The long, amazing tradition of Georgia-Florida speaks for itself …
The criteria for playing the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville today is that it has become a college football tradition, which has national implications—nothing akin to the reason it became entrenched in the first place.
After moving around several places from Augusta to Macon to Savannah (in addition to Gainesville, Tampa and Athens), it settled in permanently in Jacksonville in 1933. Football survived the Depression, but by the hardest. In the thirties, any measure that saved a buck or enhanced one was eagerly embraced.
Jacksonville had a bigger population base than Gainesville and Athens which was an attraction, but the key to the success of the game was that so many Georgia alumni who found the distance to Athens a sometimes issue, became attached to the Georgia-Florida game as the one time a year they could see the Bulldogs play.
Jacksonville was much nearer Valdosta, Waycross, Brunswick and towns in between than Athens. With the passing of time, Georgia fans took fulfilling pleasure in making the game a fall vacation—the substantial alumni to Sea Island and Ponte Vedra and others to St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island and Jacksonville Beach. With a little enterprise you could find your niche, which was compatible with your check book.
Georgia students, dating back to the fifties, have connected emotionally with this game and the fun and sun of Jacksonville and its environs. I can remember how eager the student body was in the late fifties and early sixties to leave Athens on Thursday afternoon and caravan down Georgia Highway 15 to Jacksonville. The long drive home was ameliorated when the Bulldogs became the victors in the old Gator Bowl.
Going to the beach in November was a treat for Georgia partisans who enjoyed the welcoming and balmy feel of Jacksonville. In the old days, Jacksonville was an extension of south Georgia, which disclosed that there were many Bulldog aficionados to welcome Red and Black fans to town.
Georgia fans can thank Joel Eaves, athletic director from 1963 to 1979 for putting the game on even footing. If it were a neutral site, his reasoning was that Georgia would not only get half the tickets in the stadium, it also was allocated half of the “good” tickets.
Before the Eaves’ era there was an imbalance. Geography influenced greater demand for tickets for Florida, but there was a defining factor in the rivalry. The Gators were up and the Bulldogs down. That didn’t matter to Eaves, who was aware that a lot of Gator fans called Athens and purchased tickets.
A big change was about to come about. Vince Dooley and his teams would dominate the rivalry. It began Dooley’s first year when Bobby Etter, the diminutive place kicker picked up a fumbled snap and (with his shoestring-tied-up behind his heel on his kicking foot), hobbled into the end zone for a 14-7 victory. Dooley would go on to win 17 games in 25 years. There was one tie.
The pendulum would swing back in the Gators favor in Steve Spurrier’s time in Gainesville, but Georgia holds the all-time lead in the series 50-42-2. There have been some great games in the series with network television giving this game the highest priority through the years.
The CBS network has annually chosen this game, in the pre-season, as one of its top games for the fall. This will be the last year for Verne Lundquist calling play by play for the game. He leaves the CBS booth at the conclusion of the SEC championship game in December.
One of the most delightful times in recent years is that Verne and his wife, Nancy, have found their way to Jacksonville on Thursday to enjoy dinner at the home of Vernon and Patricia Brinson of New Orleans, but with a vacation home at Ponte Vedra.
Vernon, a former Georgia baseball letterman, who has been an enthusiastic UGA supporter, is a past president of the Sugar Bowl and hasn’t missed a Georgia-Florida game since his junior year at Georgia. He grew up in nearby Macclenny and by all rights should have been a Gator like most everyone else in his family.
However, he enrolled at South Georgia Junior College where he played football and baseball for Bobby Bowden. His objective was to become a coach and Georgia’s College of Education became the right fit for him. But a funny thing happened on his way to a life on the sidelines.
He got a summer j ob selling cars at Key Buick and would move into management, ultimately becoming a dealer with Key-Royal Automotive Group of Birmingham, Ala.
One of the highlights of the fall for Vernon was the annual Georgia- Florida breakfast, which took place on Saturday morning, attracting crowds over 2,500 at one time.
His business success enabled him to buy a condo at Ponte Vedra.
Once on a weekend visit to Athens, he was a guest of mine along with the highly successful thoroughbred racing syndicator—Cot Campbell. Vernon bought a share of a horse named Limehouse. His horse enjoyed good success, which brought Vernon nice dividends. When Limehouse was sold to a syndicate, which put Limehouse out to stud, Vernon’s return on his investment influenced a transaction on the beach at Ponte Vedra.
Hey Vernon, I kidded him, since you made the Limehouse deal at my house, don’t I get a finder’s fee. Vernon grinned and has made good. Every October for the Georgia-Florida game, we get to stay in the Limehouse residence at PV, one of our more treasured highlights of the year.