Getting Personal in the SEC

ATHENS - Knowshon Moreno said it was no big deal, but that didn't mean he wasn't happy to get a little revenge.

Last week, a few LSU fans tracked down the star Georgia running back's cell phone number and posted it on the Internet for mass consumption. The calls poured in, and Moreno had to change his number. The fans hoped it would provide a distraction. Instead, it served as motivation.

After running 68 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, Moreno held his thumb and finger to the side of his face mimicking a phone, a token of his appreciation for the fans' midweek enthusiasm. Payback, he said, is best delivered on the field.

"When things do happen, you just need to go with the flow and take care of business," Moreno said. "I don't let it get to me. It's always going to be there, but I'm focused on us as a team and what we're going to do."

It may have been annoying, but the cell phone prank also welcomed Moreno to an exclusive club.

Last year, with LSU chasing a national championship and Florida defending one, the Tigers' fans pulled a similar stunt by posting Gators quarterback Tim Tebow's phone number online. The Heisman winner got call after call from Tigers fans who

weren't exactly wishing him luck.

"I had fun with it," Tebow said. "I didn't enjoy not being able to use my phone the whole week. I mean, what can you say? College kids, they want to support their university, help their team. That's fine. It does nothing but motivate me."

It must have motivated Moreno, too. He talked about the prank with teammates before the game, then racked up 163 yards on the ground in addition to offering the end zone salute to the LSU crowd.

"I think he went out just wanting to get a little bit of revenge on that, but it's all out of fun," wide receiver Kenneth Harris said. "He just got caught up in the heat of the moment, just having fun."

Of course, Moreno and Tebow are hardly the first SEC stars to draw the wrath of hometown fans in opposing stadiums.

The passion throughout SEC country means road trips for players come complete with shouts, taunts, boos and jeers, regardless of the numbers on the scoreboard or their performance on the field. In fact, no matter where you go, senior Mohamed

Massaquoi said, opposing fans aren't going to like you.

"Everywhere is pretty bad, honestly," Massaquoi said. "Everyone has fans that are just over-the-top die-hard for whatever school they represent."

At Georgia, freshmen are prepared by the coaching staff long before they take their first road trip, fullback Brannan Southerland said. They're coached on handling rowdy fans, dealing with media and told how to respond to people whose words cross the line between playful taunts and over-the-top harassment. Throughout their careers, those lessons are reinforced, both by coaches and experience.

In some extreme cases - such as what Tebow has endured during his three years at Florida - fans can go overboard, making death threats and insulting family members. For the most part, however, the crowd participation is all in good fun.

"It's a part of the game," Massaquoi said. "Those guys are just trying to get their team an edge. Of course it's annoying, but they're not doing anything too crazy."

For most players, the jeers and pranks simply add to the fun. After all, quieting an opposing crowd makes winning on the road all the more sweet.

"You always hear stories about guys here and other places, people getting a hold of their numbers, harassing them all week," fullback Fred Munzenmaier said. "But the fans, they make it exciting - particularly the student section. I think it kind of makes it fun."

For Moreno, who grew up in New Jersey, the level of passion around the SEC was something he hadn't experienced until he arrived at Georgia. Having starred in high school, however, he was already prepared on how best to deal with it.

"It happens in high school, too," Moreno said. "They all get kind of crazy, but I really don't think about it."

Even with LSU in the rearview mirror, Georgia isn't expecting a calmer week when it comes to off-the-field hype surrounding its game with Florida.

Gators fans have been waiting a full year for revenge on the Bulldogs, who celebrated their first touchdown last season with a full-team end-zone gathering, then celebrated a season-defining win three quarters later.

So as Georgia prepares to enter a semi-hostile environment in Jacksonville, Fla., this week - where half the stadium will be filled with Bulldogs fans and half with Gators faithful - Southerland said it's impossible to know what to expect.

"It's college football," Southerland said. "You really have to be ready for anything. Fans get pretty intense, especially in big games like this."

In fact, what happened in last year's game is only a small piece of the excitement surrounding this week's matchup.

There can be a danger in letting those little things become bigger than the game, Massaquoi said, but that's not likely to happen Saturday.

Both teams have just one loss. Both are aiming for a national title. Both know this game will likely determine who wins the SEC East. Georgia's celebration last season just adds a little extra sizzle to an already heated rivalry.

"I think anything like that can add fuel to the fire a little bit," head coach Mark Richt said. "But if no one even had a bulletin board, and no one was looking for those types of things, I think this game would be the type where both teams would be at their peak emotionally."


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