Even present coach Mark Richt, who is enjoying the love of the Bulldog nation, had to endure a summer (2004) of answering questions about the Gators when he made his way on the banquet circuit last year. His record is now 1-3 against Florida and the heat will be on to make sure that the 2004 win was the beginning of a trend and not just another bump in the road for the Gators like 1997 win when Jim Donnan was the coach.
When the Gators took to the Gator Bowl field in 1990 there were new questions to be answered. The high flying aerial show had been grounded in Knoxville just three weeks earlier as Tennessee destroyed the Gators, 45-3. Two weeks later the Gators took their ire out on Auburn with a 48-7 win but that was in Gainesville.
When the Gators made their annual trek over to Jacksonville on November 10, there was that queasy feeling gripping Gator fans once again. So often during the previous 24 years, Florida had gone into the Gator Bowl with the better team against the Bulldogs but all too often, Georgia came away with the victory. That sinking feeling departed that day as the pendulum which had swung Georgia's way for so long began swinging back in Florida's direction.
The pendulum of Georgia momentum had begun its mighty swing November 5, 1966. Florida entered that fateful game against the Bulldogs undefeated, untied and well on its way to a very first SEC championship. The seventh-ranked Gators had won 11 of the previous 14 meetings as they squared off against the unranked Bulldogs.
Florida came into that game riding the crest of a 30-27 last second victory over Auburn, a game that all but assured All-American quarterback Steve Spurrier the Heisman Trophy. It was Spurrier's 40-yard field goal as time ran out that supplied the difference in the game.
The dream of the SEC title and an unbeaten season became a nightmare as Georgia pounded Florida into submission, 27-10. Over the next 23 years, Georgia would go 16-6-1 against Florida. During that time, if the Gators weren't getting stomped by the Bulldogs (51-0 in 1968 and 44-0 in 1982) the Gators were taking superior teams to Jacksonville and finding creative ways to lose games they should have never lost.
Some of you old Gators may want to skip the next paragraph as we recall some of those "memories".
In 1975 the Gators were undefeated in the conference but lost in Jacksonville, 10-7. In 1976 the Gators were undefeated in the conference but lost in Jacksonville 41-27. In 1980 the Gators had the game won until the "run Lindsay run" play. Florida went into the 1985 game ranked first in the nation for the first time in school history only to lose, 24-3. To cap off the eighties, the Gators lost to Georgia three straight times even with Emmitt Smith playing for Florida. What makes that 1989 loss so unbearable is that Ray Goff was coaching the Bulldogs.
The Bible tells us that "on the seventh day God rested." On the eighth day he created The Evil Genius. Florida called him Steve Superior. Georgia called him Darth Visor. Georgia fans wore T-shirts that said "Will Rogers Never Met Steve Spurrier." Spurrier only fanned the flames with his brash, cocky and always arrogant coaching persona.
Georgia fans had a number of unprintable names for Spurrier, too, but the one thing they couldn't call him was forgetful. Oh, how he remembered.
The one thing that Spurrier did not do when he was hired was put too much importance in the Georgia game to the media. His thoughts were that it was natural that the Gators would win in Jacksonville. It was in Florida, in a place called the Gator Bowl, the Gators rode a bus, the Bulldogs had to fly. He was not going to over-hype the game and put more pressure on his team than was needed.
Make no mistake about it though, this was the game. This was Steve Spurrier's chance for payback and it was VERY personal. The way Spurrier coached Shane Matthews on the field that November day in 1990 it was almost as if the HBC envisioned himself on the field throwing every pass. Every time Florida scored it was revenge for that loss back in 1966. The 1990 game against Georgia was almost as if Steve Spurrier stepped onto the national stage to tell the world that the Georgia Bulldogs were now his personal whipping boys.
The Old Ball Coach told us the Alabama game was the biggest game of the 1990 season, and while it was a big win, that game against Georgia was really the big one. I really believe that Spurrier, ever the artful master of the head games, wanted his team to have that big win safely secured in their hearts and minds by the time they got to Jacksonville. Why spend the entire season hyping the game and building up the pressure for his team. Instead of allowing his players to think of Georgia as a big game, he simply transformed it into just another win over just another Georgia team. In a way, Spurrier's failure to acknowledge Gerogia as a formidable or even worthy opponent was the ultimate insult. From a pure psychological standpoint, Steve Spurrier never allowed Georgia to have the emotional edge.
If Florida had not won that game, Spurrier would have still been successful but it was a defining moment game. It was Spurrier's statement that the Gators were not going to be kicked around any more by Georgia, at least not while he had something to say about the issue. Remember when Spurrier was once asked if the Gators would ever even the series record with Georgia? Told that Florida trailed Georgia by 18 games, Spurrier responded by saying he wasn't sure if he'd be coaching the Gators another 18 years. This was Spurrier telling the Gator Nation that this was a game he never expected to lose and it was also a way of keeping the 800-pound gorilla on the backs of Georgia.
For all the losses to the Dogs since 1966, for all the yapping and smack talk the Gators had endured in those 24 years Spurrier took a giant eraser and wiped the board clean. I am fully convinced that even though Georgia will have more talent than South Carolina in 2005, the thought of Steven Orr Spurrier on the South Carolina sideline will send cold chills and shivers throughout the Bulldog nation. The last time that Steve Spurrier took a team between the hedges at Sanford Stadium the Old Ball Coach hung a fifty-spot on the hated Bulldogs.
From 1990-1996, the Gators won seven in a row over Georgia. After the aberration of 1997, a loss to Georgia, Spurrier ran off another four wins. When Spurrier left in 2002 the Bulldog fans let out a sigh of relief. Ron Zook reminded Gator fans the day he took the Florida job in 2002 that he wasn't Steve Spurrier. Try convincing Georgia fans that he wasn't after those Florida wins in 2002 and 2003. Even though he had been fired the Monday before the 2004 game, Zooker still almost made it three in a row over Georgia.
So now it is 2005. On paper Georgia is a much better team than the one that Spurrier demolished in 1990. Even though Florida enters the game with the new coach and Richt is considered among the SEC's elite coaches, this game takes on epic proportions. Georgia is convinced that its football program has advanced to the point that even with huge losses of talent to graduation and the NFL it's simply a reloading year. The Bulldogs will reload this year with DJ Shockley at quarterback. The most memorable pass of his career so far was caught by Florida's Guss Scott who returned it for a touchdown.
Georgia fans seem quite convinced that the offense Urban Meyer brought to Florida from Utah is nothing more than a "gimmick." The Bulldogs believe that if they can stop Boise State's offense in game one of the 2005 season that the Meyer offense will fare no better. Georgia's offense in 2005 may remind fans of the old Vince Dooley offenses because it's obvious the Bulldogs have more talent for running the ball than for throwing it. Georgia will still have to prove it can throw the ball because one dimensional offenses typically don't fare well in the SEC. If Shockley can throw, Georgia could be very good by the time the Bulldogs square off with the Gators. If they can't throw, it will be a long season and the Florida game will likely make one day seem like a month.
If Georgia can win this one, Bulldog fans will be convinced that the big gorilla is gone forever, that the pendulum has finally swung back in their direction. A Georgia win and Richt will be hailed as the next Bobby Bowden in the Peach State.
They were saying similar things 1990 about Ray Goff. If he could beat the Gators to go two for two against UF as a coach, he would be hailed as the next Vince Dooley. Well, Goff didn't win against that first year Florida coach, and this year, the daunting task for Richt is to win against Florida's first year coach.
Once again, 1990 mirrors 2005. All indications are that Florida's new coach in 2005 is an awful lot like the new coach who arrived in Gainesville in 1990. If Urban Meyer wins his first Florida-Georgia encounter, his career may go on to mirror or even exceed that of the Old Ball Coach.
If that happens, Georgia fans might be wondering if they'll ever taste victory against the Gators again. I think Gator fans would gladly take an 11-1 record against Georgia the next 12 years, don't you?