The Florida-Georgia rivalry is, in a phrase, unlike any other in college football.
Game day between the Gators and the Bulldogs has become a tradition that the city of Jacksonville looks forward to 365 days a year, and more often than not, it spawns memories that last a lifetime. For Florida, FSU or LSU may have the more hated fan base, and for Georgia, Georgia Tech or Auburn may have the more hated fan base. But the rivalry some call the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party does a lot to set itself apart as the nation’s greatest with several distinguishing factors.
For one thing, it’s one of a very select few neutral site rivalry games. Only Army-Navy, Texas-Oklahoma and Texas-A&M-Arkansas play annually on neutral fields. And only Texas and Oklahoma have established a history in a neutral city (Dallas) that makes it synonymous with the rivalry itself. Florida and Georgia have played in Jacksonville every year since 1996, and all but two years since 1933. Whether or not it belongs in Jacksonville forever is another question (the contract to keep it there runs out in 2021), but the fact that the rivalry has become one of Jacksonville’s most recognizable annual events puts it in a category of its own.
The rivalry also has the strangest quirk: the teams take turns destroying each other with frightening frequency for some 20 years or so. It’s not unusual for teams to exchange three or four game winning streaks in a series, but this rivalry has boasted some of the most unbelievable runs of dominance (by both sides) that you will ever see. It’s not a malfunction, but a feature. Florida clobbering Georgia 52-14, 47-7, 52-17, 38-7, 38-7 again, and 45-13 in the 1990’s didn’t mean the rivalry was dead or dying in the least, nor did the string of nail biters the Gators pulled out in the ensuing decade that undoubtedly had some Georgia fans believing they were cursed against the Gators. It was simply Florida’s turn to dominate. Georgia had their fun in the 70’s and 80’s, Florida dominated the 50’s and 60’s, and Georgia ruled the 30’s and 40’s (and the sporadic meetings in the 10’s and 20’s).
But the funniest fact about this rivalry is that the two schools don’t even agree on the all time series score. Florida says Georgia leads 51-43, Georgia says it’s 52-43. Why do the two disagree? How can this happen? Well, Georgia tries to claim a 52-0 win over Florida in 1904. There’s just one problem. There was no University of Florida football team in 1904. That is, unless Georgia Bulldog football fans know the history of the University of Florida better than historians, legal documents and the University of Florida itself. That win Georgia claims was actually over Florida Agricultural College- a club team. Congratulations, Georgia. Give yourselves a pat on the back.
When you add all that up, you’ve got the recipe for a one of its kind rivalry.
Now, let’s break down that history.
Part I: The cause of Georgia’s series lead- 1915-1951 (Georgia 23, Florida 5 and 1 tie)
Whenever Georgia fans decide to brag about their 51-43 series lead (I refuse to even dignify them with a response when they count the 1904 non-game), and you wonder how they got that lead with Florida dominating over the last quarter century… this is how. The Bulldogs beat Florida like a drum almost every year before most Georgia fans who bring that up were even alive. Florida owns Georgia 38-28 since 1952, or over the last 67 years. In fact, Florida owns Georgia 41-39 since 1937. If you’re a Georgia fan reading this, and you were born in 1934- which means you’d be 85 years old, congratulations, Georgia owns Florida during your lifetime. Hey, this data manipulation is fun! I feel like a Georgia fan right now!
But unfortunately, those games before 1952 did happen, were officially recognized games, do count, and are in fact legitimate. And thus, it’s only fair to recap them for the Georgia fans who are reading this. Don’t worry, Gator fans. It gets fun in a little bit. Just bear with me for now.
Georgia ripped off six straight wins to kick off the series. The teams played sporadically and in all different sorts of locations, but that didn’t affect Georgia. The Bulldogs didn’t just win the first six games, they ran hogwild in the first six games, shutting out Florida in five of them.
The Gators finally got on the board in 1928 with a 26-6 rout of the Dogs in Savannah, and followed that up with an 18-6 win the following year in Jacksonville. The 26 points were merely half of what Steve Spurrier would one day hang on Georgia, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. The teams then fought to an ugly scoreless tie in 1930. But that rough three year stretch was just a blip on the radar for Georgia, who then launched another six game winning streak from 1931-1936. Florida managed to right the ship, splitting the next four games, but Georgia merely laughed at that and engineered yet another six game winning streak from 1941-1947 (the teams didn’t meet in 1943). This stretch was particularly embarrassing because of one game that seemingly highlighted the series history to that point. The Gators may have had some of their players fighting overseas in the wartime years, but that doesn’t excuse the 75 points Georgia dropped on Florida in 1942. Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich torched the Florida defense time and again, and… well, that’s enough of that. It was bad, trust me. Let’s just keep going.
The 1948 game may have represented the turning point of the rivalry. An unranked Gator team limped into Jacksonville and fought hard for four quarters against the 13th ranked Bulldogs. Georgia survived, 20-12, and ran their streak to seven, but the Gators were getting closer. A year later, the Gators finally broke through with a 28-7 victory. Florida’s Chuck Hunsinger ran 18 times for 174 yards and three touchdowns, and the Gators carried their coach, Raymond Wolf, off the field in celebration. Georgia would respond by winning the next two games, 6-0 and 7-6.
And then the Gators’ fun began.
Part II: Florida’s turn- 1952-1970 (Florida 13, Georgia 5, and 1 tie)
Here’s a little bit of trivia for Gator fans: it was Bob Woodruff who guided Florida to its first ever bowl appearance and win in 1952 following decades of ineptitude. That 1952 team won eight games, becoming just the fourth team in Florida history to do so. Why don’t you take a wild guess as to which of those eight wins meant the most?
Florida crushed Georgia 30-0 in 1952, completely turning the rivalry on its head. Never before had Florida beaten Georgia by 30 points. Never before had Florida even scored 30 points against Georgia. And never before had a Florida team so thoroughly destroyed a Georgia team in the stat book or on the field. Gator running backs Rick Casares and Buford Long combined to rush for 224 yards on 37 carries, including a weaving 77 yard touchdown run from Long, and Georgia QB Zeke Bratlowski threw three interceptions in the 30-0 beatdown. To prove that 30-0 beatdown was no fluke, Florida beat Georgia 21-7 in 1953. Georgia won the 1954 game, but then the Gators really started to dominate.
Florida won eight out of the next nine games against Georgia, but that wouldn’t have been so bad for Georgia given their history of dominating Florida, except for one thing- six of those eight wins were one score, nail biting wins. Neither Florida nor Georgia boasted a particularly dominant team in the 1950’s, but Florida learned that it was fun to pull out close games over their border rivals on a yearly basis and break their hearts. In that nine year stretch, Florida won games by scores of 19-13, 7-6, 22-14, 21-14, 23-15 and 21-14, with dominant shutouts of 28-0 and 22-0 sandwiched in. The funny thing was, it didn’t matter who was coaching for either side; Florida just beat Georgia regularly in the 50’s and 60’s. Like Ron Zook would do a half century later, Woodruff never really accomplished a whole lot with the Gators- except for beating Georgia two out of every three times he faced them. Woodruff was replaced by Ray Graves in 1960, and he picked up right where Woodruff left off, winning his first four Cocktail Parties. In an effort to stop the bleeding, Georgia hired Vince Dooley, but the best he could do was pull the rivalry back to an even state, winning three and tying once in the next six meetings.
One of those early Dooley wins was over Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier (they gave it out much earlier in the year back then), whose Gators entered the game with a 7-0 record and ranked #7 in the country. But Georgia didn’t feel like obliging, picking off three passes from Spurrier and harassing him all day in a 27-10 victory. That loss directly cost Florida its first ever top 10 finish and SEC Championship, although the Gators did grab the SEC’s Orange Bowl bid over Georgia, who were relegated to the Cotton Bowl. But don’t worry, Georgia fans. I’m sure Spurrier wouldn’t hold a grudge over something like that. Let’s just put a pin in that idea and come back it later.
The 1970 game, Doug Dickey’s first as Head Gator, marked the end of the Gators’ run, but not before tossing one more little birdie to Georgia. Up 17-10, the Bulldogs drove down inside the Gators’ two yard line with less than six minutes to play. All they had to do was punch it in and the game was theirs. But Gators defensive lineman Jack Youngblood had other ideas, stripping Georgia back Ricky Lake at the goal line and then grabbing the bouncing ball. Florida QB John Reaves then hit two touchdown passes to Carlos Alvarez in the final five minutes to stun Georgia, 24-17. Like, really? This is still happening? Will it ever stop?
Part III: Dooley flips the script- 1971-1989 (Georgia 15, Florida 4)
Apparently, Vince Dooley didn’t like losing to Florida very much. The 49-7 drubbing of the Gators in 1971 was a pretty good indication of that. Dooley’s Dogs duplicated that result with an ugly 10-7 win the following year, but then the Gators struck back the next year with an 11-10 win on a late two point conversion. That’s when things got really bad.
Despite an ugly loss to Vanderbilt a month earlier, the 1974 Gators were sniffing a national championship when they met Georgia in Jacksonville, boasting a 7-1 record and a #6 national ranking. Down 17-10, Florida QB Don Gaffney guided the Gators down the field with time running out- and scored on a QB keeper with :28 left. Dickey chose to go for two, but Gaffney’s pass to Jimmy Dubose was broken up, and Georgia had another heartbreaking win. The following year hurt even worse. Florida clung to a 7-3 lead with time running out, but naturally that was the one time in his life Dooley called a trick play. Bulldogs tight end Richard Appleby took the handoff on a reverse, stopped short and launched a bomb to receiver Gene Washington, who took it 80 yards for the game winning touchdown. And then came the 1976 disaster, for which the Gators have their own coach to thank. A 27-13 lead at halftime turned into a 41-27 loss thanks in large part to Dickey’s brilliant decision to go for it on fourth and one at his own 29. Of course Florida didn’t get it, and of course Georgia scored 28 unanswered to win. That’s the kind of thing that happens when it’s your turn to run the Florida-Georgia rivalry.
However, the real low point of this stretch came in 1980. Georgia had ruined Florida’s championship dreams on numerous previous occasions, and now it was Florida’s turn to ruin Georgia’s dreams. The 1980 Bulldogs came into the game with a two game winning streak in the series, a #2 ranking and an undefeated record, but trailed 21-20 with a minute remaining. That’s when Georgia QB Buck Belue hit Lindsay Scott at his own 25 yard line… who… ran… all… the… way… for the game winning touchdown. Upset averted. National championship dreams intact. And sure enough, the following January, Georgia beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim their second national title. Not bitter about that at all. Nope.
But let’s move on to 1984. Florida had just fired Charlie Pell for committing a truckload of NCAA violations, and the SEC banned the Gators from playing in the Sugar Bowl. Luckily, the SEC didn’t say anything about Florida not being allowed to ruin Georgia’s fun. Dooley was in the twilight days of his career by now, and his 1984 Bulldogs were making one last push for a national championship, entering the game 7-1 and ranked #8. But Florida quickly put an end to that idea with an emphatic 27-0 chomping of the Bulldogs, ending Georgia’s seven game winning streak in the series. Florida held a 17-0 lead in the fourth quarter, but just to make sure there were no crazy comebacks, Kerwin Bell connected with Ricky Nattiel on 96 yard touchdown pass to put the game away (Georgia ruined season count: 1).
Unfortunately, Georgia would remember that feeling, and would reverse the Gators’ reversal of fortune the next year. The undefeated and top ranked Gators ran into a buzz saw in 1985 in Jacksonville, as Georgia ran all over the Gators. Specifically, Bulldog backs Tim Worley and Keith Henderson each ran for over 100 yards in the 24-3 Georgia win that wrecked Florida’s perfect season. (If it’s any solace to Gator fans, Florida was ineligible to win the national championship that year anyway thanks to Pell’s violations.) The Gators would reverse Georgia’s reversal of Florida’s reversal of fortunes in 1986 with a 31-19 upset over the 19th ranked Bulldogs, but Georgia won the next three.
And now we get to the part where Georgia fans may want to leave.
Part IV: Revenge is a dish best served cold, and repeatedly- 1990-2010 (Florida 18, Georgia 3)
Note to college football teams everywhere: try not to ruin your rival’s star quarterback’s dreams with something as silly as beating him in his final game against you. And if you must, definitely don’t do it to a guy who’s able to turn friggin’ Duke into an ACC powerhouse.
1990 saw the return of Steve Spurrier to Gainesville, and almost immediately upon arriving, he declared beating Georgia his number one priority. This is where we bring back that 1966 game. Georgia ruined Spurrier’s senior season. Spurrier mad. Spurrier smash. Spurrier shake off men who try to hold him back and smash some more. Spurrier tasered. Spurrier smash taser. Spurrier turn attention back to original target and smash even more until target reduced to rubble. Spurrier laugh at rubble and smash to dust.
The Head Ball Coach welcomed himself back to the rivalry with a 38-7 stomping of the Dogs in 1990. That was the Bulldogs’ first clue that they were destined for failure against this guy. The game was a modern remake of the 30-0 Gator victory in 1952; it was the Gators’ largest margin of victory ever against Georgia, and also the most points they’d ever dropped on Georgia. But neither record stood for very long, as Florida dwarfed that result with a 45-13 disembowlment of the Dawgs the very next year.
Now that he’d gotten the art of demolishing the Bulldogs down pat, Spurrier then familiarized himself with the other main way to beat Georgia: by breaking their hearts. What turned out to be Ray Goff’s best Georgia team faced what may have been Spurrier’s worst in 1992, but the underdog Gators jumped out to a 23-7 lead and held on for a 26-24 win over the 6th ranked Bulldogs. (Georgia ruined season count: 2) The 1993 game hurt even more for the spiked-shoulders. Gator tailback Eric Rhett ran all over the Dawgs (183 yards), helping Florida build a 33-26 lead late in the game. The Bulldogs had one more shot, and Eric Zeier led the Red and Black down for the tying touchdown as time expired. Too bad Gator cornerback Anthone Lott had called timeout before the ball was snapped. Forced to try again, Zeier’s last ditch throw fell incomplete and the Gators held on.
Then came the mid 90’s. In response to Bulldog fans bitching about how Jacksonville is the reason they’re always losing to Florida, Spurrier’s Gators absolutely abused Georgia from 1994-1996 in three different cities. Gator Bowl renovations in preparation of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ entrance to the NFL forced the game to be played on a home and home basis for two years, which was fine and dandy with the Head Ball Coach.
First came a 52-14 swamping in Gainesville in 1994. That was bad enough. Even worse, however, was that 1995 was the year Georgia fans finally got their wish: they were going to play the Florida Gators on their home field. That 1995 team was easily one of Florida’s five best teams ever, and one of Georgia’s worst in recent memory. So knowing what you’ve read so far in this section, what do you think happened? If you guessed “Spurrier drops what still stands as the largest sum of points ever surrendered by Georgia on its home field in the one chance he gets to ever participate in a game on Georgia’s home field,” you’re right! That’s exactly what happened! Up 45-17 with a few minutes remaining, Spurrier dialed up a flea-flicker that gained 23 yards and put the Gators at the Georgia 8 yard line, and the Gators scored on the very next play (through the air, of course) to make the final 52-17. Dozens of Gator players then took advantage of the one chance they would ever have to enjoy a tradition that those who win in Athens get to partake in: ripping up the famous hedges in Sanford Stadium and taking them home with them. The game returned to Jacksonville in 1996, but that didn’t help either; the #1 Gators administered a 47-7 evisceration of the hapless Bulldogs en route to a national championship, welcoming new Georgia coach Jim Donnan to the rivalry and running their winning streak to seven.
Then Donnan made a mistake. His Bulldogs beat Florida in 1997. He must not have gotten the memo that he was just supposed to lay down and take the beating Spurrier dished out. Spurrier replied by handing Georgia the second 38-7 thrashing in the last decade. He then completed his unheard of dominance over the Dogs by winning his final four Cocktail Parties. Even though they came in slightly less convincing fashion, his last three wins over Georgia were all by double digits. Besides, wins are wins, and by the time Spurrier stepped down at Florida, he’d gotten 11 of them in 12 tries. Not too shabby.
Now, let’s just sprint through the Ron Zook years and be done with them. I mean, nobody who made it this far likes Zook, right? Florida fans hate him because he reduced the powerhouse Steve Spurrier built into a consistent seven win team and picked a fight with a UF fraternity. Georgia fans hate him because he beat two top five Bulldogs teams in three years despite his clear inability to coach. Those losses to Florida cost Georgia at least one, and maybe two national championships. [(Georgia ruined season count: 3) and (Georgia ruined season count: 4)] Good. We all hate him. Moving on.
Enter Urban Meyer, straight off the runaway locomotive he built at Utah. The only difference between Meyer and Spurrier was that Meyer never had a traumatic experience against Georgia (yet); he simply owned them for the sport of it. His new offense struggled mightily in 2005, but that didn’t stop them from flying down the field for two first quarter touchdowns that put Georgia in a hole it couldn’t recover from in a 14-10 pseudo-upset (Georgia ruined season count: 5). Then Meyer started to figure things out in Gainesville, building a national championship team in 2006 that utilized the different skill sets of Chris Leak and Tim Tebow to perfection. The fact that Florida and Georgia were inversely successful in relation to 2005 was irrelevant, as the 2006 game played out in a similar fashion; Florida jumped out to a 21-0 lead and held on for a 21-14 win.
Apparently, Georgia coach Mark Richt didn’t appreciate getting owned by Florida very much. He also apparently didn’t like Florida very much. Thus, he orchestrated what has become one of the rivalry’s unforgettable moments in 2007: the entire Georgia bench immediately emptied out onto the field following the Bulldogs’ first touchdown and staged an impromptu Dunce Dunce Revolution in the end zone, right in front of all the Florida players. But what many people forget in recalling that game is that Florida’s defense gave up 188 yards to Knowshon Moreno and was just generally horrendous all day, getting burned for long touchdown strikes to Mikey Henderson and Mohammed Massaquoi. That all added up to a 42-30 win for Georgia, who then ran off a seven game win streak to finish the season and capped it by blasting Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl to earn a #2 final ranking.
So expectations were sky high for Georgia entering 2008. After all, Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno were back, and now they had this highly touted freshman named AJ Green playing wide receiver. But they were in trouble the moment they stepped on the field in Jacksonville. Think: Urban Meyer was beating them despite having no personal grudge against them. Now, he had a grudge. And sure enough, Florida curb stomped Georgia by the unforgettable score of 49-10, thanks in large part to an odd onside kick that failed and a bundle of second half Bulldog turnovers. (Georgia ruined season count: 6) Even better than the ridiculously lopsided score was the way the game concluded. All the beaten and bruised Bulldogs wanted to do after getting so thoroughly battered was run away and get out of the stadium. But Urban Meyer refused to let that happen by using up all his remaining timeouts, forcing Georgia to sit there and take it for that much longer. Feel free to debate which championship winning Gator coach abused the Dawgs worse.
You would think that after losing 49-10, a team would think twice about staging team wide dance offs in the middle of a game. Yet there were the 2009 Georgia Bulldogs, clad in black pants and black helmets, jumping up and down after a second quarter touchdown that cut the Florida lead to 14-10 (to their credit, at least this time they stayed on the sideline). The Gators responded pretty much the same way they did the year before- by destroying Georgia and rubbing it in their faces. Of all games for Gator QB Tim Tebow to break former Georgia star Herschel Walker’s record for rushing touchdowns, isn’t the game against Walker’s alma mater the perfect game to do it? That served as a nice black eye to go with those black pants and black helmets. To be fair, though, that black eye was mainly self inflicted. Georgia turned the ball over four times, Florida said we’ll take that, thank you very much, and won 41-17.
But the final ignobility came in 2010. It turned out to be Meyer’s last year at Florida, and he said goodbye to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in style. Georgia QB Aaron Murray doomed the Bulldogs by losing a fumble and throwing three picks, the last of which came on the first possession of overtime and spelled their demise. In came punter Chas Henry, kicking in place of injured kicker Caleb Sturgis, to try the game winning field goal. He struggled mightily as a kicker, missing what would have been the tying field goal two weeks earlier against Mississippi State, but being Florida-Georgia, he didn’t miss this one. And alas, then-Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s eye raising prediction to Henry that “you’re gonna f*ckin’ choke!” was incorrect. Final: Florida 34, Georgia 31.
Part V: The yesteryear, present and future- 2011-present (Georgia 5, Florida 3)
2011 may have begun a new cycle in the rivalry. Urban Meyer, dearly departed, was replaced by Georgia alum Will Muschamp, and Georgia started to dominate. I didn’t think it was possible for Jeremy Foley to make a worse head coaching hire than Ron Zook, but I was so, so, so wrong. Muschamp took the perennial national championship contender Meyer had created and made an even bigger mess of it than Zook did, going 28-21 in four seasons while Richt’s program experienced a second wind of sorts. Naturally, Muschamp’s profound inability to coach a football team killed the Gators’ success in Jacksonville.
First, Florida blew a 17-3 lead in 2011 and lost, 24-20. Along the way, the Gators gave up two touchdown passes on fourth down and a long game ending drive that melted away the remainder of the clock. But the defense wasn’t completely to blame, as totaling a pathetic 32 yards of offense in the second half probably didn’t help matters either. The following year was even worse. Like they had so many times before, Georgia tried to give the game away with turnovers, as Aaron Murray again threw three picks. But unlike previous years, the Gators refused to take advantage, opting instead to display a flair for botchery that only Muschamp coached teams are capable of. Florida turned it over an incredible six times- the last of which (a Jordan Reed fumble in the end zone) directly led to their demise. The following year only strengthened the developing pattern. The Bulldogs jumped out to a commanding 23-3 lead at halftime; the Gators clawed their way back into the game with an explosive third quarter, but like they did two years earlier, the Bulldogs locked down on defense and salted the game away with a clock-killing drive in the final minutes. Three years. Three heartbreaking losses. #ThanksChamp.
But even Will Muschamp got his moment in the sun in the World’s Largest Cocktail Party. He was all but fired when the two teams met in 2014, a game he came into with a disgusting 0-7 overall record in the rivalry (0-4 as a Georgia safety in the 1990’s, 0-3 as the Florida coach). Yet on this one magical November evening in the Gateway City, none of that mattered. Georgia scored first, but then the Gators answered with a touchdown run on a fake field goal by holder Michael McNeely. Then they scored again. And again. And again. And again. And when Georgia had waved the white flag and was ready to quit, they scored again on a 65 yard touchdown run by Kelvin Taylor. (Georgia ruined season count: 7)
Enter Jim McElwain, and some hope that maybe it isn’t really Georgia’s turn after all. That, or maybe Treon Harris is just their kryptonite. Either way, the Gators finally avenged the devastating 2007 loss with the ultimate form of payback: they handed Mark Richt a loss that directly cost him his job and sent him packing for Miami with a blowout that easily could have been a shoutout. I’ve made pretty much all the points I want to make by simply quoting scores throughout this article, so it would be something of a letdown if I didn’t do it one more time: 27-3.
(Fun fact: when I initially wrote this article back in the spring of 2016, I set it to publish at 2:33am for no reason other than I can say that I published a historical Florida-Georgia rivalry piece at twenty-seven minutes to three.)
Also in this chapter was 2016, a game that held no significance other than that Jim McElwain coached himself to a two touchdown win over Kirby Smart- a statistic that looks absolutely hysterical. Then there was 2017, a game that held no significance other than that the Bulldogs’ 42-7 rout was the final nail in McElwain’s coffin. And then there was 2018, a game that Florida started off on the wrong foot, somehow came back and took the lead in, and then wilted down the stretch in, which all added up to a 36-17 Georgia win.
That brings us to here and now.
Winning three in a row from 2014-16 gave Gator fans some hope that maybe Florida was going to snap the rotating ~20 year spells each team had on each other. Then came the last two years, which gave Bulldog fans some hope that they could be a force not just in the SEC but on a national scale for years to come. Georgia has quite a bit of work to do if they’re going to make the two decade period that began in 2011 resemble the dominance that both teams have historically enjoyed during their “turn”. But Florida might have found its own program savior in Dan Mullen.
But enough stats, facts, history, and logic. Let’s just sit back, grab a drink and enjoy.