For years – more than a decade – Florida had their way with Georgia. The Bulldogs, even if they had the better team, could not figure out how to beat the Gators. Uttering the word “Florida” made Georgia fans nervous.
You don’t get that sense any more. Even if Florida wins and has five penalty-wielding touchdown celebrations in the end zone Saturday that feeling, it seems, won’t return. The dread that was the annual trip to Jacksonville is gone.
Georgia fans can thank two non-natives for the change in attitude about the contest. Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno – neither from anywhere near Georgia – came into the Georgia-Florida series with a certain naiveté. They didn’t grow up watching Georgia figure out every possible way to lose to Florida – in the rain, by being blown out in Jacksonville, by being blown out in Gainesville, by being blown out in Athens, losing on the last play of the game, losing with the better team, losing with silver britches on, losing with black pants on, losing as an undefeated team, losing during the day, losing at night… you get the point.
Moreno and Stafford were too busy watching their beloved Nets and Cowboys to know what in the world was happening at Georgia. Sure, they may have heard about the Dawgs’ struggle against the Mighty Gators when they got to Georgia, but the two of them were too busy trying to figure out how to get onto the field – what good did a history lesson serve them if they were not going to play in the game anyway?
By contrast, David Greene, David Pollack and Fred Gibson, leaders during a different era of Georgia football, did grow up with the phenomenon – particularly Gibson; Meanwhile, Mark Richt inherited it.
The 2002 loss to Florida turned into something more, it seemed, and felt like it spilled over to the 2003 game. That loss perpetuated the thinking that – no matter what – Georgia would lose to Florida. By 2004, Florida was such a wreck there was no way the Dawgs could lose – but Richt got a water cooler shower from his players anyway for beating a team that had just lost to lowly Mississippi State the week before.
But with the relief of a rare win over Florida under the program’s belt, disaster struck again in 2005 when D.J. Shockley missed the game due to a knee injury. Not unpredictably, the Bulldogs lost 14-10. It seemed the fix was in again. After all, only senior quarterbacks had guided Georgia to victories over Florida since 1990 – and even Eric Zeier, couldn’t do it his final season in 1994. So it was understandable the angst after the 2005 loss when Shockley, a senior that season, didn’t even get his chance to play against Florida.
Yes, Stafford played against Florida as a freshman in 2006, but that was a learning curve season for him – a very blurry time in his football life. Also, and this tends to matter more than a little bit, Florida did win the national title that season.
So why was Georgia’s win over Florida so big last season? Because it hurt the Gators – the dance party pissed them off. They were young. Their new leader – Jacksonville native Tim Tebow – felt that stinging loss in his hometown. He was answering the questions after the game Georgia had grown so used to answering: “How does it feel to lose to your rival… oh, and how about that celebration?”
The pent up frustration has been caged for a full year. Georgia went from last on the Gators’ list of rivals right past Tennessee, Florida State and Miami to number one most wanted.
It seems Georgia is all Florida has thought about for some time. Urban Myer even wrote about it in his book. They are eager to “get revenge,” but they are not going to talk about the celebration or anything related to it this week. Not wanting to talk about it is understandable, but getting revenge is not a guaranteed thing.