The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party

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The moniker for the University of Florida Gators-University of Georgia Bulldogs football series came from Florida Times-Union sportswriter Bill Kastelz in the 1950s.  He remembers walking in Jacksonville near the Gator Bowl, now EverBank Field, before one of the games and seeing an inebriated fan offering a policeman a drink. Kastelz also noticed fans using binocular cases to carry a flask and that many fans were openly drinking adult beverages while being ignored by police and other authorities.  In front of his typewriter after the game, Kastelz thought the appropriate name for the annual affair was, “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”  While the party roars outside the stadium and in the stands, the teams wage a war on the field reminiscent of the days of the Roman Empire—fierce, tactical, and merciless.

One of the great Deep South rivalries finds Georgia leading 49-42-2, but Florida currently holds the victor’s trophy, the Okefenokee Oar.  The longest winning streak in the series for both schools is seven:  Florida from 1990-1996 and Georgia from 1941-1948.

Georgia dominated the series before the 1950s.  Led by Bulldog greats such as Bob McWhorter, David Paddock, Tom Nash, and Chick Shiver, UGA outscored the Gators in six games from 1915 to 1927, 190 to 9.

The Gators recorded their first two victories over Georgia in 1928, 26-6, and 1929, 18-6, but the 1930s witnessed total Bulldog domination.  Led by Coach Harry Mehre and College Football Hall of Fame players Vernon “Catfish” Smith, Frank Sinkwich, and Bill Hartman, the Bulldogs won eight of nine contests.  Also during this decade, Jacksonville became the permanent home of the series (1933).   College Football Hall of Fame coach Wally Butts continued the Bulldog supremacy through the 1940s with victories in seven of the nine games.

Under Mehre and Butts in the 1930s and 1940s, UGA enjoyed some of its greatest success on the gridiron.  Georgia dominated Florida and the rest of their opponents, compiling a .640 winning percentage.  UGA also won three conference titles, one national championship, and had twelve All-Americans on these teams.  Florida, on the other hand, was in disarray during this same time period.  None of UF’s five coaches stayed more than five years.  The school won no titles and had no All-Americans.  However, Florida changed its gridiron fortunes beginning in the 1950s.

Florida governor and grad Fuller Warren spearheaded a campaign to improve the plight of the UF football program in 1950.  The school hired away Bob Woodruff from Baylor to become head coach for $17,000 a year, the highest salary of any state employee at that time.  Woodruff convinced the administration to increase Florida Field capacity to 40,000, increase the salaries of assistant coaches, and allow the athletic department to be fully autonomous.

As Woodruff recruited better football players—Charlie LaPradd, Joe D’Agostino, John Barrow, Vel Heckman, the Gators began to turn the tide in the Georgia series.  Florida won the series against the Bulldogs in the 1950s with a 6-4 mark.  The rivalry was now on.

Neither school enjoyed much success on the gridiron from 1960-1965, but the 1966 game marked the first time both schools had title aspirations.  Under Hall of Fame coach Ray Graves and a young quarterback by the name of Steve Spurrier, the Gators came into the Georgia game undefeated and ranked number seven in the country.  The Bulldogs, under third-year Hall of Fame coach Vince Dooley, had lost only to the University of Miami by a single point.  Georgia boasted a ferocious defense led by Jake Scott, Bill Stanfill and George Patton.  UGA harassed Spurrier and the favored Gators the entire first half but trailed 10-3 at halftime.  The second half belonged to the Bulldogs.  Georgia’s defenders began to sack Spurrier and the offense mounted a lethal ground game.  Georgia waltzed off the Gator Bowl field with a 27-10 victory.  As Spurrier walked off the field, a Bulldog fan barked to the future Heisman trophy winner, “There he goes, Mr. Quarterback. Some quarterback.”

With both programs sporting perennial winners, the series saw the Gators take the 1960s with a 7-3 record while Georgia won the 1970s with the same record.  Georgia continued to beat the Gators in the 1980s under Vince Dooley and such superstars as Herschel Walker, Terry Hoage, Jimmy Payne, Kevin Butler, and Tim Worley, as the Bulldogs won eight out of the ten meetings.  Arguably, the most exciting game in the decade and the entire series took place in 1980.

With about one minute and twenty seconds left in the game, Florida led Georgia 21-20 and had the Bulldogs backed up to their own 7-yard line.  Georgia quarterback Buck Belue rolled out, dodged a couple of defenders, and hit receiver Lindsay Scott with a pass.  Scott reversed his field and eluded the Gator defense for a 93-yard touchdown that gave Georgia the lead and eventual victory, 26-21.  Legendary Bulldog broadcaster Larry Munson became famous for his “Run, Lindsay, run…” call of the play.  The victory over the Gators maintained Georgia’s undefeated record on the way to the national championship.

The series began to turn the Gators’ way when future Hall of Fame coach Steve Spurrier took the helm in 1990.  The Gators dominated the decade with nine wins out of ten against the Bulldogs. Before leaving to coach the Washington Redskins after the 2001 season, Spurrier compiled an 11-1 record against Georgia coaches Ray Goff, Jim Donnan, and Mark Richt.  Many of these games were Florida blow outs. However, the 1993 game proved to be one of the more dramatic ones in the Spurrier era.

Georgia entered the game against the nationally-ranked Gators with a mediocre team led by quarterback Eric Zeier and future All-Pro running back Terrell Davis.  UF freshman quarterback and future Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel struggled with the football in the rain.  Backup Terry Dean led Florida to 10 unanswered points for a 23-20 halftime lead.  The Gators maintained the lead throughout the second half and with the score 33-26 Zeier led UGA to the Gator 12-yard line with five seconds left.  The Bulldogs thought they had scored a touchdown on the next play but the referees ruled Florida defensive back Anthone Lott had called timeout.  During the next play Lott was called for pass interference, but on the last play of the game Zeier threw incomplete to cement the Gator victory.

As the century changed, the Bulldog fortunes in the series remained the same—defeats to Florida.  The Gators amassed a record of 9-1 against Georgia from 2001-2010.  Florida struggled under Coach Ron Zook to win games, but Richt could only beat him once in three tries.  UF terminated the embattled Zook after three seasons and hired another future Hall of Fame coach, Urban Meyer.  Meyer lost to Richt once in six contests.  One memorable Florida victory under Meyer took place in 2008.

Georgia entered that season as the number one ranked team in the country led by such superstars as quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Knowshon Moreno, and receiver A.J. Green.  The teams entered the game with one loss apiece.  Stafford threw three interceptions after halftime and Florida scored five unanswered touchdowns in the second half to cruise to a 49-10 win.  Meyer called two timeouts with less than a minute remaining to allow his players more time to celebrate.  According to Martin Gitlin, author of The Greatest College Football Rivalries of All Time, Meyer called the timeouts in response to Richt ordering his players in the 2007 game to take an excessive celebration penalty after the Bulldogs’ first touchdown.  Meyer, according to Gitlin, had not forgotten that Bulldog celebration and wanted the team to avenge the loss in the way that they did.

Georgia leads the series in the current decade three games to two, and this year’s battle will be the first between first-year Georgia coach Kirby Smart and second-year Florida coach Jim McElwain.  The coaches and players change but the rivalry continues to rage on.

As the teams embark on another chapter of the game by the St. John’s River, let’s raise our cocktail glasses to salute one of the Deep South’s classic gridiron rivalries.  Here’s to the players, coaches, and fans who make college football the greatest game in the world—Salute!, Sante!, Prost!, Cheers!

 

 

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Comments

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