It's not life and death we're talking about. It's much more important than that.
Urban Meyer got a taste of it last year and he learned that Ohio State-Michigan and Notre Dame-Southern Cal are sandbox feuds by comparison. Those are rivalry games played by nice people who are actually civil to each other. Florida-Georgia? This isn't about nice.
Now before I go further, may I note that there are a lot of Gator fans that haven't been around quite so long and spoiled might be a fairly good one-word description. Those young Gators only remember Stevie Wonder and those 12 glorious years in which the Gators owned the Poodles --- I know, I know … they are the Bulldogs, but I can't bring myself to call them the Bulldogs this week. It's Florida-Georgia week and I'm getting my game face on. Oh, and by the way, you will never hear me or any educated Florida fan call them the "Dawgs." My motto year round --- let the big dog spell! Not only can we Gators spell, we also have too much class to advertise that we can't properly spell a one-syllable word. It's D-O-G-S. Not too difficult even for the uneducated, at least that's what you would think.
Sorry. I digressed. Now back to this column which could be subtitled, "Why I Despise Georgia and Why You Should, Too."
The typical Gator fan only remembers those 11 marvelous victories in 12 years over Georgia during the Stevie Wonder years. Even during the Ron Zook Error (oops Era) the Gators were two for three and Urban is 1-0. Fourteen wins in 16 years … that's the best run the Gators have ever had over the Poodles and it's something that should be continued.
It's because of those 16 great years that too many Gator fans fail to seethe when the word Georgia is mentioned. So, for those of you who don't quite understand why we cringe when we hear "Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!" here are a few reasons why you should consider writing the UN and suggesting that Athens would be a great place for North Korea to do its next nuclear test. Those of you who have been around awhile understand and appreciate. You young ones should, too.
REASON NUMER ONE: My dad was a 16-year-old freshman at the University of Florida in 1942, biding his time until he was 18 when he could sign up to join the Navy. The United States was at war against Germany and Japan and college campuses across the nation were devoid of their physically able athletes who had signed up to fight for their country in the weeks and months immediately after Pearl Harbor. Florida had gone 4-6 in 1941 but expectations were that 1942 would have been a great year for the Gators based on the way they finished the season with wins over Miami and Georgia Tech and a close loss to UCLA. Those hopes and dreams went out the window with the unilateral declaration of war against Germany and Japan.
The most able bodies of Coach Thomas Lieb's football team were already in the military when the 1942 season arrived. Most of the Gators were players who couldn't pass the physical or were waiting for their eighteenth birthdays.
That wasn't the case at Georgia which had an outstanding ROTC program, one of the two or three best in the country. Coach Wally Butts fielded a great team in 1942 and amazingly, the bulk of his players were in that ROTC program. During that 1942 season, the mighty Poodles had a roster of All-Americans like Flatfoot Frankie Sinkwich (he won the Heisman that year), George Poschner and Charlie Trippi, who would go on to become one of the greatest college football players in history.
When Georgia and Florida squared off in Jacksonville on November 7, no one gave the Gators a fighting chance against the top-ranked and unbeaten Poodles. Who in his right mind would have? Georgia had a roster of All-Americans and Florida was out there with a bunch of skinny kids and guys who were 4-F at their local draft board.
The game was over by the first quarter and by halftime, it was total carnage. Butts could have called it off any time he wanted, but he kept pouring it on and pouring it on. Even in the fourth quarter, Sinkwich and Trippi were in the game, running up the score. The final score was 75-0. Six polling services gave the Poodles the national championship.
REASON NUMBER TWO: Florida had been picked to win the SEC and finish in the top five in the nation in 1968 but this was a team that had its share of problems on and off the field. Florida's bubble burst in Chapel Hill on a rainy Saturday in October when the Gators lost seven fumbles and fell to the Tar Heels, 22-7. From there the season was a downward spiral. The Gators were 4-2-1 when they faced Georgia in Jacksonville on November 7.
Florida's team was split down the middle in the midst of a quarterback controversy. Half the team sided behind Jackie Eckdahl and the other half behind Larry Rentz. And then there was the offense against the defense. The defensive players thought they were doing their part but with the offense, there was that Eckdahl-Rentz rivalry holding the team back. As a result, the Gators were in never-never land emotionally.
The week before the game Florida's offensive guru, Coach Fred Pancoast, was hospitalized for an appendectomy. Ed Kensler was the coordinator, but Pancoast was the real genius, and that would be proven the next year with the Super Sophs led by John Reaves and Carlos Alvarez. Desperate for something to spark his team, Coach Ray Graves announced the week before the Georgia game that defensive coordinator Gene Ellenson and Kensler would swap spots for the week. Graves figured things couldn't get worse.
Well, things did get worse. Much worse.
On a cold, rainy, miserable day in Jacksonville (those of us who were there will NEVER forget how miserable that day was) ninth-ranked Georgia hammered the out of sorts Gators from the opening whistle. It was 42-0 and over by halftime but with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter Dooley called time out and let his center, who had never tried a field goal in a game, kick a field goal to make the final score, 51-0.
For those of you who never understood Steve Spurrier's obsession with running it up on Georgia, check out reasons one and two and you have part of the equation. Coach Ellenson called Spurrier in San Francisco (Spurrier was with the 49ers then) that night and told him what had happened. Those who know Spurrier know that he has a VERY long memory. He never forgot how Dooley called time out to run up the score. He never felt any reason to show a moment of sympathy for the Poodles. He ran up the score every chance he got and I only wished there was time to score more and make it worse every time he did.
REASON THREE: Florida went on NCAA probation in 1984 for such heinous crimes as assistant coach Dwight Adams giving Dale Dorminey an extra T-shirt during his campus visit and buying him a pack of gum at the Gainesville airport. I'm not making that up. It's all in the NCAA transcripts. Not all the crimes were that petty. There were some dastardly deeds by Florida boosters who were out of control during those days and the Gators got caught for them. However, Florida wasn't the only school taking its chances outside the law of the NCAA (check the NCAA's list of major infractions for the 1980s. The SEC is a rogue's gallery). Florida State got caught for illegal recruiting inducements that same year (Bobby Bowden was the FSU coach … you could look it up) but the Seminoles got a slap on the wrist.
Georgia got caught by the NCAA in a major scandal that revolved around the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, Herschel Walker. That NCAA investigation hit a stone wall and eventually Georgia lost two scholarships but not any television or no bowl games. Rumors persisted for years that Dooley, who was chairman of the NCAA's powerful television committee, lobbied long, hard and effectively to keep the Poodles out of hot water. The misdeeds of the Georgia athletic administration under Dooley (See Jan Kemp; See Jim Harrick) only give credence to the rumors that Dooley kept the NCAA from hammering the Poodles for recruiting violations during Herschel's day. For all his talk about integrity, it turns out Vince wasn't exactly a tower of virtue.
Florida, meanwhile, got hit with some of the most serious sanctions in NCAA history that included two years without television and severe scholarship reductions. The probation cost Coach Charley Pell his job. The Gators won the SEC championship that year but the Gators were stripped of the championship in a vote of the SEC athletic directors and presidents. Among the leaders of the vote against Florida was Vince Dooley.
In an interview last year with Gator great Wilber Marshall that was printed in Fightin' Gators Magazine, Mashall told me, "I went to Florida because it was close to home and I'm a mama's boy. I didn't go there because they paid me to go but other schools made offers … some big offers … some of the same teams that voted to strip the SEC championship from us in 1984. You would go on recruiting trips and some fat cat booster would let you know what you could expect … that was pretty common then."
REASON FOUR: Galen Hall was informed that he would be fired as Florida's football coach just prior to the LSU game in Baton Rouge on October 7, 1989 (Florida won the game, 16-13). Hall's crime was allegedly paying one month of child support for Jarvis Williams. Hall denied that he ever gave money to Williams and the NCAA has yet to prove conclusively that he did. Yet, Florida got a year of probation (served in 1990) with no bowl game.
It's bad enough that Florida's probation was dubious, at best, but the alleged incident happened before any of the players who were on that 1990 team arrived on the UF campus. Still, the SEC athletic directors and presidents, in their infinite wisdom, made the Gators ineligible for the SEC championship in 1990 and denied the Gators a chance to go to a bowl game.
Among the leaders of the vote against Florida was --- you guessed it --- Vince Dooley.
That 1990 season was Steve Spurrier's first year at Florida. Florida had the best record in the SEC and the Gators should have been the SEC champs, particularly when you consider that not one player on that team was even in school when the alleged incident occurred.
Take 1968 and then add to it 1990. Now do you fully understand why Spurrier was obsessed with humiliating Georgia any and every chance he got?
So, for all you younger Gators that aren't fully versed in Gator lore, those are four very good reasons why beating Georgia is so important to so many. There are all too many of us who remember all too well. I wasn't around in 1942 but my dad was and until he died in 1986, he took delight in every loss by every Georgia team in any sport all because of that 75-0 game. I was there at the 1968 game and I'll never forget what Dooley did. I will also never forgive Dooley for twice voting to pour on the sanctions against the Gators. I can't think of Dooley without the words self-righteous and hypocrite coming to mind. As far as I am concerned, there is only one reason to ever pull for Georgia in anything and that is if Georgia winning helps Florida. Otherwise, I hope the Poodles are beaten so badly that they consider dropping the sport.
I'll leave you with my ultimate football dream and here's hoping that this is the year that Urban Meyer makes it come true: There are 15 seconds left in the Florida-Georgia game. The Gators score a touchdown on a 75-yard run on a fake punt to make it 98-0 but instead of kicking the extra point, the Gators go for TWO! And they make it! It's 100-0 but with Gator fans screaming for more, Florida kicks onside and the Gators recover! On the last play of the game with the clock ticking off its final seconds, the Gators run a double reverse pass deep and straight down the middle! TOUCHDOWN FLORIDA! Now that would be righteous!