JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Greetings from EverBank Field. That’s what they’re calling this stadium next to the St. Johns River this year. Most recently it was Alltel Stadium. I still think of it as the Gator Bowl, but I’m old.
As we prepare for today’s slobberknocker between the Bulldogs and Gators, let’s talk about Georgia coach Mark Richt
Richt’s reputation is as a super calm, unemotional football coach. It’s a trait that originally endeared him to the Georgia people and frustrates more than a few of them now. But it doesn’t take long in hearing him talk about the annual Georgia-Florida game here realize it’s a game that is extremely important to him and one he wants to win in the worst way.
“It makes an impression, no doubt, when you come over the hill over that bridge and see everything,” he said of the drive over Matthews Bridge on the team bus each year. “You see the stadium, you see the water, you see the RVs and the tents and the colors. When you get closer you see the people. You see their faces, you see their emotion. It’s very easy to tell who’s happy to see you and who’s not. It’s just what college football is all about.
“Then when you get inside of the stadium and it’s full, it’s very definite who’s cheering for who. There’s not many spots on either side that’s not red and black or blue and orange. It’s a straight line, buddy; there’s not any zig-zagging where they sit side-by-side. So you can tell who’s for who.”
Save for an occasional BCS bowl, Richt had never encountered such an atmosphere when he was offensive coordinator at Florida State. In terms of the fan makeup and in-game participation, he said only the SEC Championship Game in the Georgia Dome compares.
“That was new for me,” Richt said. “I’d never been to a neutral-site game like that and it is special. It’s electric; it stays electric. There’s no down time. It’s always loud because there’s enough fan base on both sides to create that noise and there’s a lot of electricity when something happens. It’s always buzzing. The excitement never stops.”
Say what you will, but the outcome of today’s game probably means more to Richt than anybody else. Win it and the Bulldogs can continue their roll toward a possible SEC Eastern Division Championship. Lose it and all the hot-seat talk will come back with a vengeance.
Behind that calm and cool exterior, Richt is as anxious and uptight as any other human being would be in this situation.
“I don’t thnk it’s nervous, but I think there’s definitely adrenalin flowing,” he said. “It wouldn’t be unusual for me to be pacing around and anxious for it to get started. Everybody’s that way. There’s probably a difference between nervous and scared. I think some people think if you say you’re nervous you’re scared. It’s not that. But you are on edge a little bit. . .
“You’re not exactly sure how it’s going to go. I don’t know if anybody really settles into a game until it gets started. So, yeah, I have a lot of emotions going into it. My goal has always been to temper it to a certain degree to try to think straight and try to make good decisions.”
Richt has made some interesting decisions in this game in year’s past. And it could be argued that his team hasn’t made many good ones during its currently three-game losing streak to the Gators. The Bulldogs have committed 12 turnovers to Florida’s one in that span, including nine interceptions.
Break it down all you want but that’s the key to the game right there.