The No. 15-ranked Diamond Dogs’ 7-5 win over No. 7 Georgia Tech in front of 24,665 fans Tuesday at Turner Field was big for a couple of reasons, despite being one of those late-season midweek nonconference games that don’t really affect either team’s postseason hopes.
First, it cemented Atlanta’s seven-year-old Spring Baseball Classic for Kids charity game as one of the nation’s best-attended college games, drawing the sixth largest regular season crowd in NCAA baseball history and the second largest crowd ever for the classic.
But more importantly to UGA fans, it was a win over our most hated rival and means the Dogs have won the last five classics in a row.
Any win over the insects, no matter the sport, is a big deal just because we hate them and they hate us. Whether it’s the “clean, old-fashioned hate” of sporting legend or the decidedly muckier version practiced by North Avenue posters to this blog, it still boils down to hate.
Too strong a word? Maybe back in my Dad’s era when a lot of UGA fans considered Tech the second state school and would root for them except when they played the Dogs. But in my lifetime the rivalry has sharpened to the point where most fans for each school take great delight in any misfortune that befalls the other. The combination of a Georgia win and a Tech loss (preferably a blowout) makes for the finest kind of fall Saturday.
Now I’m not saying that Tech is our biggest or most important rival, especially in football. That hasn’t been the case since the Jackets bolted from the SEC.
Just our most hated rival.
In my mind, our biggest rival (and one nearly as hated as Tech) is Florida. Especially in football, where the annual game in Jacksonville looms large in deciding the SEC East. And especially since the Spurrier era, when his obnoxious demeanor (and string of wins over the Dogs) let loose the inner jerk residing in most Gator fans. (I say most, not all, because my next-door neighbor the Gator is actually a really nice guy. Can’t say that about any Jackets fans I’ve known.)
So, as I’ve said before here, I’d list Tech and Florida as our top rivals, with Tennessee and Auburn in the next rank. (Once upon a time, Clemson was also at the top of that list, but we don’t play them that often any more.) While UT fans can be twice as obnoxious as Gator fans, particularly in Knoxville, that rivalry only really heated up when they became an every-year opponent in football and doesn’t yet match our thing with the Gators. Given a choice between beating either Florida or Tennessee in any given year, I think most fans would pick the Florida game in a heartbeat.
Auburn, of course, is our oldest rivalry, dating to 1892, and it’s an intense one for a lot of UGA fans, particularly those like my friends Steve and John who either have in the past or still live among the War Eagle types across the border. For many UGA fans, though, Auburn fans are more like our country cousins. The two schools share a lot of ties, have been known to hire each other’s graduates as coaches, and a lot of families are split, with grads from both schools.
So I don’t really hate Auburn. (”You wouldn’t feel that way if you ever had to live over there,” Steve told me recently when a group of us were discussing our most hated rivals. And I’m sure he’s right.)
Beyond that, I don’t think hatred is really a word that applies to our other rivalries. While Gamecock fans seem to spend the entire summer keying on their September meeting with the Dogs, those UGA fans who don’t live near or among the eternally optimistic South Carolina faithful attach importance to the game mainly as our SEC opener and usually the first real challenge of the season (though far from the biggest one). So that rivalry is bigger in Augusta than in Athens.
As for our other every-year opponents, Vandy and Kentucky, they’ve never been good enough on a consistent basis in football for much of a rivalry to develop. And in basketball, while Georgia fans pack the Steg every year when the Wildcats come to Athens, it’s more of a David vs. Goliath sort of scenario than a true rivalry.
And while our rotating games against teams from the SEC West are important, aside from our permanent opponent, Auburn, no true rivalry has developed. If we played Alabama more often, that rivalry would probably zoom to the top, especially with Nick Saban there, because their fans are, let’s face it, clinically insane. But I don’t think UGA fans really work up a true hatred for Bama, at least not one to match our big four. And whenever we’ve played LSU, I’ve found their fans to be among the most likable I’ve encountered. They’re good folks to tailgate with, and coming out of the Georgia Dome after the last time the Dogs whipped them in the SEC championship, I actually had several of them say, “Good game.” One Tiger fan even high-fived me when he said it.
If that ever happened with a Tech or Gator fan, I’d be so stunned I’d have to double-check the colors they were wearing.
Then I’d rush off to wash that hand.