I hope you guys are enjoying my game by game projections so far. Right now, I have Florida at 5-2, and coming off a huge win against Missouri in the Swamp. Their next game, following a bye week… is against Georgia. Yes, Georgia, one of only two teams in the country to have a current three game winning streak over Florida, the team that the Gators used to wipe their shoes on… but now can’t seem to beat if their lives depend on it.
The rivalry between Florida and Georgia is so deep, however, that I cannot simply add an extra section like I did for LSU. The rivalry section for the Georgia Bulldogs deserves its own, 3000+ word article. I’ll get to the x’s and o’s later in the week, but for now, let’s take this opportunity to (depending on your level of college football knowledge) either learn about or remind ourselves why Florida-Georgia matters, and to some people, more than life itself.
(Note: I originally wrote this article for Alligator Army when I worked there last year. Aside from a few minor edits here and there and a few sentences at the end detailing the 2013 Florida-Georgia contest, everything about this article is exactly the way it was when I originally wrote it.)
Why Does The Florida-Georgia Rivalry Matter?
It would be far more interesting and far less boring to explain the answer to this question with a deep, detailed chronological history of the game than with a long list of bullet points. But if you want the short answer, it’s because both teams hate each other. There you go, hate. That’s the ultimate degree of dislike; there’s no expanding on it. If you are unsure what the word “hatred” means, or if you need further clarification, go abduct your neighbor’s child and ship him or her off to the Middle East. (Note to Georgia fans: don’t actually do it.) Then, take notes on their subsequent behavior. Any more questions on the overall tone of this rivalry?
But the roots of this rivalry go far deeper than the fights you will see between fans (and trust me, you won’t have to look hard to find one at this game). They can be traced back to a simple error of either logic or arithmetic by the Georgia brass, over 100 years ago. The University of Florida that we know today officially recognized a football team in 1906. However, Tom McEwen’s The Gators: A Story of Florida Football disagrees. According to him, Florida football was born in 1884, the year the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College (which later became UF) opened in Lake City. There are two problems here, but we’ll get to them in just a bit.
You may have heard that Georgia fans claim an extra win in the series history. Florida fans say Georgia’s beaten Florida 49 times, Georgia fans say it’s been 50. The extra one that Georgia claims came in 1904. Here are the aforementioned issues: first, Florida didn’t recognize an official, school-supported football team until 1906- as one could easily tell from looking at their website. Second, there was no University of Florida in 1904. The University of Florida was first created a year after this supposed game took place. What? Sure, Georgia fans, we Gators just say that we didn’t start our school until 1906 to take away one game from your total in the overall series score.
For those unfamiliar with this rivalry’s intensity, this is a very common argument.
Yes, people today do indeed argue about whether or not a game between these teams took place almost 110 years ago. But here’s how I’ll settle the matter: collegefootballdatawarehouse.com, totalfootballstats.com and last’s year’s Florida media guide all say Georgia fans are full of nonsense (or whatever synonym you’re thinking of), and that that game never happened. Florida’s accounting of events is the accepted accounting of events. Therefore, I’ll say that Georgia fans are full of whatever word you’re thinking of, and that that game never happened. It’s 49-40 for Georgia. Grow up, and let’s move on.
Now that we’ve put the phantom game of 1904 behind us, it’s time to discuss what happened since the real first game (won handily by Georgia) in 1915. In the century between then and now, fate has decided to mark this rivalry with a stigma like no other- the teams take turns walloping each other with frightening regularity for about 20 years. Here, I’ll break down all the runs by both teams, explain why this rivalry is all about heartbreak and payback, and show you how we got to Georgia’s 49-40 series lead today.
The Real Beginning, Or Why Georgia Leads The Series: Georgia 12-3-1
GEORGIA FANS HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO RELIVE THE GLORY DAYS THAT HAPPENED 60 YEARS BEFORE THEY WERE BORN.
Georgia went first. In the teams’ first six meetings, the Gators were shut out five times. Let’s not get into that, because for all the Bulldogs’ fans bragging about those glory years between 1915 and 1927, Gator football was still in its infancy. In the years Georgia beat Florida, the Gators were 4-3, 0-5, 5-3, 6-3, 2-6-2 and 7-3. Those numbers range from the worst in college football to Zook-like numbers (Zook wasn’t so bad after all!), but the point is, Florida was not a football power nor did it take football very seriously. (Not until 1952, when the Gators made their first bowl game, did many fans consider the program fully lifted off the ground.) Georgia dominated the first 20 years of this rivalry, much like Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer would dominate the Dawgs over the last 20 years.
But let’s not jump ahead here. Georgia fans have every right to relive the glory days that happened 60 years before they were born.
After Georgia won the first six games in the series, Florida responded with back-to-back victories. But after a tie in Savannah following those two wins, Georgia ripped off six more in a row. Florida wasn’t just losing; it was losing badly. Think Spurrier-era scores, except, you know, for the other side: 33-6 in 1931, 33-12 in 1932, 26-8 in 1936.
The other reason this period is noteworthy is that in 1933, the game was permanently moved to Jacksonville, Florida, putting to bed several failed attempts to stage the game in Savannah, Tampa, and Athens. 18 years earlier, Jacksonville mayor J.E.T. Bowden (contrary to popular belief, not Bobby’s younger brother) declared the Friday before the 1915 Florida-Georgia game (the first real game of this rivalry) to be a semi-holiday in order to really get the city to focus on the game, and to make the teams want to come back and play again in his city. It eventually worked, and Jacksonville became the game’s permanent home.
Unfortunately, the home-state advantage did the Gators no good over the first couple of decades of the rivalry.
Wally Wins The War Years: Georgia 11-2
1939 was a bad year for Florida fans. Already stuck in a four year streak of non winning seasons, a man named Wally Butts, fresh out of Mercer College, accepted a job as an assistant coach at UGA. A year later, he was promoted to head coach, and proceeded to make Jacksonville a living hell for Florida.
The drubbings continued to rain down on Florida, except now the Gators couldn’t blame the location. They were no longer playing in Georgia’s backyard, or even 130 miles south of Athens. No, this time they were playing right in their own recruiting area — and were bludgeoned year after year. The lowlight came in 1942, Georgia’s first national championship season. Yes, Florida may have had some of its players fighting overseas, but that doesn’t excuse the three quarters of a hundred the Dawgs hung on Florida that day in a 75-0 thumping. Frank Sinkwich ran rings around Florida’s defense, and the offense fared no better.
Butts was the man who really lifted Georgia to prominence. He gave Georgia its first national championship and first four SEC Championships. But after a decade of beat downs in Jacksonville, Florida started finally turning the rivalry around. First came the Gators’ 28-7 victory in 1949. Then, Georgia could barely muster out wins of 6-0 and 7-6. Yes, that’s foreshadowing.
Florida Takes Its First Turn: Florida 13-5-1
Bob Woodruff can be credited as the man who turned this rivalry around for Florida. Beginning with his 30-0 whipping of the Dawgs in 1952, Florida has owned Georgia 35-25. Of course, Florida technically owns Georgia since 1935, but Florida began really adding some orange and blue colored chapters to this rivalry when Woodruff arrived in Gainesville.
To prove his first major thumping of the Dawgs was no fluke, Woodruff’s Gators beat them again the following year as well. Georgia won the 1954 meeting, but then the fun really began. Florida won eight out of the next nine, driving Butts out of town. Johnny Griffith took his place, but he fared no better, going 0-3 from 1961 to 1963. Then Vince Dooley came along, and brought the series back to even by going 3-3-1 against the mighty Gators. He would eventually figure out how to become perhaps the biggest thorn in Florida’s side ever, and inaugurate the 20-Year Curse. (I won’t go into it now, because it’s more relevant in the ’90s and ’00s than it is now, but let’s just put a pin in that thought and come back to it later.)
With a couple of exceptions, this 13-5-1 Gator run was not marked by humiliating blowouts; instead, the Gators delivered a series of heartbreaking defeats. After four of the first six games in this period were convincing Florida wins, the other nine wins for Florida were all one-score affairs. That’s got to be pretty frustrating for Georgia, losing nine games in 19 years by eight points or fewer. (Maybe it is a curse of some kind?)
This whole period of so-close-but-so-far defeats for Georgia was highlighted by the last game in the 19-year stretch, the 1970 meeting. Georgia led 17-10 late in the game, and had the ball on Florida’s 2, just a few feet from breaking the game open. Instead, Georgia back Ricky Lake was stripped at the goal line by All-American lineman Jack Youngblood, who also recovered it. John Reaves and Carlos Alvarez then went wild, connecting for two touchdown passes in the final five minutes to hand Georgia a stunning 24-17 loss.
Unfortunately for Florida, Vince Dooley would remember the miserable feeling of losing a game his team should have won.
Dooley Returns the Favor: Georgia 15-4
Florida made a habit out of pulling out close calls against Georgia in the ’50s and ’60s. And that’s exactly what Georgia would proceed to do over the next 19 years.
Georgia crushed Florida 49-7 in 1971. That was the short term payback. The long term payback came over a three year period from 1974 to 1976. First, in 1974, Florida led 10-9 late in the game, only to watch Georgia drive 63 yards for the winning touchdown. The following year was even worse. Florida clung to a 7-3 lead with about three and a half minutes to go when Ray Goff handed the ball to Richard Appleby, who then launched a bomb to a wide open Gene Washington for perhaps the easiest 80 yard touchdown pass in the game’s history.
As if that 1975 game wasn’t hard enough to swallow, the 1976 game was the reciprocation of Florida’s 1970 win. Florida led 27-13 at the half, but, for some insane reason, Florida coach Doug Dickey elected to go for it on fourth and one deep in his own territory. Georgia stuffed the Gators, then reeled off 28 unanswered to walk off the field with a stunningly easy 41-27 victory. Three heartbreaking losses in three years to the same team: That’s not normal, is it?
But the real low blow came in 1980. Florida was so close to ruining Georgia’s season when… OK, look, we all know what happened. I’ll spare you the details. Georgia wideout Lindsay Scott scored the winning touchdown, and it might have been in such a devastating fashion that it resulted in Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson predicting that there would be some property destroyed that night. For younger fans, picture Chris Rainey’s dash through Tennessee’s defense in 2011 off of a John Brantley screen pass. Now imagine that that Florida team was undefeated, that it was much later in the year, and that Tennessee led by one with a minute to play. Yes, it hurt that much, and no, it didn’t get any better.
In fact, if you believe in that curse mumbo jumbo, check out the 1980s as a whole. Georgia made a habit of beating Florida with the SEC championship on the line, and in ways that were harder to take than the one before it. If you thought the 1980 game was bad, well, you haven’t heard of the story of the 1985 game. Following a rare Florida victory (read: a 27-0 drubbing featuring Kerwin Bell to Ricky Nattiel for an even longer touchdown than Lindsay Scott’s) in 1984, the Gators entered the 1985 clash undefeated, No. 1 in the country and filled with confidence. So what happened in Jacksonville that year? The same thing that happened throughout the ’70s and ’80s: Georgia won. The Dawgs ruined those national championship dreams with a 24-3 throttling of the Gators. While Florida would win the 1986 game, Georgia would win the next three.
Fortunately, this is the point in this story where it really gets fun for Florida fans.
Familiar Names and Games: Florida 18-3
The instant Steve Spurrier first stepped on Gainesville soil as the Florida head coach, Georgia was in trouble. The miserable defeat his senior year in 1966 at the hands of the Bulldogs (which cost Florida the SEC Championship) was still in the Head Ball Coach’s craw, and he vowed to make the current Dawgs pay for it. And did he ever in 1990: A 38-7 obliteration of the Bulldogs was the first clue that Georgia was in for a long two decades. Somebody in Athens should have gotten the message that this guy was out hunting for Bulldogs.
They didn’t, and it happened again the following year, this time by one more point: 45-13.
Then came 1992.
What turned out to be Ray Goof’s best team went and lost to one of Steve Spurrier’s worst, 26-24. Georgia never led, and came back from 23-7 down to make a game of it, only to never take the lead.
The 1993 game was even harder to swallow for the Dawgs: Georgia QB Eric Zeier threw what appeared to be the tying touchdown pass with no time left. Too bad Gators corner Anthone Lott had called timeout before the play. Forced to try again, Zeier’s pass was batted down, and Florida held on for a 33-26 win.
Through four years in the ’90s, Florida had delivered two beatdowns and two heartbreakers. But to all those Georgia fans who were whining about Jacksonville being the reason why Georgia can’t ever seem to win (funny how we don’t hear that from Bulldog fans quite as much right now), Spurrier welcomed Georgia into The Swamp in 1994, and crushed them right from the get-go by a 52-14 margin. The following year, Florida visited Athens … and dumped an identical number on the Dogs, while allowing just 17 points on defense. Those 52 points in 1995 still stand as the largest point total ever allowed by Georgia on its home turf. Then, for good measure, Florida handed Georgia its worst defeat yet, a 47-7 obliteration in Jacksonville, en route to the 1996 national title.
Georgia made a mistake in 1997. The Dawgs beat Florida. They really should have known better.
The Gators resumed their yearly pastings after that, albeit in slightly less convincing fashion, highlighted by another 38-7 victory in 1998. When Spurrier stepped down after beating Maryland in the 2002 Orange Bowl, he walked away from Gainesville having amassed a composite score of 436-199 against Georgia, and a sterling 11-1 record. Insert your “Georgia fans can’t do math” joke here, but the fact is, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the Gators more than doubled the Bulldogs’ productivity in the Head Ball Coach’s 12 years at the helm.
And that was just the beginning of the flip side of the 20-Year Curse. For every bad loss of the ’70s and ’80s, the Gators would pay the Dawgs back in the ’90s and ’00s.
Let’s quickly run through the Ron Zook era and get to the Urban Meyer days. After all, how many people who made it this far in this piece like Zook? I don’t, because his Florida teams each lost five games. Georgia fans may like him even less than Florida fans do, because he dealt Georgia two of the most gut-wrenching defeats in Bulldog history — one that directly derailed a national championship season in 2002, and, the very next year, another — and all despite his team’s supposed inability to win big games.
Enter Urban Meyer in 2005, fresh from the Rocky Mountains and a successful job in building the Little Utes That Could into a blazing locomotive that crashed into the BCS party and came out the winner. He introduced himself to Georgia fans with a 14-10 pseudo-upset in his first season. (The Dawgs played without starting QB D.J. Shockley, who was hurt for one game, clearly evidence of the Curse. Why was THIS the game he was hurt for?) Meyer’s Gators did it again in 2006, taking advantage of six Georgia turnovers in a 21-14 win.
Yes, after 2006 comes 2007, and the little stunt those Dogs pulled in the end zone following a Knowshon Moreno touchdown. But let’s get this straight: That little Dunce Dunce Revolution was not the reason Florida lost the 2007 game. It had more to do with a horrendous defense that surrendered 188 yards to Moreno, and only three on his touchdown run. Florida actually had the lead at one point in that game, but that’s all been lost amid the talk and replays of the celebration.
It’s a good thing Florida fans didn’t have to remember how bad Georgia beat Florida up that day for long, because we all remember how badly Georgia was beaten up by a much improved Florida squad the ensuing year.
Georgia kept it close until midway in the third, but then the floodgates opened up. Touchdowns rained down on the Bulldogs, and by the time it was all over, Georgia was out of breath, self-respect and confidence, and the only thing Florida was out of was its set of timeouts. (That last part may or may not have been due to some cheek from Meyer.) The next year was even more agonizing for Georgia, which took a loss on the scoreboard, and in their hearts. Tim Tebow picked this game to break former Bulldog Herschel Walker’s TD record. Oh, and Florida won those two games 49-10 and 41-17, respectively.
The 2010 game was the ultimate low point for Georgia. The less said about Steve Addazio, the better. Florida fans hate him because I could call a more productive drive by picking plays out of a hat. Georgia fans hate him because his Gators hung over 450 yards of offense on their “defense” despite his offensive expertise being comparable to that of an elementary school GATE student.
We could move on past that glorious day in 2010 … or we could not, and instead remember that Georgia golden boy Aaron Murray was responsible for four turnovers that day, that a punter who was really struggling kicking field goals in place of an All American kicker picked that game to nail a 37-yarder in OT, and that Will Hill almost scored a game-winning touchdown that might actually have trumped Lindsey Scott’s run.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten THAT out the way, now we can move on.
The Present and Future: Georgia 3-0
2011 apparently began a new cycle. Florida held a 17-3 lead, but then watched as Murray led Georgia back by converting two fourth and longs for touchdowns, and Jarvis Jones kept Florida from coming back by sacking John Brantley four times (he was sacked six times total) and limiting the Gators to 32 total yards and one first down in the second half to win 24-20. 2012 was even harder to swallow. Florida came into the game No. 2 in the country and undefeated, but six turnovers doomed the Gators in a 17-9 loss.
But it was last year’s loss to Georgia that really set the tone for the current state of this rivalry. Simply put, it may have been the toughest loss I’ve ever witnessed aside from the 2009 SEC Championship. Georgia busted out of the gates and seized a 23-3 lead thanks to two Todd Gurley touchdowns. Then the Gators started to come back. Mack Brown punched it in from five yards out, Louchiez Purifoy sacked Murray for a safety, and Tyler Murphy flew into the end zone, and with the two point conversion, it was suddenly a game- 23-20. Sadly, that remained the score until the clock hit zero, as Georgia’s offense melted away the entire remainder of the clock on their next two drives.
The future looks unlike any particular era in the past, too. Mark Richt, for all his faults, has Georgia solidly in the SEC East’s top three, while Florida is down right now. Another momentum swing back to Georgia would seem strange, even if it’s what the 20-Year Curse dictates- and even though Georgia appears to be three games into a 20 year run of dominance. Perhaps we’re in for more hard-fought chapters like the excellent games of the last four years have provided?
As long as Florida wins most of them, I think Gators fans would take that.