While there are many things to love about college football, my personal favorite is the rivalries. The sport is defined by the great traditions and memories created by one team facing another every season for fifty, a hundred, or even more years. Nothing is more satisfying than a victory over an archrival, and nothing is more gut-wrenching than a loss.
Everyone knows that Georgia has several big rivalry games every year. Which one is most important is a matter of opinion. Often a fan’s choice for "biggest rival" has much to do with which part of Georgia he or she calls home. While a fan from Columbus might want to beat Auburn above all others, a fan from Hiawassee most likely feels the most animosity toward Tennessee.
For many years my dad lived in Augusta, which happens to be right on the Georgia-South Carolina border. Many of my visits brought me into close contact with Gamecock fans. In fact, one of the longest nights of my life was spent at an Augusta bar following South Carolina’s 21-10 win over Georgia in 2000. The Gamecocks had gone 1-10 the previous season, and the win was incredibly big for them. While I’d always had a strong dislike for USC, that night pushed me over the edge into outright hate.
Of course, when talking UGA rivalries, the first school that comes to mind will always be Florida. The Bulldogs and the Gators don’t like each other, and the fans feel even more strongly about it. No other series in recent history has produced the most euphoric highs (1997,2007, 2012) and the most discouraging lows (1995, 2002,2010). Often entire seasons are made or ruined in Jacksonville.
While all of these rivalry games (Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, South Carolina) are huge, for me Georgia’s biggest rival is, and always will be, Georgia Tech. I hate Georgia Tech. I have for years. The way I look at it, the Bulldogs cannot have a successful season without a win over the Jackets. On the other hand, a disappointing season can suddenly become a hopeful one by beating Tech.
Fans of some teams don’t seem to feel this sort of animosity toward their rivals. I once worked with a Florida fan, and we had a great time ragging each other all year long leading up to the next "cocktail party" in Jacksonville. He once asked me if I also pulled for Georgia Tech. I glared at him with what must have been a look of great contempt, or so I judged from his reaction.
"What?" he asked, raising his eyebrows in a questioning manner.
"No," I replied, "I hate Georgia Tech."
"But they’re from Georgia too."
"So? I still can’t stand them."
Then he said something I found hard to believe. "Well, I’m a Florida fan, but I pull for Florida State and Miami when they aren’t playing Florida."
I had no idea what to say. How could a fan’s loyalties become so divided? How could I possibly make him understand that in no way, shape, or form was this type of behavior tolerated in the Bulldog Nation? I thought for a minute, and then said the only thing I could come up with.
"Yeah…we don’t do that here."
More than anything else, a loss to Tech sticks with many fans for months and even years to come. Part of the reason is that the UGA vs. Tech game is traditionally the final one of the regular season for the Dawgs. Therefore, a loss forces fans to dwell on it at least until a potential bowl game. Also there are the year-long state bragging rights to deal with. While a loss to Florida may be devastating, there simply aren’t that many Gator fans around most Georgia fans. By contrast, Tech fans are at our jobs, in our neighborhoods, are members of our families, and, in the most extreme examples, in our own homes. I never understood how a hardcore Georgia fan could marry a Yellow Jacket, but then I guess even Techies deserve love. Then again, maybe not.
Georgia has owned this series over the last dozen years, going 11-1 during that time. But I can remember a time when is wasn’t this way. The Bulldogs lost three in row to the Jackets from 1998-2000, with the 1999 game being one of the most painful losses I’ve ever had to endure. For those of you who don’t remember- and consider yourself lucky if you don’t- this was the game which featured the infamous "fumble" ruling which prevented the Dawgs from kicking the game winning field goal at the end of regulation and resulted in a 51-48 Tech win in overtime. I still feel sick whenever I’m reminded of this one.
My favorite wins in the series:
1991: Georgia 18 Georgia Tech 15 – John Kasay’s field goal wins it for the Dawgs!
1997: Georgia 27 Georgia Tech 24 - Corey Allen’s touchdown catch from Mike Bobo with five seconds left capped a furious, sixty-five yard drive after Tech scored with under a minute to play to go ahead. As Larry Munson so memorably put it: "Our heart was torn out and bleeding, and we picked it up and stuck it back inside."
2002: Georgia 51 Georgia Tech 7 – An all out whipping administered by the Dawgs during an SEC Championship season.
2009: Georgia 30 Georgia Tech 24 – "We run this state!" Washaun Ealey and Caleb King helped Georgia rush for 339 yards in an upset of the #7 Yellow Jackets.
There have been many other great wins over the Jackets, and a number of horrible losses. Unfortunately, Aaron Murray will not have the opportunity to become one of the few Bulldog quarterbacks to go 4-0 against Georgia Tech. Instead it will be Hutson Mason under center. But the thinking here is that Mason and his teammates will get the job done and show Tech that Georgia still runs this state. A healthy dose of Todd Gurley, and just enough from the defense, will lead the Dawgs to yet another victory over the insects. Official prediction: Georgia in a shootout, 34-27.