Georgia vs. Florida
When: 3:30 today
Where: Jacksonville, Fla.
TV, radio: CBS (WGCL-46); 550-AM, 99.3 FM
Web site: www.georgiadogs.com
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s Derrick Harvey was at the bottom of the pile, trying unsuccessfully to strip the ball out of Knowshon Moreno’s grasp.
When Harvey stood up, he was surrounded by Georgia Bulldogs — about 70 of them. They were jumping up and down in unison, shouting, taunting and reveling Moreno’s 1-yard touchdown run. The stunned Gators watched in disbelief.
"It was disrespectful," said Harvey, a defensive end taken in the first round of the NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. "We were surprised."
It also may have been just what this Southeastern Conference series needed. Some would argue that the game formerly known as the "World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" had grown stale, mostly because of Florida’s domination the last two decades.
But last year’s brazen end-zone celebration, the one that catapulted Georgia to a 42-30 victory, gave new life to one of college football’s most storied rivalries. And when the No. 5 Gators (6-1, 4-1) and eighth-ranked Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1) meet for the 65th consecutive year today, no one knows what will happen.
Will there be pushing and shoving beforehand? Will there be words exchanged? Will Georgia win consecutive games against Florida for the first time since 1989? Or will the Gators get revenge for last year’s debacle?
This much is certain: The winner will control the SEC Eastern Division, have the inside track to the Dec. 6 championship game in Atlanta and stay in the national title hunt.
"It’s a long process getting (to Atlanta), and it starts with this weekend," Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "Whoever wins this game is going to have a big advantage in the East."
The Gators have been pointing to this week, this game, this opportunity, all year, partly because of what happened at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium last season and partly because they realize all those lofty goals they set could hinge on this one.
Nonetheless, Florida players have been quiet all week; coach Urban Meyer banned them from talking about Georgia’s celebration because he didn’t want to give the Bulldogs any bulletin-board material or extra motivation.
Meyer also declined to reveal how he planned to use last year’s revelry to energize his team. Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow offered a small glimpse when he said the Gators had a picture of Georgia’s celebration hanging in their locker room.
Former guard Drew Miller gave more insight. Miller, who watched the Bulldogs’ bravado from the sideline last year, spoke to several former teammates this week and said they’re eager for payback.
"The whole offseason was Georgia the whole time," said Miller, also with the Jaguars. "They’ve been reminded of it this whole week. They’re going to be ready to go, and they’re definitely going to want to get some revenge."
The rivalry hasn’t had this juicy a story line in years.
Sure, unranked Florida spoiled No. 4 Georgia’s shot at an undefeated season in 2002 and may have cost the Bulldogs a spot in the national championship game. But Georgia won the SEC title game and the Sugar Bowl, so the loss didn’t cause nearly as much angst as some other meetings.
Remember 1966, when Georgia intercepted three passes from eventual Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier and prevented Florida from winning its first conference title? How about Florida’s "fourth and dumb" call in 1976? Or Buck Belue’s memorable 92-yard touchdown pass to Lindsay Scott in the final seconds in 1980 that gave the Bulldogs a 26-21 victory and propelled them to the national title?
Few could forget Florida’s Antoine Lott calling a touchdown-saving timeout in 1993 that helped the Gators pull out a 33-26 win. Or when Spurrier, always mindful of his winless record as a player against Georgia, as Florida coach called a flea-flicker with his team ahead 45-17 late in 1995.
It resulted in a touchdown and irritated the Bulldogs — the game was played in Athens because of stadium renovations in Jacksonville — for years. Spurrier admitted afterward that he wanted to be the first to score 50 points on Georgia between the hedges.
Last year’s end-zone celebration added a new intriguing chapter to the history.
"The rivalry only gets better every year," Florida return specialist Brandon James said. "It’s a very big game."
This one could be the biggest, considering all that’s at stake and that it’s the fifth meeting with both programs ranked in the top 10.
"With the way our season has been going, it’s been building up to this point," Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said. "You know how big of an impact it’s going to have on our season. It’s something you try not to think about with the games you have ahead, but you can’t help but think about it with the hype that goes into this game."