I’m going to give you two very good reasons why the Georgia-Florida football game will remain in Jacksonville after the current contract expires in 2010.
Carl Brantley and Tom McMillen.
Carl and Tom are my best two friends in the world. We were fraternity brothers in college and have stayed very close for more years than I will admit in this space. College brought us together but college football—specifically the Georgia-Florida game—has helped to keep us together.
Carl lives in Colorado Springs. Tom is in Ringgold near Chattanooga. All three of us have pretty busy lives. But since 1981, with only one exception, we have gathered together in Jacksonville on the Georgia-Florida weekend to play golf, enjoy an adult beverage or two, and tell lies about our youth. We have friends in Ponte Vedra like Briz Dodd, who is our host, and Ben English, who for many years prepared the barbeque lunch for the Bulldog Club pep rally at Metropolitan Park. It is a tradition that never gets old.
I share this personal stuff in order to make a point: There are untold thousands of stories like mine about this game. I know people who have been staying in the same condominiums with the same group of friends for 25 years or more. Some bought their own condos in Amelia Island and St. Simons because of this game. They have standing golf games, poker games, cookouts, and shopping trips—all built around this event.
I just can’t see Damon Evans, the Georgia athletics director, telling those fans that this tradition, which began in 1933, is coming to an end.
Now Evans is a very smart man. He learned from his predecessor, Vince Dooley, that the only real leverage the Georgia athletics director has in the negotiations with the city of Jacksonville is his ability to ultimately move the game. More than once over the years when the contract would come up for renewal, Dooley announced that he was taking the temperature of the Georgia people about the possibility of moving the game back to campus. Then Jacksonville would throw in a few things to sweeten the deal and the game would come back.
I understand where Damon Evans is coming from. He should listen to his head football coach, Mark Richt, who has been pretty consistent in his desire to move the game around. And you should know that from a scheduling standpoint, playing one of your SEC home games in Jacksonville every other year can create some headaches. And there is no doubt in my mind that if the game were played at the Georgia Dome, the Atlanta Sports Council would make it special just like they have for other events that come to our city.
And certainly the merchants, hotels and restaurants in Athens would love to have another home game—especially that game. So there are all kinds of real world pressures to move this event.
But the one thing you DON’T do if you’re Evans is move the game because portions of your fan base think Florida has some sort of competitive advantage in Jacksonville. Yeah, the Gators are 16-3 in the series since 1990, but that doesn’t have anything to do with where the game is played.
After all, Vince Dooley was 17-7-1 against Florida from 1964-88. Back then it was the Florida people who wanted to move the game back to campus because they were convinced that Georgia had some magical spell in that building. There wasn’t any magic to it and that was proven when Dooley retired in 1988 and Steve Spurrier came to Florida in 1990. Spurrier mocked the idea that Georgia would have some kind of advantage in Jacksonville, which is an hour from the Florida campus.
In that 19-year stretch Georgia has won three times (1997, 2004, 2007). In the 16 losses I can think of only two times (2002, 2005) where I thought Georgia clearly had the better team and lost. The 2002 loss (20-13) I will never be able to explain. In 2005 (a 14-10 loss) quarterback D.J. Shockley could not play due to an injury. Eight of those 16 Georgia losses were to teams that won the SEC championship. Another loss was to a Florida team (1990) that would have won the SEC championship if not for violations created by the previous staff. Of those nine losses, four were to teams that either won the national championship (1996, 2006, 2008) or played for the national championship (1995). So Georgia hasn’t been losing to bad teams.
Of course Georgia should have won more than three games in the past 19 years but again, it doesn’t have anything to do with where the game is played.
Evans said he’s not in the excuse-making business. Good for him.
Because here is the cold truth that Georgia fans have to face: Florida has won more games than Georgia in the past 19 years because the Gators have a lot of really good players who have played better in the white-hot spotlight that this game creates. If Georgia wants to win more games against Florida the Bulldogs have to sign better players who play better, not ask for a change of venue.