like that 1997 game, Georgia is the underdawg in this 2016 meeting. I do not know if these Dawgs can get the win down in Jacksonville this year. This Florida team is a very good one, especially on defense, but I do have hope. And why not? This 2016 team has as much chance as that ’97 group of Dawgs did as well as the ’85 team. It would be huge for Kirby Smart to start off 1-0 against Florida, and it would be a big win for the program moving forward as well as some much-needed medicine for the team and fans.
And that is why it doesn’t get any better than Georgia-Florida my friends. Go Dawgs! Beat the Gators!