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October 26, 2011

A Gator Bowl Beatdown

I thought I'd take a look back to a time when it was the Bulldogs who owned the Georgia-Florida series, and one of the sweetest of these victories was the 44-0 rout over the Gators in 1982:

The '82 Cocktail Party was suppose to be as close as its two preceding and thrilling 26-21 Bulldog victories.  Georgia entered as one of the country's best, although Florida was 6-2 and ranked 20th in the nation; the oddsmakers determined the Bulldogs to be just a 3½-point favorite.  As it turned out, the so-called experts would be a little off. 

In watching the game,  particularly the second half, the one thing that really stuck out were the numerous Georgia reserves that saw playing time.  Man, did Coach Dooley really empty the bench. 

At the skilled positions, Herschel Walker played for just 2½ quarters (and with the flu!) but still managed to rush for 219 yards and three touchdowns.  Nearly all of the playing time tailback Keith Montgomery and quarterback Todd Williams  both freshmen and future starters – saw in 1982 came in this one game.  Tailback Tommy Spangler, the current defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech, even got to carry the football – his lone rush in his Bulldog career.

What a thrill it must have been for the seldom-played freshmen, walk-ons, former scout-team members, etc., who had hardly seen the field as a Bulldog, if at all, to make an appearance in the Gator Bowl against the despised Gators.

On the touchdown run by Tron "the Electron" Jackson, another freshman, checkout the quarterback running the play.  Now, I thought I knew every single player from the last 30-to-40 years to ever don the red and black, but admittedly, I had to look up jersey-number 13 from 1982 - third-stringer Danny "Don't Call Me David" Greene from Wenonah, New Jersey.

Greene quarterbacked Georgia for its last couple of possessions of the game – his first, and last, drives (I'm willing to assume) directed as a Bulldog:

In watching all of Dooley's second-half replacements, I recalled the times Steve Spurrier ran the score up in the very same rivalry whenever given the opportunity.  Some examples:
Late in the game in 1990, with the contest having been settled long before, Spurrier sent his first-team defense back onto the field to prevent Georgia from merely picking up a first down.  With a 38-13 lead the following year, All-American quarterback Shane Matthews wasn't replaced until Florida's next-to-last offensive series, and even when the starter was finally sidelined, backup Brian Fox passed for a touchdown with less than two minutes to play.  In 1998, Spurrier punctuated another blowout Gators victory with a wide receiver reverse for a touchdown with mere seconds remaining.  I could go on... 

Now, the Florida faithful says Spurrier had very good reason to pull his classless acts against the Bulldogs.  Let me add, however, there's a few inaccuracies in the Gators' "Dooley-running-up-the-score-in-'68-is-the-reason-Spurrier-hates-Georgia" story.  For one, the "offensive lineman" that kicked the field goal for the game's final points was actually Peter Rajecki – the Bulldogs' backup placekicker, who had kicked a PAT earlier and would attempt several more field goals at Georgia from 1968 to 1970.  Also, the final field goal resulting with "with less than two minutes left to go" (another version of the story states "with seconds to go") actually occurred with 5:29 remaining – an eternity.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned seems to be yet another exaggerated story by a bunch of disgruntled Gators.  In Dooley's defense, unlike Spurrier, he wasn't much of one for running up the score on the opposition.  Take the 1982 pummeling of Florida, for example.  Danny Greene saw action at quarterback against the Gators, for God's sake!  And from what I hear, Dooley even had E.T. on the sideline warming up to go in...

October 19, 2011

Disregarded Gators

Like Tom Cruise in "A Few Good
Men," apparently, Florida can't
handle the truth either.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I recently signed a contract to write a book on the Georgia-Florida football rivalry.  In my research, I've already delved into lots of information on the history of the Gators - nearly too much, in fact, for one Bulldog to endure.  

I'm sure like many of you, I've known for quite some time that there is a discrepancy between the two schools regarding the series record; the Bulldogs declare they have a 47-40-2 advantage while the Gators claim to trail 40-46-2.  The one meeting in dispute was played in 1904 in Macon by a Florida squad, which evidently is not acknowledged by the school as a "true" Gators team. 

I recently became aware of the exact details surrounding the series conflict, and thought they were fitting to post with the 90th meeting of the rivalry (or is it 89th?) looming...

Simply, the University of Florida does not recognize any football results prior to the school's move  to Gainesville from Lake City beginning with the 1906-07 academic year.  This means the five Florida football teams from 1901 to 1905, all located in Lake City, are disregarded in the team's history.

Although, just prior to the 1903 football season, the school at Lake City began referring to itself as the "University of Florida," and so the press did as well from that point going forward.  That year, the Florida football team won one of three games.   The next season in 1904, the school recorded likely one of the worst campaigns in the history of southern football, losing all five of its contests by a combined 225-to-0 score.  That is no typo you see; that's an average loss by a score of 45 to zilch.

To illustrate how bad the 1904 University of Florida football team must have been, it was defeated by Georgia 52-0 in the series' first game and the Red and Black's season opener.  That dismal Georgia squad, who absolutely routed Florida, would play five more games the rest of the year, and lose them all by a combined 68-to-16 score. 

Florida also lost to Alabama 29-0 and Georgia Tech 77-0 in 1904 as well.  For what it's worth, both the Crimson Tide and Yellow Jackets, like Georgia, recognize the games in their records, while the University of Florida (at Gainesville) does not. 

In 1905, Florida played just one game - a 6-0 victory over "Julian Landon," whomever they, he, or she may have been.  Upon the relocation to Gainesville the following year is when the Gators begin acknowledging their football history, and thus what Georgia claims is the rivalry's second game - a 37-0 win in 1915 and another blowout over Florida - is what the Gators actually believe is the first.

A Florida newspaper - Jacksonville's The Florida Times-Union - identified the 1904 Georgia-Florida game in 1941 as "the No. 1 game in the famous series."  In addition, Tom McEwen, a Florida graduate and then-sports editor of the Tampa Tribune, wrote "The Gators: A Story of Florida Football" in 1974.  For years, McEwen's book was considered the bible of the school's football history.  In the back pages, under "Florida's Past Scores," listed are the team's historical results and included are the games from, you guessed it, 1903 to 1905 (and 1901-1902 as well).

Let me add, I have a suspicion that if the University of Florida football team, whether located in Lake City, Gainesville, or any other place for that matter, had achieved, let's say, a 7-2 mark instead of its actual 2-7 record from 1903 to 1905, the results might be counted by the school, including the 1904 Georgia game.  However, since it's somewhat of a gray area and those early Florida teams were absolutely awful, the Gators have picked and chosen what to recognize and what not to recognize.

Personally, and I might be somewhat bias but I side with Bulldog historian and icon Dan Magill when, in acknowledging Georgia's win in 1904, he said, "That's where Florida was back then.  We can't help it if they got run out of [Lake City]."

Furthermore, although the Florida players and coaches from 1903 to 1905 have long past away, I'm sure they would want their efforts (or lack thereof) to be recognized.  These men sweated and bled while playing under the "University of Florida" name, so their games should be counted by the school instead of merely dismissed.

During the Gators' one-sided 18-3 run against Georgia since 1990, Florida followers have often been quick to instruct Bulldogs to stop living in the past.  Apparently, for University of Florida football, part of its past actually never occurred.

October 4, 2011

That Hot Night in Knoxville

This Saturday's game against Tennessee will be the seventh night game Georgia has played in its 21 meetings versus the Volunteers in Knoxville.  When a good portion of Bulldog fans think of nighttime in K-Town, like me, they recall one particular sweltering night in 1980 and a freshman sensation running over Bill Bates.

Be that as it may, the unsung Georgia possession of that historic victory moved the football just four yards in three plays and resulted in a punt; however, it could very well be considered one of the most important offensive series for the Bulldogs during their national title season:

Interestingly, when senior Pat McShea recovered Tennessee's costly fumble, jarred loose by the "Ty Ty Termite" linebacker Nate Taylor, the defensive end just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time, completely missing his assignment for the play.  Of course, the ball seemed to always bounce in Georgia's direction during its unlikely championship run. 

Leading 16-15 with 4:02 remaining in the game and with the ball on its own 2-yard line, Georgia ran true freshman Herschel Walker up the middle on first down.  Walker lost a yard but was able to instinctively avoid being tackled in the end zone for a safety.

In front of more than 90,000 screaming Vol fans, Walker took a second-down pitch six or seven yards deep in his own end zone and gained four yards to the 5-yard line.  After a delay of game penalty, moving the Bulldogs back two yards, Walker carried again and netted three more yards to the 6-yard line.

It doesn't seem that significant but every inch gained by Walker on his three rushes was just a little more punting room for Jim Broadway.  Following the game, Georgia's offensive coordinator George Haffner, who like Walker and Broadway was also experiencing his first game as a Bulldog said, "that's when I knew Herschel Walker was something special," simply because of those six precious yards on three carries.

Broadway, a walk-on from the season before, had struggled that night in Knoxville, averaging just 35 yards on his previous eight punts.  Nevertheless, with the game on the line, Broadway got away a booming 47-yarder from his own end zone.  And, as it would execute the entire season, Georgia's punt coverage was immediately there to stop any significant return.

Of all the impressive figures generated by the 1980 Georgia team and its individuals, the most astounding is that only 8 net yards were gained the entire season by the opposition on 16 punt returns.  That's remarkably just a half-yard average per return with a long of only four yards, as evident on the video by Tennessee speedster Willie Gault.

For a comparison, in 1980, the average punt return for all of Division I-A football was just over seven yards per attempt.  Through five games in 2011, Georgia's punt coverage is allowing a whopping 14.8 yards per return.

Often, it's the "little things" - the ball bouncing the right way, a yard here and a yard there, exceptional punt coverage, etc. - that ultimately wins big ballgames, like a memorable victory against a reputable opponent in front of a large hostile crowd, when the nighttime temperature at kickoff is nearly 90 degrees (while the stadium concessions runs out of ice). 

And it's often these little things that separate the champions from the mere contenders...