Returning to Gainesville from Kissimmee last night with heavy rains and high winds, the first thought was oh no, here we go again. To appreciate that thought, you had to be in Jacksonville in the 1970s when it seems that every time the Florida Gators had a truly superior team to the Georgia Poodles it rained on game day and the winds seemed like gale force.
Maybe it was the conversation I had with Florida commit Paul Wilson’s dad at the Lakeland-Osceola high school football game that made it so easy to think back to those horrendous years when every year and every Florida-Georgia game was a Murphy game — whatever could go wrong would go wrong for the Gators and always at the worst possible moment. Mark Wilson was a wide receiver for Georgia 1974-76, back when it seemed Georgia never threw the ball under any circumstance unless the Poodles were playing Florida and then for some reason, they couldn’t miss.
In 1974, Georgia beat Florida, 17-16, a game the Gators should have won by three touchdowns but Florida fumbled the game away and Matt Robinson threw a couple of touchdown passes. In 1975, it rained so hard the Gator Bowl turned into a venue more fit for a mud bog. Mark Wilson’s best friend Gene Washington caught a tight end around pass from Richard Applebee for Georgia’s only touchdown. Henry Davis, who didn’t allow a touchdown pass over him before or after that game in 1975, slipped in the mud to allow Washington to get behind him. That’s the game that Douglas Adair Dickey told us “to win a game, first we must avoid losing.” He said that to defend his decision not to throw the ball to Wes Chandler who must have felt like the Maytag Repairman he was so all by himself in the secondary the entire game. Georgia gambled that Florida wouldn’t throw the ball and stuck nine in the box to defend the Wishbone. It worked and Dickey avoided winning because he wouldn’t throw to Wes who had single coverage. Nobody single covered Wes Chandler. Not in high school. Not in college. Not even in the pros.
In 1976 the weather cooperated by Doug Dickey didn’t. That was the game that gave us “Fourth and Dumb.” I know some of you young whippersnappers want to know all about it, but I’m not going to go into detail and there’s nothing you can make me do to tell you all about it. Some memories are just too painful.
In 1980, the Gators were ahead 21-19 and Georgia was backed up on its seven yard line with the seconds ticking down all too fast for the Poodle faithful. Buck Belue almost got sacked in the end zone, which would have been a fitting end to the game, but somehow he escaped and threw the ball to Lindsay Scott. Do I have to go on here? Most of you remember Larry Munson screaming “Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!” I remember him saying “There’s gonna be a whole lot of property damage tonight.”
There was property damage. Gator fans everywhere threw shoes through their television sets.
In 1985, the Gators were ranked number one in the nation going into the Georgia game and Kerwin Bell threw for what seemed like six bazillion yards between the 20s. He looked like Johnny Unitas between the 20s. The only problem was that once he got in the red zone, Florida’s receivers looked like a bunch of rednecks at a greased pig contest at the county fair in Hahira. Florida lost 24-3 to a Georgia team the Gators should have beaten like a drum.
Vince Dooley coached the Gators back in those days and most Gators were convinced that there was the “Dooley Curse” — a deal that the Georgia coach had made with the devil in order to win the Florida-Georgia game.
“The week of the Florida game, Coach Dooley convinced us we were going to win, that we would get the breaks at critical times and that would turn the game around,” said Mark Wilson Friday night. Wilson, by the way, is very proud that Paul is going to be a Gator and he even admitted that because of Urban Meyer and the Florida coaching staff, he is a little less Poodle every day and a little more Gator.
But in those days, when Dooley spoke, Wilson said, “We believed him. When I was playing, something always happened at a critical time in the game and it turned the game in our favor.”
Steve Spurrier lost to Georgia his sophomore and senior seasons. Some people are convinced that losing to Georgia his senior year, which cost Florida the SEC title, is the reason Spurrier had such a hatred of Georgia. That hurt Stevie Wonder, that’s for sure, but what really got to him was the 1968 game. He was in his second year with the San Francisco 49ers so he only got the report of the game on the telephone from the coach he loved with all his heart, Gene Ellenson. Ellenson was Florida’s defensive coordinator but to shake up a team that needed some shaking up, Coach Ray Graves swapped out Ellenson and offensive coordinator Ed Kensler the week of the game. That was a disaster and so was the game. It was cold, raining and miserable. It was 21-0 after one quarter and 48-0 with a few seconds left. Instead of taking a knee to end the game, though, Dooley called time out and sent his center in to try a field goal. His center had always wanted to kick one and Dooley thought it was a great way to rub it in on Florida. The field goal was good, making the final score 51-0.
You want to know why Stevie Wonder ran the reverse on the goal line to get John Capel a touchdown so the Gators could hang a 50 on the Poodles when the game was played in Athens in 1995? You Poodle fans can thank VD for that one. That was Spurrier’s way of reminding the then Georgia athletic director that he never, ever forgot. That was Stevie Wonder’s way of saying “this one’s for you, Gene Ellenson.”
I’ll tell you another little secret. Gene Ellenson, whom many of us old guys consider to be the greatest Gator of all — Spurrier included — was a Georgia graduate. He played on the 1942 Georgia team that humiliated Florida 75-0. Wally Butts ran up the score on the Gators that day. All of Florida’s non-4Fs were already in the army or navy. Georgia’s multitude of All-Americans were in ROTC including Flatfoot Frankie Sinkwich and Charley Trippi, the two best running backs in America.
When Georgia ran the score up on the Gators in 1968 and Gene was on the receiving end of it, whatever Georgia blood he had still had running through his veins he willed out completely. That was a defining moment for “The Old Warrior.” He became as Gator as anyone that ever walked the earth and until the day he died, he despised it that he’d gone to Georgia. Spurrier the coach never lost to the Poodles while Gene was still alive and there were at least three or four years there that Gene gave the pre-game speech to fire up the Gators. Nobody was prouder of the Gators that they beat Georgia than Gene Ellenson and the worse the score, the better he liked it. That’s the way all of us should be.
Spurrier ended the Dooley curse. It’s been 14 of 16 since then. Spurrier was 11-1 against the Poodles and I loved it every time he ran up the score or tossed out a zinger that made the Poodles cringe. Those were indeed the good old days and they haven’t stopped. The Gators were even 2-1 against the Poodles during the Ron Zook Error and I’m convinced that if Zook doesn’t get the hook the Monday before the Georgia game, he’s 3-0 against the Poodles. Urban Meyer has a chance to go 2-0 today and the smart money says he does it.
Yes, Florida can lose this game. I’m not sure Georgia has the horses to outright win it without a lot of help from the Gators but I am sure that the Gators have enough to beat Georgia soundly if they don’t do stupid things like they did against Auburn. If Florida protects the football, avoids the silly penalties and comes out with any kind of first quarter emotion, the Gators are going to win this game.
My guess is that Florida plays great. Chris Leak has never thrown an interception against Georgia. I’m betting that streak continues. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this game has all the makings of Chris Leak’s greatest hour as a Gator. We’ve got a freshman quarterback that’s already a Florida folk hero. We’ve got a senior quarterback still longing for a legacy. If Leak lights up Georgia’s very suspect secondary today and the Gators win, it’s a quantum leap toward the championship he’s never gotten and the legacy he needs.
I’m saying that Florida wins by at least a couple of touchdowns and I won’t be surprised if it’s worse than that. Yes, Florida can lose it but again, but for Georgia to come out on top, it has to be with a lot of Florida help.
No help today, Poodles. I’m calling it Florida 24, Georgia 7. And if the Gators have a big lead in the fourth quarter with the final seconds ticking off the clock and Steve Rissler, Florida’s senior center, wants to kick a field goal, I say let him have at it. It would be a fitting way to end it.