When was the last time Florida and Georgia played on a fall afternoon and it meant something? This year when the Gators and the Bulldogs lace it up on Saturday, the SEC East may be on the line and a trip to the conference championship game against the winner of the western division.
Throw everything out about a struggling Bulldogs offense and a Gators team that must rebound from the loss to LSU two weeks ago. This chapter in the ongoing novel could mean more than you think in the annals of this rivalry.
This isn’t just a game between two border rivals, it is THE RIVALRY in the south. It’s history and partying and memories and culture and pure hatred, as some southerners would call it. From Steve Spurrier to Vince Dooley, to Herschel Walker, to Tim Tebow to everything that is up close and personal. The Florida-Georgia (or Georgia-Florida) game is college football personified.
As John Solomon of CBS Sports writes … “There’s something comfortable about another shrug-your-shoulders-and-guess Florida-Georgia outcome that should again decide the SEC East. Missouri won the East the past two seasons, marking the first time since 1997-98 that both Florida and Georgia failed to reach the SEC Championship Game in consecutive seasons.”
Florida hasn’t won the East since 2009. Failing to do so again this year would mark the Gators’ longest stretch without capturing the East title, surpassing five straight misses from 2001-05 — the end of Steve Spurrier’s tenure, the Ron Zook era and the start of Urban Meyer’s run. (There’s some nice symmetry in this latest Florida period: The end of Meyer’s tenure, the Will Muschamp era, and the start of Jim McElwain.)
As part of the history lesson my father taught me at a young age (I used to be a Gators fan, but now claim I never knew such a thing) the game was first played in 1915, and has been played every season since 1926, with the sole exception of a war-time interruption in 1943. This match-up between Southeastern Conference opponents is one of the most prominent rivalry games in college football, and has been held in Jacksonville, Florida since 1933, with only two exceptions, making it one of the few remaining neutral-site rivalries.
The game attracts huge crowds to Jacksonville, and the associated tailgating and other events earned it the nickname of the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”.
My father once told me that I could not attend the University of Georgia as long as he was alive and threatened to put it in his will. Yes, fans get that crazed. But it speaks to the importance of team loyalty and how this game is more than a Saturday afternoon on a grassy field. Tradition, family honor and love of college football make this more important than some NFL games on a meaningless Sunday afternoon.
Thank goodness the Jacksonville Jaguars have the week off. They wouldn’t get the same respect these two college programs have earned over the years.
That’s what this rivalry really means. The score gives the winner bragging rights. The losing team just stirs the pot until the next game is played.