The recent extension of the contract between Georgia and Florida to continue playing in Jacksonville brought back memories of the rivalry, which are bittersweet in Georgia’s case. With the following, I am wearing the hat of a fan who happened to have been exposed to a close-up view of the way it once was.
The Bulldogs lead in the all-time series 52-43-2, but the dominance Florida enjoyed in the 50s and 90s is only ameliorated by Vince Dooley’s run. In his quarter-century in Jacksonville, which began in 1964 and lasted until his final game in the old Gator Bowl when he ended his career with a 34-27 victory over Michigan State in the Mazda Gator Bowl, there was an unlimited celebration for Bulldog fans—from Vince’s first game to his last.
Vince’s record versus Florida was a sparkling 17-7-1. His heyday in the series caused the rivalry to peak during his era. He and Joel Eaves, then athletic director, let it be known to the city and to the University of Florida that neutral site, it was not and that if the game were to be played in Jacksonville on an annual basis, Georgia would not be treated like a second-class citizen.
Georgia, for the longest time, received the shabbiest of treatment. The city bends over backward now, but it doesn’t have a gracious history in that regard. UGA had to force equality.
Coach Eaves demanded that his school receive half the tickets to the game and to be assigned half the good tickets. Florida was taking more than half the tickets and the lion’s share of the good seats. Who could blame the Gator administrators? It was Georgia’s fault that it was not being treated fairly, but don’t give the city of Jacksonville high marks for its hospitality, historically.
There was resistance in other areas with regard to what Georgia expected. Example: When Eaves advanced the notion that UGA should be charged a reasonable rate lodging for the trip and that the team pays for Friday night only. He understood that the motels could require a two night minimum for fans, but somebody needed to accommodate the team.
“We lose all the bar business,” was the argument of the motel operators. Eaves: “But you get at least three guaranteed meals, including the pre-game meal which involves a big, thick steak.”
“That still is not fair for the motel which has to host the team,” a Jacksonville official said. Georgia’s position was that the school should get what it wanted, which in his view was reasonable, or the game would have to move. When the city realized Eaves meant what he said, there was a change of heart. However, the capitulation came grudgingly.
A motel was found to UGA’s satisfaction and with Dooley’s teams winning at a higher percentage than in the past, Bulldog fans bought up the allotment of tickets.
Eaves was adamant that Georgia be treated fairly, but he was not heavy handed. I was business manager of athletics at the time and saw all this play out. I saw Georgia get the back of the city’s hand so often that I am guilty of smirking when I see Jacksonville city officials patting themselves on the back for their hospitality. Georgia fans should never forget that the city gave in reluctantly. We had to play hardball to balance the scales.
Even so, a former Bulldog All-American, Pat Dye, is a critic of Georgia’s decision to play in Jacksonville. Jacksonville is a Florida city, he has often said. “That means every hotel owner, every cop, every waiter and every waitress is a Florida fan. I understand that but if I were Georgia I would go home and home in a minute. It is about as much of a neutral site as I am an astronaut.”
As athletic director at Auburn, Dye forced the Alabama-Auburn game to go home-and-home because he felt official Birmingham favored Alabama. He argued that since the two schools brought about huge income that the campus communities of Auburn and Tuscaloosa should be the beneficiary.
“Look at what Georgia is doing,” he said to me back in the spring. “All that income the game generates, except gate receipts and television, is going into the state of Florida each year. Y’all are nuts.”
In this corner, the game has offered side benefits for years that make the trip to the coasts of Georgia and north Florida special. It is a fall vacation which offers a holiday atmosphere with beaches, boating, fishing and golf options galore. Most fans take in the excursion for golf and the abundant parties that dominate. Dye’s parting shot. “Georgia fans go for a vacation. Florida goes to win the game.”
Moving the game to a home and home routine would really be hard on the Golden Isles communities. St. Simons and its environs are truly Red and Black committed. However, the voice of the head coach should be heard.
As much as I have enjoyed excursions to the Georgia coast and the north Florida beaches over the years, I say if Kirby Smart wants to move the game, my sentiments are to give the Bulldog head coach’s desire consideration.