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Georgia, Florida rivalry intensified by last year's celebration
Both coaches mute about subject leading up to game
Georgia players storm the field following the first touchdown in the first quarter against Florida last season in Jacksonville, Fla. Florida coach Urban Meyer and Georgia coach Mark Richt won’t talk about it. But everyone else can’t wait to see what happens a year after the "Gator Stomp" when the two teams meet this Saturday. Most fans are eager to see if Florida plans any form of retaliation during the game. - photo by By Phil Coale

vs. Florida

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

TV, radio: CBS (WGCL-46); 550-AM, 99.3 FM

Web site:

ATHENS Urban Meyer vowed in writing to get back at the Georgia Bulldogs. Now, he dismisses any hard feelings as "old news."

Mark Richt won’t talk about it either, brushing off questions with an explanation he trotted out three months ago.

Nice try, guys.

They may be two of America’s best college football coaches, but both came across as hopelessly naive with their attempts to muzzle any banter about the "Gator Stomp" — a still-infamous bit of bravado that sent Georgia’s spirits soaring and left Florida seething for a full year.

Now, it’s time for the rematch, and all those juicy side plots — revenge, redemption, justification — are still on the table, along with an inside track to the Southeastern Conference championship game and a possible shot at the national title.

Even those with more pressing issues are eager to see the follow-up, wondering how Meyer’s No. 5 Gators will react when they get another shot at Richt’s eight-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday.

"Something’s going to happen in that game. I’ll guarantee you that," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "Something’s going to happen after what happened last year. You can book that."

It’s going to be hard to top what happened a year ago. For those who might have been on an African safari or exploring the Amazon, here’s a brief refresher:

Perturbed by a lack of emotion, Richt challenged his players to celebrate so hard after their first touchdown that the refs would throw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. If not, they would face his wrath when they got back to Athens.

The team took Richt at his word, storming the end zone en masse after Knowshon Moreno scored on a 1-yard run midway through the first quarter. About 70 players swallowed up their teammate, jumping up and down in unison while the Gators merely watched, stunned by the brashness of it all.

Even though Georgia drew two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and had to kick off from its 8-yard line, Richt’s motivational brainstorm served its purpose. The Bulldogs romped to a 42-30 victory over the defending national champions, just the third win against their rival in 18 years.

Richt’s team won the rest of its games, too, finishing No. 2 in the rankings. He was reprimanded by the conference and apologized for his actions, insisting he didn’t mean for the entire team to go on the field. In July, he talked about it again during the SEC’s preseason media bash.

"I was in shock as much as anybody else," Richt said. "I was a coach desperate to try to get some enthusiasm, and I was willing to take a 15-yard penalty. Now, in hindsight, I asked the team to do an unsportsmanlike act, because it’s called unsportsmanlike conduct, excessive celebration. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done it. I won’t do anything like that again. It could have easily turned into a big, stupid brawl."

That will have to stand for Richt’s version of events. As soon as the Bulldogs had finished off a 52-38 victory at LSU on Saturday night, the coach was asked about last year’s celebration. He referred the matter to sports information director Claude Felton, who sent out an e-mail shortly after midnight with a transcript from July.

All question since then have been answered with two words, "No comment."

But a former player, Kelin Johnson, said the Bulldogs have no reason to apologize.

"It was our business," said Johnson, who played safety in that game. "And we won the game. A lot of people say it was cocky, that it’s not coach Richt’s style, but obviously it worked. ... There’s a time and place for everything, and that was definitely the time for that."

Of course, Florida might see things a bit differently.

While Meyer has publicly refrained from criticizing Richt, he said in his authorized biography that, "We’ll handle it. And it’s going to be a big deal." The Florida players looked ahead to the game with similar passion, until their coach issued a gag order this week.

Tim Tebow would only talk about last year’s game in the general terms of losing to a big rival.

"Even today you still have hard feelings about it," Tebow said. "As a football player and as an athlete you’ve got to learn to bounce back and learn from your losses and get over them, especially when you’re exceptionally passionate. That’s something you’ve go to learn early because you’re going to have losses."

Meyer brushed of any questions about Georgia’s year-old celebration, saying he’s more concerned with the outcome Saturday. The winner will be positioned to play for the SEC title, a necessary step for reaching the BCS championship game.

"This game will be a big deal," Meyer said. "The Stomp, let’s move on."

Yeah, right.

"I’ve heard from people that go to school there who say they’ve talked about it ever since it happened," Georgia linebacker Darryl Gamble said. "So I guess it’s been a full year of hearing about it."

Johnson believes the Gators were trying to fire a salvo at Georgia with last week’s 63-5 blowout of Kentucky.

"Florida got caught with their pants down on national television last year," the former player said. "They’re going to come out for revenge. They could probably lose all their games this year, but they would want to beat Georgia.

"Plus, Urban Meyer is a real cocky coach," Johnson added. "They just embarrassed Kentucky. You know they were sending a message to Coach Richt and the Bulldogs. They were letting them know, ‘Hey, we are not backing down. We have something up our sleeve, too."’

Coach Meyer, your response?

"If someone says this was the focus of the offseason, then they’re from a different planet than Gainesville," he said.

Georgia’s players also shrugged off any motivational edge the Gators might have.

"It’s not going to help them win the game," Moreno said. "It comes down to both sides of the ball. We’ll just try to play the best we can and come out with the win."

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