College football is a lot like Halloween. Every Saturday during football season fans dress up in costumes of their favorite teams. They allow themselves to act in ways that normal society would deem abnormal. They let out their “inner demons” if you will. Mostly they take out their anger and frustrations on rival teams and their fans. They exhibit extreme behaviors ranging from spewing vitriol at complete strangers to fisticuffs and worse. Which brings me to the Georgia Bulldogs. Jawja in the vernacular of “legendary” Georgia coach Vince Dooley.
Growing up a fan of the Florida Gators starting in the late 70’s I was quickly immersed in the rivalry that is Florida-Georgia. Namely, I quickly realized that the Bulldogs weren’t just another college team, they were the bully that stole your lunch money every day. The one that left you hungry, bitter, angry fantasizing about the day when you’d be able to stand up to him, punch him in the nose, keep your lunch money, and laugh in his face as you walked away.
Florida-Georgia was one of many “border wars” that dot the landscape of college football. It’s more than just a game it represents state pride as well as school pride. This one was somewhat different than the others for a number of reasons.
First, it’s traditionally played at a “neutral” site in Jacksonville, Florida a stones throw from the University of Florida campus and still a short drive from Georgia’s. Tickets are split evenly between the two schools each year meaning every game both fanbases will meet in roughly equal amounts. Being billed as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party“, a term both sides have tried to downplay in recent years, fans came to drink, party, watch a bitter rivalry play out on the field and many times in the stands. It was St. Patrick’s Day meets college football. Drunken arguments, fights, and brawls led to numerous arrests each year, thus the schools downplaying of the cocktail aspect, which gave each side plenty of fodder to hate the other side and their fans.
When I started following the Gators I quickly learned that Florida was one of those programs that could never reach the promise land. A good program, a fun party school who plays their games in the warmth of north-central Florida, but one that just could not get over the hump to win a championship, SEC or otherwise. Bear Bryant called it a “sleeping giant”. One that, if the right coach came in and learned how to recruit Florida players, would dominate not only the SEC but the nation. The problem was that it had never happened, and for most Gator fans was never likely to happen.
Not that they didn’t have some good teams. They had plenty off and on throughout their history, they even had a Heisman Trophy winner in Steve Spurrier. The biggest problem? Jawja! It seemed no matter how good they were, no matter how close they were to winning an SEC title, the Bulldogs stood in the way. Good Georgia teams, bad Georgia teams, didn’t matter, Florida could not beat them when it counted.
I’m not quite sure when the bitterness of this rivalry began for Gator fans but I’m sure the 1942 75-0 thrashing probably had something to do with it. I’ll simply post the Wikipedia account of this game for all to see. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida%E2%80%93Georgia_football_rivalry
1942: 75 and oh!
Having lost most upper-class players to service in World War II, the 1942 Florida Gators brought an inexperienced 3–4 squad into Jacksonville for the 1942 contest with Georgia. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, still had many veteran players thanks to the draft deferments of the players who were enrolled in the University of Georgia’s ROTC program, and brought a 7–0 record and No. 1 ranking to Jacksonville.
“Georgia halfback Charley Trippi and Heisman Trophy-winning back Frank Sinkwich combined to score seven touchdowns as Georgia crushed Florida 75–0—the largest margin in series history. The Bulldogs finished the regular season 10–1, won the Southeastern Conference championship, defeated the UCLA Bruins 9–0 in the Rose Bowl, and were named national champions by multiple polls and ratings services. Meanwhile, the depleted Gators did not win another game during the 1942 season, and with even more players joining the war effort afterward, would not field a team at all in 1943.“
Yeah, that might have left a bitter taste in the mouths of Gator fans for quite some time.
The war-time shellacking nothwithstanding, the Gators actually enjoyed much success in the series in the 50’s and early 60’s particularly under Ray Graves. That is until 1964. That was the season that one Vincent Joseph Dooley, a Mobile, Alabama native and Auburn graduate, took over as head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. Dooley remained the head coach for 25 years through the 1988 season and remained there as Athletic Director until the 2004 season. A fantastic recruiter and strong head coach Dooley was the mastermind of many of Gator fans worst recurring nightmares. While his teams often prevented Gator fans of enjoying the champagne toast of an SEC title his teams won 6 of them and 1 national title in 1980 when the ultimate Bulldog Herschel Walker was a freshman.
There were many memorable games in the series Florida fans would like to forget. In 1966 Steve Spurrier kicked a game-winning field goal against Auburn to cement his Heisman Trophy. A week later he threw 3 picks against Georgia and the Gators lost the opportunity to tie for an SEC title. There was the infamous 4th and dumb game where Doug Dickey “cost” the Gators a victory by going for it on 4th down when they were cruising to victory. I cannot forget the 1985 game where Florida came in fresh off the first #1 national ranking in program history only to see them tank to a Georgia squad led by two freshman running backs.
However, no game remains the measuring stick for recurring Gator fan nightmares quite like the 1980 “Run Lindsay, Run” game. The year after their winless season, Florida came into this game a HUGE underdog to number two ranked Georgia with sensational freshman Herschel Walker. Surprisingly, the Gators led late in the game and were poised to make the upset. On third and long from their own 7 yard line with the Gators leading 21-20 Buck Belue dropped back to pass facing a stout Gator pass rush. The rest is sound bite history,
“Florida in a stand-up five, they may or may not blitz. Buck back, third down on the eight. In trouble, he got a block behind him. Gotta throw on the run. Complete to the 25. To the 30, Lindsay Scott 35, 40, Lindsay Scott 45, 50, 45, 40 . . . Run Lindsay, 25, 20, 15, 10, 5, Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!“
The quote from Wikipedia, but the call was all Larry Munson, long-time Bulldog radio announcer and replayed to the dismay of Gator fans everywhere a zillion times since that fateful October day.
So there you have it, the reason this week, Georgia week, is a little more special than any of the other 11 weeks in the college football season for me. The reason my emotions rachet up a little bit more, the reason I feel a little more angst in the pit of my stomach, the reason I HATE GEORGIA!
Go Gators, Beat Them Dawgs!