Georgia lost seven consecutive games to Florida from 1990-96, the worst streak it has ever endured in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Therefore, Kirby Smart still remembers what it was like going into 1997 rendition of the rivalry. Florida head coach Steve Spurrier had quickly built Florida into a national power and Georgia hadn’t been too competitive against them.
In the three consecutive losses from 1994-96, Florida defeated Georgia by a combined 151-38. Even with the Bulldogs ranked 14th in the nation on Nov. 1, 1997, it just didn’t seem they’d have the firepower to finally defeat Florida. After all, the Bulldogs entered the game as 20-point underdogs.
“Nobody expected or gave us a chance in that game,” Smart said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Telegraph
Instead, Georgia would wind up winning 37-17 thanks to brilliant defensive play and a strong rushing attack. Smart recorded two of Georgia’s four interceptions and also tallied two tackles. Running back Robert Edwards carried the ball 26 times for 124 yards and four touchdowns.
Heading into his first game as a head coach in the rivalry at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, there are some similar circumstances for Smart. Georgia has dropped the previous two in the series and isn’t expected to win this year’s meeting.
Florida, the current leader in the SEC East race, opened as a 7 1/2-point favorite over Georgia.
“I think we’ve gotta play our best football, and we have yet to do that all year,” Smart said. “And I think the rivalry has just grown, especially as there’s been a little more parity and a little more back and forth.”
While Florida has won 20 of the past 26 games in the series, Georgia has won three of the past five. But the Gators have won the past two, both of which came in blowout fashion.
That fact has Georgia’s senior class wanting to reverse the trend and beat one of its most hated rivalries for the first time in three seasons.
“We haven’t beat them in a couple of years, but as a senior, you want go out on a good note and win that game,” Pyke said. “There’s no better feeling than coming over that bridge and seeing all of the fans tailgating. That’s when you know you have a big game to play and get the goosebumps. These are the games you come to Georgia to play for.”
Outside linebacker Davin Bellamy, born in 1994, said he has understood the importance of this game practically since birth.
It became that much more apparent to him when he got a few snaps during the 2014 game against the Gators.
“It is a game you grow up watching,” Bellamy said. “I definitely grew up watching it and always wanted to play in it. It is one of the best rivalries, if not the biggest rivalry, in the SEC. It is a game that we must have and really is just a blessing to be a part of.”
Perhaps being a coach has magnified this game to Smart. While the 1997 game was one he and his teammates wanted, the need to beat Florida is amplified in the role he has now.
And given the situation, sitting at 4-3 overall and fourth in the SEC East, Georgia would love to get a win over its hated rival to help turn its season around.
“This game’s a lot more important to me now than it was back then,” Smart said.