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Friday, October 25
Here's a toast to Florida-Georgia

By Bob Harig
Special to

There's a reason the annual Florida-Georgia game has been dubbed "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." For all but 10 of the previous meetings between the longtime rivals, the combatants have squared off in Jacksonville, a north Florida border town that throws out the welcome mat and hopes nobody slips and falls.

Already, a big party is taking place, where fifth-ranked Georgia (8-0) has Southeastern Conference title and national championship aspirations, while Florida (5-3) is trying to salvage its season under beleaguered first-year coach Ron Zook.

Now, for the first time, the game is being played at night, which opens up the possibility for more rowdiness than usual. UF athletic director Jeremy Foley and Zook composed a letter to Gator fans asking them to behave. ESPN has produced a 30-second message, to be used on video boards at both schools, asking the same. Sounds more like they're asking for trouble.

Nonetheless, this is a classic rivalry, to be renewed for the 80th time on Saturday night. And in its honor, with the obligatory warning to drink responsibly, we raise our glass and . . .

Toast to the history
Every game in the series from 1933 through 1933 was played in Jacksonville at the Gator Bowl. The teams first met in 1915 and have played every year since 1926, except for 1943, when Florida did not field a team. The game went back to the respective campuses in 1994 and 1995 while Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville was being built on the same site as the Gator Bowl. The game returned there in 1996.

Toast to Georgia
Georgia leads the all-time series 44-33-2. In Jacksonville, the Bulldogs lead 38-30-1.

Toast to never forgetting
Steve Spurrier
Steve Spurrier went 11-1 vs. Georgia as a coach.
In 1966, most agree that Spurrier clinched the Heisman Trophy when he kicked a game-winning field goal to beat Auburn. But the next game was against Georgia, and Spurrier, the UF quarterback, was intercepted three times in a 27-10 defeat. The Gators were denied their first SEC title (in fact, they would never win an official SEC title until Spurrier became coach), and Georgia coach Vince Dooley won the first of his six.

But what rankled Spurrier was a meaningless touchdown the Bulldogs tacked on at the end of the game. He never forgot.

In fact, Spurrier took great delight in defeating Georgia. Georgia holds a 44-33-2 edge in the series despite Spurrier winning 11 of the last 12. How proud of that was Spurrier? Remember his press conference when being introduced as the new coach of the Washington Redskins. He told owner Daniel Snyder that he hoped to make rival Dallas "our Georgia."

Toast to the local ties
The Gators have 74 players on their roster from the state of Florida, 12 from Georgia. The Bulldogs have 87 from the state of Georgia, eight from Florida. Each school has more players on its roster from the rival state than any other in the country.

Ron Zook
UF coach Ron Zook says 'there's nothing like the Florida-Georgia game.'
Toast to appreciating the rivalry
Zook has been on the winning side of this game five times as an assistant coach at Florida in the early 1990s under former coach Steve Spurrier, who went 11-1 against the Bulldogs.

"When I came here before, I thought Ohio State-Michigan was a big rivalry game, and I've been in it (as an assistant coach)," Zook said. "And it's one of those where the kids fight at school and everything else.

"But I'm going to tell you something, there's nothing like the Florida-Georgia game. As I told our coaches that have never been part of it, they are going to find out this is the most exciting game that they've been in."

Toast to smack talk
There's nothing like a little animosity between longtime rivals. So how's this from Florida offensive guard Shannon Snell: "I think Georgia's going to lose another game. They've got Auburn and they've got Ole Miss. One of them is going to knock them off. I don't care which one. They can use that as bulletin board material. I don't care."

Snell, of course, believes the Gators are going to win, too. And if his prediction comes true, another defeat for the Bulldogs would mean a Florida trip to the SEC title game, provided the Gators win out.

Toast to commiserating coaches
There'd have never been such compassion from Spurrier, nor toward him. In fact, you get the feeling that a few Georgia folks don't want any such talk coming from coach Mark Richt, although he was speaking more in terms of himself than offering advice to his rival.

But Richt was trying to make the point this year that the second season is much easier than the first. And since he is in his second season sitting 8-0, it makes sense.

Richt was for 15 years an assistant coach at Florida State before getting his first head coaching job at Georgia last season.

Zook, who is already under fire at Florida and has the unenviable task of replacing Spurrier, is 5-3 -- the same record Richt began with last year.

"It's tough that first year," Richt said. "It's not an easy thing. One thing that is so helpful to a team is having a whole year of experience to draw from.

"The thing that is maybe a little bit easier is just the fact that the players have a better idea of what you want. The coaches have a better idea of what you want as well."

Toast to another former player turned coach
Ray Goff had the unenviable task of following a legend, just like Zook has now. The former Georgia quarterback replaced Vince Dooley, who won 201 games, six SEC titles and a national championship in 1980. He is also the last Bulldog coach to win an SEC title.

Goff will be in Jacksonville to be inducted into the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame -- not as a coach, but as a player. Goff beat the Gators three times as a Georgia quarterback from 1974 to 1976, but he was the losing coach in Spurrier's first six victories in the series.

In fact, Spurrier made it a habit to mock Goff, calling him "Coach Goof" at Gator Booster club meetings and constantly pointing out that Georgia almost always had more highly-regarded recruiting classes, but still couldn't beat the Gators.

Goff went 46-34-1 and took Georgia to four bowls games from 1989 to 1995. But he was on the losing end of a 52-17 score in 1995 in Athens, Ga., when the game moved on campus for two seasons due to construction of Alltel Stadium.

"I know how Ron feels," Goff said. "He's stepped into a situation he has no control over. He's trying to coach football, he can't concern himself with what all the fans think or with what all the talk shows and all the newspapers say. He's just got to do his job. It's very difficult, but he's just got to stay focused on the task at hand."

Toast to a heartbreaker
At least it was to the Gators. For Bulldogs, it is one of the great memories in the series. Georgia trailed late in the game and was on its own 7 yard line when Buck Belue hit Lindsay Scott on a 93-yard pass play with just 1:03 remaining. The Bulldogs won 26-21 to keep their perfect record intact and went on to win the national championship.

That play led to one of the all-time great homer calls in radio, provided by Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson:

"Buck Belue is in trouble, he got a block behind him, he's going to throw on the run, complete at the 25, the 30, Lindsay Scott 35, 40. Lindsay Scott 45, 50, 45, 40, run Lindsay!. . . 25, 20, 15, 10, 5. . . Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! I can't believe it, 93 yards. Lindsay got in a foot race. I broke my chair, I came right through my chair, a metal steel chair with a 5-inch cushion. I broke it! This is incredible, I didn't mean to beg Lindsay to run, but I had to. . .We were gone. I gave up, you did too. We were out of it -- MIRACLE!"

Toast to the RV City
Established by Jacksonville organizers each year near the stadium, it offers space on a first-come, first-serve basis for fans who travel via recreational vehicle. In fact, fans began getting in line for a spot in the RV City on Tuesday, even though it didn't open until Wednesday morning. Now that's devotion.

Finally, a toast to the fans
There will be a 50-50 split in the stadium, and fans from both teams will line the streets as the team buses pull into the stadium Saturday. And they're not shy about showing their allegiance.

Said Florida defensive tackle Bryan Savelio: "You see young people, old people, even little kids lined up on the side of the road giving you the finger."

What more needs to be said?

Bob Harig covers college football for the St. Petersburg Times.

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