Given that 2020 was pretty much a dumpster fire of a year, Joe VanHoose and Johnathan McGinty decided to kick off 2021 in a more lighthearted way. If you know them, you know that informal back-and-forth exchanges can make for some pretty entertaining literary journeys. For instance, just check out the time the duo went to see Bruce Hornsby and wrote up a review for Athens’s independent newspaper, Flagpole (additionally, Bruce Hornsby fans can be INTENSE). With that in mind, they decided to write about their collective best of times and worst of times in Jacksonville, Florida.
JOE VANHOOSE: First of all, happy new year. Can’t fall through the floor, right?
Anyway, as we flush 2020 down the toilet and hope 2021 brings us something better, now seems like the perfect time to take stock of some of the disasters of the football series that binds us together.
Because, man, I have had some bad times in Jacksonville at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
JOHNATHAN MCGINTY: I mean, to be fair, it is Jacksonville. You’re already starting your weekend off behind the curve.
JVH: Jacksonville is a great place to spend a weekend. And, as Trevor Lawrence will soon learn, it’s an awesome city to live if you have money. The beach, the waterways, the cheap happy hours at Lemon Bar — these are all great things! Don’t sleep on the Cummer Museum and Gardens or the planetarium either.
And now that we’ve torn down the Jacksonville Landing — do I still get to use the royal “We” when I talk about Jacksonville? — perhaps people will find good ways to spend their time down there. Of course, depending on what side you’re on, TIAA Bank Field can be a really lousy place to spend your time.
For instance, when my buddies and I showed up to the 2017 Florida-Georgia game, we found that our seats were on the front row on the 45-yard-line. Man, what a treat that was going to be.
And then the game started. My buddy (a Florida fan) punched an older Florida fan out for shouting some pretty horrible things at the Florida bench. Well, that, and the dude told my buddy to, um, quiet his girlfriend. They had to leave quickly.
We were all back at the tailgate by the end of the first quarter. I can confirm Steve Spurrier left the game at about the same time.
JM: See, the 2017 game was great for me! Hell, it was one of the best weekends of my life!
My cousin got married in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the wedding was a blast. Of course, he got married during the game, so we had to rely on stealthy checks of our phones for updates. By the time I got back to the hotel in advance of the reception, I stopped at the bar to sit with Bobby who was an old Georgia fraternity brother of my uncle’s and Bobby’s “friend” who had joined him for the weekend.
He bought my dad and I some drinks, we watched Georgia players carry J.R. Reed on their shoulders and led a bunch of confused Wake Forest fans at a nearby table in a series of Bulldog-centric cheers! It was great!
What wasn’t great was the 1998 game. Fresh off a 1997 trip — my first ever to the game, one where I even saw Georgia stunningly win because, you know, it was the 1990s — I was convinced it would always be a good time.
Well, hoo boy, was I wrong.
I opted to drive my group to the game, got stuck in traffic, almost got in a fight with another Georgia fan who cut us in traffic (spoiler alert, I would have lost the fight), got stuck in the concourse trying to get to our seats and then arrived at our seats only to find several (large) squatters in them.
The police wouldn’t kick them out, saying it was the usher’s job.
The usher wouldn’t kick them out, saying it was the police’s job.
Oh, and we already were halfway through the second quarter, and Florida was up 21-0.
So, we left and went to the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum. It was pretty cool.
JVH: Why is it so awful trying to get in this game every year? It seems like I am always late getting to my seat.
My buddy — and BTT webmaster — Tom Wilson went to his first Florida-Georgia game with me in 2015. Fireball was all the rage, and we cleared a few bottles at our tailgate. That was also the first day I remember a Widespread Panic song sounding good.
Man, what a boring game! Florida won by a score I couldn’t tell you, mainly because we had snuck more booze into the game and had folks in a skybox above us feeding us beers throughout the contest. At one point, I got a photo with former Florida quarterback Chris Leak, who was clearly just trying to get back to his family.
Sorry about that, Chris. I still think you should be in Florida’s Ring of Honor.
Leaving the game, I seemed to have gotten stuck knee deep in mud, briefly lost my flip flops and finally came to at a BBQ restaurant across town.
I got upgraded on my 5:30 a.m flight back to Atlanta the next morning, but it was all I could do not to get sick on the plane.
Why did y’all start your punter at quarterback? Idiots.
JM: Oh no, starting “our punter” would have been better … because he was the second-string QB! Instead, in a desperate move to jolt a team that was sleepwalking through the year, Mark Richt started the third-string QB, Fauton Bauta. Bauta was a stocky kid who was athletic, so it made sense to run some RPO, right?
Wrong. Let’s just line him up and do the same thing you’d do with a standard pro-style QB.
That final year of the Richt era was so very weird. In fact, much of the Richt era – and, in particular, its relationship with Florida – often was so very weird. There is no doubt that Georgia, from 2002 to 2008, was a better or equal team in every matchup with the Gators outside of, say, one (2006), and Georgia won two of those games. The 2004 one, which was just an exhausting relief, and the 2007 one, which was a delightful surprise!
But all of those losses, aside from the demolition of 2008, was frustratingly the same –Florida gets a lead, Georgia remembers it can play football and methodically comes back behind a different running back (hello Kregg Lumpkin!) every year … and falls one or two scores short every dang time.
And every dang time, my buddy Matt DuVall would look at me and say “we’re gonna be fine, we’re right there, and next year is our year!”
So pretty much where Florida fans are today.
JVH: I mean, just because I posited on this very site that Dan Mullen may be Florida’s Mark Richt doesn’t make it true. I mean, what the hell do I know about football?
I knew in 2004 that Florida shouldn’t rehire Spurrier, but that didn’t stop all of us from wearing SOS shirts around that year. That was a rough game. I got to my seat only to realize I was on the top row in the very corner of the stadium. My buddy left about five minutes into the game, but I decided to stick around. I wish I hadn’t.
But you’re right about those early 2000s games. We were not particularly good in 2003 — Leak was the starting quarterback as a freshman. But Leak led us down the field in the last minute of the game to set up the game-winning field goal.
Earlier in the day, we discovered the wonders of an ice luge. I could drink a reasonable amount of Jaeger in college. On the way back to my apartment across the river, we decided to hold our Florida flags out the windows of my Saturn instead of attaching them to the windows. It was a big day!
We were to meet up to celebrate at the Landing at 9 p.m., and it was only 7:30 when I got home. I decided to lie down for a minute and watch some of the Virginia Tech-Miami game. When I rolled back over, it was 8:50, and I was a good 20 minutes from the Landing.
I ran out the door only to be greeted by broad daylight. It was 8:50 a.m. I had successfully passed out for 13 hours. I had also missed a lot of calls.
Breakfast at Hardee’s was spot-on.
JM: It’s a weird thing to grow up with a rivalry where you spend most of your life just not believing that your team even has a chance to win. I was in elementary school in the 1980s, so much of that time is a bit blurry. But there was a 20-year block of time during my formative years — my teens and 20s — where Georgia simply didn’t have a chance in this game. It didn’t matter how good the team was, beating Florida wasn’t in the cards.
I mean, from 1991 to 2010, Georgia won three times. That’s insane!
We’re not talking about this being a Kentucky-Florida or Vanderbilt-Tennessee situation either. These are two really good football programs with that much disparity! So my disasters in this rivalry perhaps don’t compare because I’ve never simply believed Georgia could beat Florida. And, as you know, I don’t really even consider Florida a top rival because my youth simply taught me otherwise! Why consider someone a rival when they throttle you year after year?
Hell, I swore off going to Jacksonville after 1998.
In fact, I remember Georgia losing to Florida in overtime in 2010 — the infamous Todd Grantham “don’t choke” game — and heading in to my wife’s office to sit in silence for a few moments because the whole dang experience was so freaking exhausting.
Of course, Kirby Smart would eventually show up and now Georgia has won six out of the last 10 meetings, so I’m just super confused now.
JVH: See, I just assumed we would always beat Georgia because I came of age in that same 20-year period. But then Florida hired Will Muschamp and the narrative flipped.
In 2012, a game where the winner was going to go play a beatable Alabama team in the SEC Championship, I didn’t really think we could win. But we were knocking on the goal line before Jarvis Jones knocked the ball out of our hands. Still, there was enough hope there to really crush my spirit.
On the way out of the game, I was fighting mad. A homeless guy made a snide comment, and I have never been closer to kicking someone’s head off into the St. Johns River. I had some real Limp Bizkit energy.
We were so bad in 2014 that I didn’t go to the game — the first time I missed it since 2002. I was covering the All-American 400 stock car race at the Nashville Fairgrounds and trying not to even pay attention to what was happening in Jacksonville. But by the third quarter, the reporter from The Tennessean and I were watching the game on my laptop in that frozen press box.
I laughed so much during that Florida blowout. It’s as if Georgia didn’t think a Will Muschamp team would try running the ball. It was one of three days I liked having Muschamp as our head coach. That was a different kind of Limp Bizkit energy.
John Otto, take ’em to the Mathews Bridge!
JM: Georgia owed Will Muschamp for those previous years of success. I mean, he had been a fabulous sleeper agent for the Bulldogs, so why not give him one and see if he’d stick around? Of course, Florida would go on to lose to South Carolina … who would turn around and hire Muschamp a year or so later because time is a flat circle.
Anyway, college football is limping toward the end of this weird, frustrating, entertaining and awful season with former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields leading Ohio State against top-ranked Alabama and its star wide receiver, former Georgia commit DeVonta Smith.
Now that I think about it, 2021 might be just like 2020. Great.