A recent ESPN.com article on the top five rivalries in the SEC has generated quite a bit of conversation among fans.
Topped by Alabama-LSU, the list (which focused on the rivalries considered hottest right now) also included Georgia-Florida, the Iron Bowl between Bama and Auburn, Georgia-South Carolina, and the Egg Bowl match of Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
Notably, Georgia-Auburn, the game widely known as the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, didn’t make the cut.
Now, knowing how devoted ESPN is to being trendy (they listed Alabama-Texas A&M as a rising rivalry on the basis of, what, one year?), I imagine the fact that Georgia has dominated its series over Auburn recently (the Cam Newton blip being the exception) is probably one reason that much-heralded series didn’t make the list. Neither did Alabama-Tennessee, which also has become one-sided.
But the Georgia-Auburn series still has all the intrinsic elements that make a traditional rivalry: history, proximity of the schools and fan bases and, overall, it’s been an incredibly even series, even if the Dogs have won most of the past few games.
But for younger fans, in whose lifetimes the Gators have always been a major power, the Georgia-Auburn rivalry has been eclipsed by the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville. And, with Georgia once again becoming competitive in that series, now having won two in a row and shifting the can-we-break-the-losing-streak conversation to Gainesville, that rivalry is hotter than ever.
Georgia-Florida is definitely the Dogs’ top rivalry now, but historically it once was rivaled, so to speak, by Georgia-Clemson. Unfortunately, those two schools have only met twice a decade in recent years, but there’s still a lot of rivalry elements there. There’s even been a book written about it (“Fighting Like Cats and Dogs” by Kyle King — more to come on that).
And then, of course, there’s the annual grudge match with in-state rival Georgia Tech. That game may have lost some of its luster in recent decades as the Jackets have become less competitive, but if you go by the level of hatred generated by a series, it’s still a healthy rivalry. Someone said a rivalry game isn’t necessarily the one you most want to win, it’s the one you least want to lose. And that definitely is how the Bulldog Nation views the Tech game.
But Georgia-South Carolina? Seeing that on the ESPN list, one of the sports guys at work asked me if I considered that to be a major rivalry, and I had to say no.
It’s a big game, no doubt about it — just as important as the Florida game.
And since Steve Spurrier has been in Columbia, the series has developed a bit of the hatred element that a good rivalry needs.
But there’s little history there — probably because the Gamecocks couldn’t make up their minds for years what conference they were going to be in, or whether they were even going to be in a conference.
And that series also lacks the sort of fan passion that elevates a game to rivalry status. A loss to a rival hurts all year long, but with Georgia having managed to win the SEC East the past two years despite losing to the Gamecocks, that isn’t really the case with this series.
True, the closer you live to South Carolina, the more the series is likely to approach rivalry status. In Augusta, for instance, they hold an annual Border Bash charity gathering the Friday before the game, featuring the two schools’ cheerleaders as well as mascots Cocky and Hairy Dawg. (The 20th anniversary bash is set for Sept. 6 at the Augusta Common.)
Someone else asserted that South Carolina fans consider the series with Georgia more of a rivalry than Georgia fans do, but when I checked with a Gamecock pal, he nixed that idea. It’s a big, big game, he agreed, but South Carolina’s only true rivalry game is with Clemson, he said. That’s the one that’s talked about all year.
Really, Georgia-South Carolina has pretty much taken the place that Georgia-Tennessee occupied back in the 1990s, when that series approached but never quite reached rivalry status. The two schools didn’t have much tradition or history between them — sort of like Georgia and Alabama — but the hatred level was growing when Phil Fulmer was riding high. If the Vols had remained good, that game might have become a rivalry, but it never really achieved that status.
Same goes for Georgia-South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won three in a row and Spurrier certainly is a favorite villain among Georgia fans. The proximity factor noted by the Border Bash tag is there, too. If the game remains competitive and important to the Dogs’ SEC chances each year, it one day may indeed become a rivalry.
But for now it’s simply the toughest game the Dogs will play this season.
At least, that’s how I view it. How about you? What do you think makes a rivalry? And do you consider Georgia-South Carolina to be one?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg