Bill Shanks

Georgia, Florida still a huge event

Florida students Tommy Chirigco, center, dances while tailgating in the parking lot of EverBank Field before the start of an NCAA football game between Florida and Georgia, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Florida students Tommy Chirigco, center, dances while tailgating in the parking lot of EverBank Field before the start of an NCAA football game between Florida and Georgia, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, in Jacksonville, Fla. AP

They’ve told us to not call it the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” anymore, but that’s what this is. What’s the point of trying to not call this annual gathering what it is, like labeling it something else will limit people’s consumption of cocktails or something.

Yeah, right.

The Georgia-Florida game is an event every year, win or lose, good team or bad team. It’s not just a game. It’s a chance to get away, have some fun and maybe even go to the game if you choose. But calling it the River City Showdown, and telling everyone else to call it that, is stupid.

This is a cocktail party, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Since tailgating is an integral part of college football anyway, most pregame get-togethers are cocktail parties anyway. But this one is just on the grander scale.

And therein lies the name.

With the location being neutral every year, but not as far as a drive for Florida fans, it makes this game a road trip for Georgia fans.

And you can’t beat a good football road trip.

I’m fortunate to take a road trip with three good friends every single year. This time we selected Jacksonville, and for the first time in many years some of us saw a Georgia-Florida game.

We also played golf, ate more fried shrimp than we could count and enjoyed watching and hearing the waves of the Atlantic Ocean reach the shore.

Fernandina Beach is special to me. I grew up going there, as it is 75 miles from my hometown of Waycross. So, it was fun to just be on Fletcher, and if you’ve been there you know why. It’s a special place. It’s the beach, and on this weekend Georgia car tags outnumbered the ones from Florida.

The border wars in college football are always special, but the history of this matchup makes it even more compelling. For years, Georgia dominated, to the point some didn’t even consider Florida much of a rival.

But then Steve Spurrier arrived in 1990 and changed things for the Gators. He hated Georgia, and he lost only once to the Bulldogs in 12 years. And then, suddenly, for Georgia fans it became a rivalry again.

Georgia is hoping to get back to some sort of prominence, and it’ll need to beat Florida more regularly than it has the past 27 years to make that happen.

Some believe this series should be a home-and-home matchup, like all other division games. But there is something special about it being in Jacksonville. Sure, it’s in Florida and a lot closer to Gainesville than Athens. But the Georgia fans who make the trip probably won’t complain a bit about it being in Jacksonville.

It’s an event, something to look forward to for months. It’s more fun when your team wins, but chances are you’ll have a good time either way. Georgia fans were likely more encouraged this year that the third string quarterback wouldn’t start, at least giving their team a chance.

This year’s game is unusual, as neither team is great. The game is better when both programs are outstanding, and both need a lot of work for that to happen again. But both teams could be 0-7 and it would still be important. There’s no need to explain to players why this game is one of the most important on the schedule.

It’s Georgia-Florida, and that’s all that needs to be said.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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