The announcement that CBS again will televise the Georgia-Florida game this season with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff surprised no one, I’m sure. CBS loves that game and has aired it every year since 2003. It would have been news had they not chosen to televise it.
The annual meeting of the Bulldogs and Gators in Jacksonville and all the fan hoopla that surrounds it is rightfully viewed as one of those colorful traditional rivalry spectacles that makes college football worth watching, even if you aren’t a particular fan of either school.
Which is perhaps one of the best arguments for keeping the game in Jacksonville. Sure, it helps that Florida and Georgia are usually battling for the SEC East title, but that’s not what has elevated this game to the level of Oklahoma-Texas or USC-Notre Dame over the years.
No, it’s the celebratory aspect of what the school presidents would prefer you not call the World’s Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party that makes this a special game. And I’m not talking about the drinking (though I will say that even if Florida’s prez was successful in getting the number of alcohol-serving establishments around the stadium reduced, it probably wouldn’t cut back on the number of folks getting blitzed; it would just mean more business for the bars that were open or more people bringing their own).
What elevates this game is the way Georgia students and fans turn a trip to Jacksonville into a fall beach vacation. It’s the elaborate tailgating and partying. It’s the 50-50 split of the crowd inside the stadium. It’s the setting by the St. Johns River.
Yes, I agree with Mark Richt that Jacksonville isn’t really a “neutral” site, but that never seemed to matter during the Dooley years domination of the series by the Dogs. Yes, Jacksonville is overpriced and the traffic is terrible. And, yes, Georgia-Florida held every fourth year at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta or even on a home-and-home basis in Athens and Gainesville still would be a major SEC matchup every year.
But would it be a lock for a national television slot? Would it garner the national attention that it does in Jacksonville? Would thousands of Bulldogs and Gators fans really flock to Atlanta a week before the game? Can you see the fans really tailgating at the same level in the the railroad gulch around the Georgia Dome? Would Georgia-Florida outside of Jacksonville remain one of the marquee games of the college football season?
I’m not so sure.
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