Week 9 - Florida vs. Georgia

Trip Start Sep 01, 2012
Trip End Nov 26, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Saturday, October 27, 2012

Many people outside of the southeast may not know this, but the Florida-Georgia game has been played in Jacksonville, Florida, every year since 1933 with three exceptions.  There was no game in 1943 due to WWII, and there was a brief respite when the series reverted to a home-and-home in 1994 and 1995 while Jacksonville was preparing for an NFL expansion team.


When we were planning this trip, we put high priorities on certain schools, stadiums, and games that we wanted to go see.  This particular game was on every scenario.  Janell is from Jacksonville, and her parents still live there.  Combine that with a top SEC rivalry, and it was pretty much a no-brainer.  By the time the game rolled around, though, there ended up being quite a bit at stake.  Georgia had started the season ranked #6 in both the AP and USA Today Coach's polls.  Florida started the season ranked #23 in both polls.  Things had changed a bit after 8 weeks of football with Florida rolling into the game with a 7-0 record, a #3 ranking in the AP, a #3 ranking in the USA Today poll, and a #2 standing in the BCS.  Georgia had been tripped up by South Carolina, and entered the contest with a 6-1 record, a #12 ranking in the AP, a #11 ranking in the USA Today poll, and a #10 standing in the BCS.  Since South Carolina had lost to both Florida and LSU, the winner of this game would have the inside track to represent the SEC East in the conference title game.

Take the big rivalry between two top 10 teams, add a week-long tailgate, expensive tickets, and an impending hurricane, and Janell and the boys elected to sit this one out to spend the day with the grandparents. Janell's brother, also named Jason, went to the game with Jason, though.

Without further ado, let's get to the ratings:

Stadium - EverBank Field is the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars,  and it was built on the same site as the old Gator Bowl.  They did keep a tiny bit of the old structure, but my father-in-law described it as taking the radiator cap off a car, pulling in a new car, and putting the old radiator cap back on.  This is the third NFL stadium on the tour (the others were Bank of America Stadium for a Carolina Panthers game and Sun Life Stadium for the FSU-Miami game), and it holds true to form.  Being built less than 20 years ago, it has the standard array of luxury suites common in NFL stadiums.  It is shaped like a big bowl with no upper deck, so there are no obstructed views.  They do have to add temporary bleachers every year for this game to expand the stadium from a capacity of nearly 77,000 people to over 84,000.  It has more character than the stadium in Miami, but not at all like a college stadium.  All the seats had backs except for the temporary bleachers.  It was also very easy to get into the stadium and to our seats.  Rating - 7 of 10.

Tailgating - "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."  Mardi Gras?  Nope.  Carnival?  Nope.  RAGBRAI?  Nope.  Florida-Georgia!  At least that's what they call.  Does it live up to the hype?  We'll see.  Hurricane Sandy was off the coast of Florida on Saturday, so we were a bit worried about getting a lot of rain that would spoil the fun.  But we ended up with very nice day.  It was cloudy and 75, just perfect for a pale Oregonian like me!

This day started early, with a 9:45am departure on a charter bus from Ed Witt Jr.'s house.  Ed and his family are good friends with Janell's stepsister, Aly, and her family, and he graciously invited us to join his tailgate.  Again, a no-brainer.  We arrived at the VIP RV lot at about 10:30, and camp was quickly set up.  Ed's father was already there getting a very nice spread ready for lunch.  This was a very cool setup.I was busy introducing myself to people, when a nicely-dressed man showed up with a small entourage.  After I introduced myself to him, Ed ran over and said, "You just met the mayor!  You have to get a picture with him!"  So, I met the mayor of Jacksonville at Ed's tailgate.

After lunch, I had to leave our little alcove and wander around where the true craziness was happening.  There were people tailgating everywhere!  I even learned a few new tailgating games.  One included a plastic bottle on a stand with two guys throwing Frisbees at it trying to knock it off.  If you hit the bottle and it hits the ground before your opponent hits it, you get two points.  If you hit the stand and knock it off, you get one point.  That's all I could get out of the guys playing, since they were busy trying to knock down bottles.  I saw people riding motorized coolers around, and there was a giant game of beer pong using 5-gallon buckets.

I had my first meeting with somebody from Oregon, too.  Alex Lopez, a coworker from Intel and a Florida grad, was at the game, and we met up for some tailgating.  It was great to see somebody from home!  Speaking of home, I also ran into a guy from the town where I was born, Iowa Falls, Iowa, who was there with the Iowa Pork Producers.  Who knew?

After the game, I found out that there was also quite a bit of tailgating by boat on the St. John's River very near where our bus was parked.  The only other place I've been where people tailgated by boat was the University of Washington in Seattle.  Very cool.

This was Saturday's experience.  Janell and I were downtown for the Zac Brown concert on Friday night before the game, and tailgating was in full swing.  The RV lots opened Wednesday morning, and apparently the tailgating had been steadily escalating since Monday!  My favorite part of it was that there were Florida fans mixed in with Georgia fans, and everybody was partying together and having a good time.

Remember, my basis for great tailgating is my time at Penn State in 1996 and 1997.  This tailgate certainly rivaled that and is the best of the tour...so far.  We're going to LSU next week.  Rating - 10 of 10. 

The Game - As mentioned earlier, there was a lot at stake for this game.  Florida, being one of two SEC schools in the BCS top three, was heading for the national championship game if they could win out.  If Georgia could win out, their prize would at least be a BCS bowl game, and they also had an outside shot at the national title game.  But both teams had a big obstacle in the way in Jacksonville.  Emotions were high, and the referees did a good job of keeping the game in check.  There were multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for both teams, mostly for trash talking after a big play. 

Defense set the tone for the game, as both offenses weren't able to get much going most of the game.  Florida turned the ball over six times with four fumbles and two interceptions.  Georgia returned the favor with three interceptions.  Florida gave Georgia the ball between their own 20 and 25-yard-lines four times, but Georgia could only manage 10 points from those gifts.  The best offensive play of the game was a 45-yard pass from Aaron Murray to Malcolm Mitchell with 7:11 left in the game to put Georgia up 17-9.  Florida's offensive output consisted of three field goals, as both defenses dominated this game.  Florida had a chance to tie it up at the end of the game, but they just couldn't find the end zone.  Rating - 9 of 10.

The Band:  Both bands marched at halftime, so we get a bonus this week.

Florida Band - The Pride of the Sunshine played first.  I was sitting in the Georgia section, so unfortunately, the band played to the other side where the Florida fans were sitting the entire show.  Because of that I didn't get a good sense of their sound, but I was still able to watch their marching and formations.  My impression of them was that their marching was very simplistic.  The formations were uncomplicated, and they did a lot of standing complimented by silly dancing.  There was one song were the drumline did the goofy dancing while the rest of the band stood still and played.  That is the first time I've seen that.  Usually the drumlines in most bands I've seen carry a very serious air about them regardless of what the rest of the band is doing.  Rating - 4 of 10.

Georgia Band - The Redcoat Band played second, and they did face my side the entire show.  This is the first band I've seen that included an electric bass player on the sidelines, and they also featured 10 xylophones.  They sounded great and did a good job with dynamics.  They employ a corps style of marching, and they did all of the complicated marching while they weren't playing.  I would have liked to have seen them march and play more at the same time, and their song choices didn't really pull in the crowd.  But overall, I thought they did a pretty good job.  Rating - 6 of 10.

Fans: This is the first game we've been to where both fan groups can legitimately get a rating.  The stadium was literally split in half.  The west side and the west half of the end zones was all red.  The east side and the east half of the end zones was all blue and orange.  It's actually a pretty cool scenario.  For every play, half of the stadium was cheering.

Florida Fans - This really starts in the parking lot.  The Florida fans were partying hard before the game, but there were no issues that I saw before or after the game.  Since I wasn't sitting with the Florida fans during the game, I can't really say how they were in the stands.  The Florida fans were quite loud when Georgia had the ball, particularly during some of the more important possessions.

There were still a few minutes left in the game when the Florida section was pretty much cleared out.  Apparently they didn't want to stick around to see if Florida would pull out a miracle.  After the game, I did see one fan taking out his frustrations by yelling at a lone Georgia fan and complaining about the refs, but his buddy quickly shut him down by saying that Florida shouldn't have been in a position where the refs mattered.  More often I witnessed Florida fans congratulating Georgia fans for their victory.  Even the two Georgia fans on our bus said the Florida fans were gracious in defeat.  This is contrary to stories I've heard from opposing fans who have ventured into Gainesville, but I'm specifically rating the fans at this game.  Rating - 9 of 10.

Georgia Fans - Since we were sitting in the middle of the Georgia section, I got a much better sense of their fans during the actual game than I did of the Florida fans.  There was very little negativity when things went wrong, except for one guy who seemed to be bound and determined to have himself a bad time.  There was one Florida fan within earshot, and he was able to cheer on the Gators without getting any grief from the Bulldog fans around us.  And, we stood up the entire game, which I actually like.  It means the fans are invested.

The Georgia fans were very good fans rooting positively for their team.  The weird thing, though, was that there seemed to be an impending sense of doom the whole game, like they were waiting for Florida to drop the hammer on them.  As an Iowa State student and marching band member in the early '90's, I am familiar with that feeling.  I didn't expect it, however, from the fans of a top 10 SEC team.  I would also say that they weren't very loud when Florida had the ball and important defensive plays were coming up, and most of the people around us were pretty quiet.  The Florida side of the stadium seemed to be much louder. 

After the game, the Georgia fans were obviously very excited.  There was a lot of yelling and Georgia cheers going on.  There was pretty much an equal mix of Florida and Georgia fans milling around, and I really didn't see any Georgia fans getting in the face of any Florida fans.  Classy.  Rating - 8 of 10.

Best Player - There wasn't really a lot of offensive production in this game, as neither team was able to gain more than 275 total yards.  It's hard to give this to anybody on the offensive side of the ball, particularly for the Gators.  Georgia running back Todd Gurley did put up a very quiet 118 yards with a touchdown, but defense was the story of this game.  The standout performance of the game belonged to Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones.  He recorded 13 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries to lead the Georgia defense to a dominating effort.
Overall - I'd like to send a special thanks to Ed and his family for including us in the fun!  The amazing thing was that you wouldn't have known that Florida had lost based on the party on the drive home.

I don't want to make it sound like this was a big love-in and everybody was holding hands singing kumbaya.  There were certainly some issues between fans, particularly after the game, but they were minor from what I personally saw (apparently there was a nasty fight near a retention pond in the tailgating area sometime during the game that put one guy in the hospital, but I didn't see it).  With the exception of the fight in the parking lot while all the real fans were at the game, it was kind of like when two high school rivals from a small town play.  You really want to let the other fans have it, but you know you have to see them at church on Sunday.  Rating - 10 of 10.
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