The Georgia Bulldogs would like nothing more than to knock off the Florida Gators Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida. The Gators will go into the game ranked number two in the polls after victories over LSU and South Carolina. Georgia is ranked tenth.
The Bulldogs and Gators have played in many big games. The rivalry known as the ‘World’s largest outdoor cocktail party,’ has seen its share of heroes from Lindsay Scott and Herschel Walker of Georgia to Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin of the Gators. One game that was similar to Saturday’s stands out in my mind.
In 1985, Florida had one of the best teams in the country. The only problem was they were on probation for breaking NCAA rules. After eight weeks of the season the Gators found themselves undefeated at 7-0-1. This earned them their first ever number one ranking in the Associated Press poll. Because of their probation, Florida was not ranked in the United Press International poll. The number one spot in the UPI belonged to Penn State.
It just so happened that the week they were ranked number one the Gators had to play Georgia. There was nothing that the Bulldogs wanted more than to knock Florida out of the number one spot.
With the game being played in Jacksonville the question was asked, ‘Would the winning team’s fans be allowed to tear down the goalposts after the game?’ Since the game was being played in the state of Florida it was obvious that Gator fans did not want to see Georgia fans celebrating on their turf. The fact that Jacksonville was supposed to be a neutral sight did not matter. If the Gators won the goalposts came down. If the Bulldogs did then they would not.
The mayor of Jacksonville, Jake Godbold, found himself in a pickle. He had given Florida fans the opportunity to tear down the posts after they won in 1984. Before the 1985 game, Godbold did not offer the same courtesy publicly to Georgia fans. This angered Bulldog fans for two reasons. First they wanted the same rights as their rivals. Second it was being assumed by everyone that the Gators were going to win. As the week progressed tensions grew and a disaster was waiting to happen.
Sure enough, Georgia dominated Florida and won 24-3. When the clock struck zero Bulldog fans swarmed the field and tried to tear down the goalposts. A riot ensued with fights and Jacksonville police actually beating up Georgia fans. It was ugly and replayed all night on local television. As a student at the local college I remember all of us sitting in front of the TV and simply saying, ‘Told you so.’
This was my introduction to how intense the Florida-Georgia rivalry is. It resumes Saturday.
Let’s hope that the only head knocking occurs among the players.