Players Learn Georgia Game Is Major Rivalry

The rivalry between Auburn and Georgia is one of the best in the country in terms of competitiveness on the field and respect off the field.

Auburn, Ala.–-The Deep South's oldest college football rivalry will have its 109th renewal this Saturday night in Athens, Ga., when the 15th-ranked Auburn Tigers take on the ninth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium.

Not as hyped as the Iron Bowl game between Auburn and Alabama or the World's Largest Cocktail Party between Georgia and Florida in Jacksonville, this game is more than just a name. It's all about the games.

In 108 meetings to this point Auburn holds a 52-48-8 advantage in the series and has won 17 of 26 meetings in Athens, including nine of the last 11 at Sanford Stadium. Georgia has played well at Auburn, winning 12 of 23 games on AU's honme field. With history on its side, the matchup is one that fans on both sides enjoy and the players recognize that.

"When I got here I was really surprised about it," says Auburn junior linebacker Karibi Dede, who grew up in Virginia. "A lot of the former players, some of the coaches, a lot of the older people that have been fans for a long time they kind of know what it's all about. It's been a rivalry for a long time. Auburn-Alabama, because it's in-state, is going to take precedence. But, this rivalry is about as big as they come really."

Georgia native Marcus McNeill blocks against the Bulldogs last season in Auburn's 26-7 victory.

The rivalry is one that players learn to respect and admire after they get into the programs. For someone like Bret Eddins, who grew up in an Auburn family and going to football games, he knew what the Georgia game meant as an Auburn man. As for someone like Jake Slaughter from Nashville, Tenn., he learned quickly this game was a little different than most.

"I experienced this rivalry on my visit here," Slaughter says. "I knew nothing about it. I came and they played Georgia at home. When I stepped on the field and talked the coaches and felt the atmosphere it was obvious this was a huge game and a huge rivalry. Ever since then I've noticed that."

One of the reasons the game is huge, especially on the Auburn side of things, is the number of students from each bordering state attending the other school. For Auburn the number is astounding because of the proximity to the state line and Atlanta, one of the largest Auburn alumni groups in the country. Redshirt freshman safety Steve Gandy, who is from Mississippi, says that the Georgia presence on campus makes this game huge for many.

"I really was surprised," Gandy says. "I didn't really know Auburn had that many people from Georgia. Half of the population of the school is from Georgia. I'm used to everyone saying ‘you've got to beat Alabama.' Now when we get to school there are so many people from Georgia saying ‘you've got to beat Georgia. We don't care about Alabama just beat Georgia.' It's a big rivalry and different from Alabama."

Once the newness wears off and a player becomes entrenched with his emotions on and off the field things can change. For example tight end Cooper Wallace, who is from Nashville, Tenn., says that the game is definitely huge but no different than several other games on Auburn's schedule.

"It's definitely a big game," Wallace says. "In my eyes it's just as big as an Auburn-Alabama game. I think LSU is the same way. It just seems like those three teams right there, this is my fifth year, every time we've played them it has been a dogfight. I think it's just as big as Alabama, LSU or any other game."

The other side of the coin is a rookie to the game such as junior college transfer cornerback Jonathan Wilhite. A redshirt sophomore that has played a great deal for the Tigers this season, he says he's looking forward to seeing the rivalry on the field after watching in unfold in the stands last season.

"When I was getting recruited I thought it was all Alabama," Wilhite says. "When I came to the Georgia game last year there were a lot of people here and the fans were pretty riled up about everything. I think it will be exciting and a good environment to go play in. I have heard Georgia is a great place to go play and a loud stadium. We'll see what happens."

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