ST. SIMONS ISLAND — Ah, ha, here we are again, poised for the annual charge across the Florida state line. This is where Georgia troops muster to follow their valiant Bulldogs into Jacksonville, and there once again engage the Florida Gators in what, to this moment, is the critical conflict of the SEC football season. A game. Young men, their lives still in the formative stage, revered as troops going into battle. As the old Yale coach once challenged his players, about to take the field to play Harvard: “Young men, you are about to play football against Harvard. Never again in your lifetime shall you do anything so important.”
Old Tad Jones was overdoing it, of course. As all of us overdo it when Georgia engages Florida at football. The land cruisers, the private jets, all the various modes of transportation have been rolling into the Golden Isles in the manner of immigrants gathering along a leak on the Mexican border, but much more affluently prepared. To the St. Simons economy, this is the beginning surge of the holiday season. Businesses are made, or in seedier times, broken during this very week.
There is really nothing else like it, unless it be the Texas-Oklahoma “Red River Shootout” in Dallas, since softened to the less militant “Red River Rivalry.” I have seen Ohio State-Michigan, South Carolina-Clemson (when it was played on State Fair Day), Tennesse-Kentucky (Neyland vs. Bryant), Duke-North Carolina (when they were powers), Army-Navy (future generals vs. future admirals), and, yes, many a Georgia-Florida gnashing of teeth. But of all them, never have I been witness to such skull cracking as this one, and nearly every year seems more viciously attuned than the last.
This one, of course, is different in its own way. Never before Tim Tebow has an incumbent Heisman Trophy winner been involved physically. Often, of course, eventual Heisman anointees, but they were usually seniors, and occasionally juniors. This time there is a sophomore candidate, the Georgian from New Jersey, Knowshon Moreno. Moreno is different. His game is football by special delivery afoot. By contrast, Tebow is a youth of many splendors: pass, run, catch, and most effectually, a leader.
The coach—ah, the coach. He never carries nor inflates the ball, but in some special instances, he has become the center attraction, as on this occasion, in the person of Mark Richt. Though he takes the fifth, he is generally held responsible for the charge of the Bulldog players after Georgia scored its first touchdown last year. His plea of innocence is generally dismissed, even by his own constituents. Richt is the quiet Christian hero to those Georgians who follow him wherever he leads, as into the bayous of Louisiana last week. Now, you aren’t to consider beating Florida as job
insurance. Jim Donnan beat the Gators four out of five times, yet got fired. Richt followed him, and danged if he didn’t lose his first three games to Florida. In truth, he has won in Jacksonville only twice. So, last year he was getting rather edgy, and did indeed “suggest” the Bulldogs swarm the goal line after that first score. Not an order, just a hint.
Here we are. Poised along the border. Spirit runs high. So does anticipation. It is important that Georgia win. Lose, and their chances of a national title dwindle, as does hope of another SEC championship. Sleep well, ye canines.