The order itself ignites controversy and arguments that only a high stakes game can.
For years the annual matchup between the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs has been a marquee matchup.
Setting itself apart from every other game in college football, the Worlds’ Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has made an impact on the lives of those who have attended it, coached it and played in it.
GatorCountry.com caught up with several former players as they reminisced about the time they spent in Jacksonville for that SEC East clash.
Two players who were thrown back into thick of the rivalry this week were Jabar Gaffney (Wide Receiver 2000-2001) and Chris Leak (Quarterback 2003-2006) as they were inducted into the Florida Georgia Hall of Fame.
Gaffney almost missed out on the opportunity to be recognized initially, not knowing whom the call was from.
“I was shocked,” admits Gaffney
“Wasn’t expecting it, it was just out of the blue. I normally don’t answer my phone for a call I don’t know, but I picked it up and they said I was getting inducted, so it was cool.”
It’s becoming a family affair for Gaffney, who is second in line to receive the honor.
“It’s big, that’s something that will always be there. My uncle’s in it so I’m the second, so maybe it’ll make my son want to go in there too.”
Gaffney made his name known in the game quickly; scoring a touchdown as a freshman that shook a portion of the Dawgs defense.
“We were coming down and Rex [Grossman] hit me over the middle and I spun out, there was three defenders and I spun out of it and scored a touchdown in that play… It was just a little post over the middle, and they had three defenders there but somehow I got out of it…that terrible secondary. They were so giving to me.”
Jabar actually credits the Georgia defense for a lot of his success, saying he’d “like to thank Georgia for all those terrible secondary’s that allowed me to do whatever I wanted to on the field.”
The memories have been sweet for Jabar Gaffney and thusly; this NFL veteran has a special place for Florida-Georgia.
“Right there at the top, it doesn’t get any bigger than Florida-Georgia.”
— Kassidy Hill (@KassidyGHill) October 30, 2015
Former quarterback Chris Leak agrees, describing the game in such personification detail that it brings the game to life.
“It’s really on its own category,” says Leak.
“I have to put it in it’s own category because it’s that unique in the way it’s planned, the way the fans react to it, the way the tailgating is, the way the game forms. It’s its own unique setting and really it’s hard to articulate on because it’s different than any other game. It’s got its own aura about it, its own character about it, it’s like its own little person, and it has its own mood. Everything about it is different than any other game.”
Leak has seen this from a unique perspective, as a player, a coach and a fan. He spent the 2014 season as the Florida Gators wide receiver coach. Having examined every angle of this storied rivalry, Leak now views the game with an even greater appreciation.
“It’s different than a bowl game, different than any other rivalry because of how the stadium setting is, the stadium environment, the tailgating, and how passionate both fan bases are. It’s really hard to articulate in a way, because I got an opportunity to play in it, to coach in it and to be a fan of it so I got three different perspectives that a lot of people don’t get and just each one of them was different in their own little way.”
And in true Florida Georgia style, Leak still remembers every moment of his first touchdown at Everbank Field.
“My first passing touchdown was to Carlos Perez and it was a short bubble screen and he just took it around the right sideline, and it was probably the fastest he’s ever run in his life. He remembers it every time I speak to him but it was a special time. It was a crunch time touchdown and we ended up winning by a field goal. This game is always close because it’s always two great teams. Georgia was No. 4 in the country, had the No. 1 defense in the country my first time against them in 2003, the Georgia teams I played against were always stacked; a lot of first round NFL players on both sides of the ball so it was always a challenge for us to win that game.”
The touchdown that Leak really gets emotional about though is one from Mr. Mike McNeely in the 2014 matchup, when he was McNeely’s position coach.
“Well I got the heads up that we were gonna try a fake field goal and I knew through the course of the week that Mike was gonna play a huge part of that. And obviously our special teams coordinator did a great job planning it and calling it at the right time.”
Despite the risk, Leak didn’t question it’s possible success.
“When you have a guy like Mike McNeely in the play, it’s a lot easier as a coach to know it’s gonna work… That play couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person, someone who’s given so much to the university, such a great life ahead of him, worked hard, earned his scholarship. He made Gator Nation proud every single day. I don’t know any player who worked as hard as Mike McNeely.”
From Perez to McNeely, all before, after and in between, there’s so many moments that have made Florida-Georgia as special as it is, something Leak sums up well.
“There’s a lot of great memories in this game.”
Former players Terrence Barber (Wide Receiver 1998-1990), Shane Matthews (Quarterback 1990-1992) and Matt Jackson (CB/WR 2000-2003) sat down in front of the camera to share the memories and why the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party means so much to them.
Stick with GatorCountry.com all weekend for your full coverage as the No. 11 Florida Gators take on the Georgia Bulldogs.