Florida Gators 49, Georgia Bulldogs 10

There are several ways of looking at this, all of which presently are vying for the upper hand in my head and heart. These are they:

It’s Just a Game: With the exception of the couple of since-banned Gator trolls whose immediate reaction to the game was to visit this weblog, sign up for user accounts, and post cheap taunts because they’re the sorts of pathetic people who would rather make others feel badly than celebrate events that make them feel well (and who very much represent the exception to the rule, as the Florida fans who have been visiting and commenting here for the past week generally have been impassioned fans yet fine people), we all have much more important things in our lives than football. We have families who care about us; in many cases, we have wives and children whom we love; some of us even have birthdays tomorrow. This is an event that needs to be placed into perspective.

Any Win Over the Gators is a Fluke: 1997 was just one of those days when everything went right. 2004 was just one of those years when we caught Florida at a low point. I thought last year was a turning point. It wasn’t. The Saurians simply own us and any Bulldog win in Jacksonville has to be filed under the heading of "even a broken clock is right twice a day." They’re just better than us and they’re never not going to be, even when we occasionally catch them on a bad day and luck into a win.

It Really Is Difficult to Get Ready for Two Big Games in a Row: It’s hard to remember this now, but, at the time, the games at Arizona State and L.S.U. were big games. Playing your first road game outside the South in more than four decades is a big deal. Hanging 52 points on the Bayou Bengals in Death Valley is a big deal. No team could be expected to be at its best in back-to-back games of such significance. This schedule truly was too tough for any team to tame.

We All Saw This Coming a Mile Away: I told you before that I’d had a bad feeling all week long, but I rationalized my way out of it. My son, who is a mojo savant, gave me all the warning signs and I refused to heed them. Earlier in the week, he and I were playing a game that required us each to check off items on a list, so he had to go get each of us a pen. He reached into his box of markers and pulled out two of them. They were orange and blue. When I asked whether he had one that was red, he checked and replied, "No, but there’s a pink." I knew then it was a done deal, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. When I looked at the numbers, I saw this datum and quickly looked away in denial: the last time Georgia beat L.S.U. in Baton Rouge one week prior to playing Florida (in 1952), the Gators beat the Bulldogs 30-0. It was always going to be a rout. We were never winning this game. We were never even going to be in this game.

This Whole Thing Is Sick, Twisted, and Weird: We’re grown men with real lives. Tying any part of our emotional well-being to what an anonymous group of 18- to 22-year-olds does over three and a half hours on a Saturday afternoon is silly, strange, unseemly, and sad. We tell ourselves it’s for the glory of our state, but that argument holds little water when our favorite players are from New Jersey and Texas. The idea that anyone invests himself in these games is, at best, bizarre, and very well may be utterly indefensible. The fact that we care at all, much less this much, may be a warning sign that we all need professional help.

There’s Always Next Year: Losses in 1992 and in 2000 felt like the end of the world because we came into those seasons knowing this was our shot, and that, if it didn’t happen then, there was no telling when it might all come together again. The beauty of the Mark Richt era is that, while we all hope every year that it will be this year, we know that there’s always next year. Like Florida State under Bobby Bowden, Nebraska under Tom Osborne, and Penn State under Joe Paterno, Georgia under Mark Richt wins consistently enough that, eventually, that special season will happen. Matthew Stafford, Mohamed Massaquoi, and Knowshon Rockwell Moreno won’t win a national title this year, but there’s no particular reason why Logan Gray, A.J. Green, and Caleb King can’t go win one next year.

We Are Not an Elite Team: There are perhaps five really good teams in college football and we aren’t one of them. We’re going to beat a mediocre Kentucky team, a bad Auburn team, a vastly overrated Georgia Tech team, and a middling Big Ten team in a meaningless Sunshine State bowl game to finish 11-2 and ranked No. 10 in the final A.P. poll. We’re going to have another nice successful season to set alongside all the other nice successful seasons and we’re never going to have the breakthrough that makes the Stewart Mandels of the world treat us with respect.

I Need to Find a New Hobby: I hear stamp collecting can be really soothing. I could spend my autumn Saturdays going out into the woods with a gun and hunting a variety of edible game. If I devoted the time I put into writing this weblog to writing fiction instead, I’d have a novel knocked out in no time. Surely, there has to be something less anguishing than this.

The Suck Explanation (Situation-Specific): This sucks.

The Suck Explanation (Team-Specific I): We suck.

The Suck Explanation (Team-Specific II): We suck against Florida.

The Suck Explanation (General Philosophical): Everything sucks. This sucks because it is a part of the larger all-encompassing universal suckage.

The Suck Explanation (Call to Action Edition): Fire [insert object of your blame here]!

The John Blutarsky Solution: Start drinking heavily.

The Orson Swindle Solution: Start swearing profusely.

One Possible Religious Explanation: Steve Spurrier’s father was a minister. Danny Wuerffel operates a Christian charitable organization. Tim Tebow is the son of missionaries and a professing believer. Urban Meyer was named for a pope and he was Notre Dame’s first choice for a head coach. The game was played on All Saints Day. God is on the Gators’ side.

Another Possible Religious Explanation: Mark Richt is a devout Christian, too. God doesn’t care about college football.

Yet Another Possible Religious Explanation: Mark Richt is a devoted servant of the Lord, just as Moses and David were, but he is being punished for the celebration. It fell to Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, it fell to Solomon to build the Temple, and it will fall to Mike Bobo to win the national championship.

A Final Possible Religious Explanation: The Gators won exactly nothing for the first 85 years of their football history. They went from being nobodies to being nationally prominent overnight. There was no rebuilding process, no gradual upward incline, just mediocrity, awfulness, mediocrity, awfulness, a good season, probation, mediocrity, mediocrity, mediocrity . . . boom! Incessant sustained excellence! That’s a deal with the devil if ever I saw one. Sooner or later, Satan is going to show up at the end of a Florida-South Carolina game to drag Urban Meyer’s and Steve Spurrier’s immortal souls shrieking into the underworld. With any luck, it will happen on a Raycom telecast, ‘cause I bet Dave, Dave, and Dave could really do that justice.

This Sets Up Next Year Quite Nicely: We are now officially off of everyone’s radar screen. This is 2004 all over again; expectations were high, they were not met, and everyone expected 2005 to be a rebuilding year. Instead, it produced an S.E.C. championship and, but for a particularly ill-timed injury to D.J. Shockley, it might have produced a national title, as well. This year’s injuries will build depth for next year, Stafford and Moreno now have a powerful incentive to return next season, the Gators will pay us no mind next fall after having put us so decisively in our place this year, and we’ll be able to come into the season ranked No. 15 and catch some folks napping.

O-Ver-Ra-Ted!: The preseason No. 1 ranking was completely bogus. One close loss might have been explained away with the injuries to Trinton Sturdivant, Vince Vance, Jeff Owens, and Dannell Ellerbe, but top ten teams simply do not play whole halves of football as atrocious as the first 30 minutes against Alabama and the last 30 minutes against Florida.

It Really Wasn’t as Bad as the Final Score Indicated: Although the margins were dramatically different, Georgia actually was whipped much more soundly by ‘Bama than by the Gators. The former was out of reach early and the second-half comeback was entirely cosmetic; when the ‘Dawgs looked like they were going to claw back into it and the Tide needed a touchdown drive to put the game away for good, they got it without breaking a sweat. In Jacksonville, Georgia trailed 14-3 at the half due to a variety of bad breaks, including two missed field goals, a dropped touchdown pass, a Florida first down which the replay clearly showed was short of the marker, and an interception negated by a bizarre personal foul penalty against a player who was being egregiously held. The halftime score easily could have been 13-7 in Georgia’s favor and the game only really started to get out of hand after an interception that should have been negated by a penalty against the defensive back which went inexplicably uncalled. Bad luck and blown calls set up a blowout in a game in which the Bulldogs moved the ball as effectively as the opposition.

At Least We’re Not Michigan: It could be a heck of a lot worse and this posting could be nothing but pictures of kittens.

Without necessarily renouncing, repudiating, or disputing the validity of any or all of the above, I think the mindset that most closely summarizes where I am now is this:

It’s Still Great to be a Georgia Bulldog: I was Bulldog born and Bulldog bred and, when I die, I’ll be Bulldog dead. My team is my team, win or lose, and, sometimes, it’s just not your day. Mark Richt is still 79-21 after his first 100 games and his all-time record against the five current S.E.C. coaches who have won national championships (Phillip Fulmer, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Nick Saban, and Steve Spurrier) is 13-11 . . . and that’s not even counting his 4-3 record against Tommy Tuberville, who led Auburn to an unbeaten season, or his 6-0 record against Chan Gailey, who won a national championship in a lower division with Troy. Yes, there needs to be accountability; yes, we lost to two eventual B.C.S. bowl champions (we’ll find out on the first Saturday in December which one will win the national championship game and which one will win the Sugar Bowl); for now, we need to tip our caps to the Gators, who were the better team on Saturday, congratulate them on their impressive victory, and take a moment to relax so that our reactions are measured, prudent, and reasonable even in the face of adversity and disappointment. MaconDawg, SavDawg, DavetheDawg, and RocketDawg seem to have gotten us off to a good start.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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