If your Georgia Bulldogs are on the way down to Jacksonville as an underdog against a Florida Gator team which preseason prognostications deemed them a favorite over, you could probably use a drink. I can help you with that.
The life of a college football fan generally, and a Georgia Bulldog fan specifically, is marked by certain mile posts, guiding events by which we denote the passage of time. This weekend's annual contest on the banks of the St. Johns River is perhaps foremost among the markers of any Georgia Bulldog football season. It marks the point at which young, fresh football seasons more often than not shuffle into a tired middle age. At which the unbounded promise of August is exchanged for the realism of November. All too often in the past decade, Red and Black partisans have trouped down highway 341 and Interstate 95 with the loftiest of their dreams no longer reasonably attainable.
Yet like the noble salmon swimming upstream toward the gaping maw of a grizzly bear, or the male praying mantis on the prowl for a mate, we do what we must because we must. It is in our DNA to dutifully migrate toward the Atlantic coast, even if what awaits us may yet be a bad end.
Because sometimes, it isn't. Sometimes, the good guys come out on top in the border war. And there's no better balm for a disappointing season than a win over the jean short brigade. Especially for those of us who really, really hate Florida.
I have discussed it previously in the space, but it bears repeating: my formative years as a Bulldog fan shaped my view of the Georgia/Florida rivalry. As someone who really began to understand the intricacies of the glorious game of the gridiron around the time Steve Spurrier re-arrived in Gainesville*, my views on the rivalry are a bit skewed. Or perhaps, they're in clearer focus. By some fortunate accident of geography I also happened to be born in that wonderful part of the Peach State situated below the gnat line. The part closest to the state of Florida. The part infested during the mid to late 90s with newly spawned Florida fans who at the time (and to this day) had never set foot in Gainesville, much less in a UF classroom.
What kind of person becomes a sidewalk alumnus of the University of Florida while living in the state of Georgia? The worst kind. If you wish to root for the University of Georgia solely because it is the flagship institution of your home state, a bastion of higher learning which your tax dollars help support, I would say you have a perfectly reasonable rooting interest. I would even argue that it is unreasonable for a citizen of the state of Georgia not to take a degree of pride and ownership in that lovely school on the banks of the Oconee. If your favorite high school English teacher attended Georgia Southern, and you have childhood memories of admiring Erk Russell from afar, by all means, this gives you a reason to root for the boys from the banks of Eagle Creek. I would even go so far as to say that if you are an engineer by training, and admire the academic programs of the Georgia Institute of Technology, there is some reason for you to take an interest in the North Avenue Trade School's football exploits, such as they are.
But to align oneself with a school and a football team solely based upon the fact that they are winning at a certain point in time, and because you admire the loudmouth jackass at the head of their lines, is an indictment of one's character, upbringing, and probably one's hygiene. Florida fans in Orlando and Tampa and Port St. Lucie and Dallas for that matter may be wonderful people. But the Florida fans I spent my formative years dealing with ruined it for them.
Our Editor Emeritus T. Kyle King hates Auburn. This is an activity behind which I can stand as both a vocation and avocation. But if George Thorogood had changed up the lyrics and asked me "whooooo do you hate?" the answer for me would be Florida. It's always been Florida. It will always be Florida. Because even after winning three out of four against the Gators I am still that kid who watched the "half a hundred" game all the way to the bitter end and truly believed that Georgia might never beat Florida again. Like a child of the depression, I was forever marked by those awful years. And no matter how many wins Mark Richt stuffs in the mattress of Bulldog Nation, I'll never be able to say "that's enough."
Because I truly, righteously, and fully hate the Gators. And when this Georgia team comes roaring out of their bye week and reminds Jim McElwain what it's like to be a first year head coach, I'll celebrate with a Gator Hater. It's pretty simple. You start by pouring two glasses of bourbon. Ice. No ice. Doesn't really matter. Then you drink both of them and yell until the stadium empties and the saurians crawl back to their swamp. Until later . . .
*Re-arrived as opposed to returned, because most Gator fans have no idea that Florida played football during the days when Sir Putts-alot matriculated in Alachua County.