By GUERRY CLEGG
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
The story line became almost as predictable as “A Nightmare On Elm Street” — but for the minor detail that Appleby-to-Washington predated Freddy Krueger’s 1984 debut.
Every year, so it seemed, the Florida Gators carried a high national ranking and hopes of their first SEC championship into their grudge match with the Georgia Bulldogs. Every year, so it seemed, the Bulldogs prevailed, and, to borrow a phrase from one of the most noted Bulldog fans, Lewis Grizzard, tore out their heart and stomped that sucker flat.
They won big — 44-0 in 1982. They won by the slightest of margins — 10-9 in 1983.
They won as underdogs, and they won as favorites.
They won with fourth-quarter comebacks and won with wire-to-wire domination.
Vince Dooley split his first seven games against Florida, winning three, losing three and tying one. Then, from 1971 through his retirement in ’88, Dooley won 14 of 18 against the Gators. For Georgia fans, beating Florida was as much a tradition as ringing the chapel bell or turning down the volume on the TV to listen to Larry Munson on the radio.
Speaking of which, here’s the legendary Bulldog announcer’s call in 1980 of the most famous play in Georgia football history.
“Florida in a stand-up five. They may or may not blitz. Buck (Belue) back and third down on the eight. In trouble, he got a block behind him. Gotta throw on the run. Complete to the 25. To the 30, Lindsay Scott 35, 40, Lindsay Scott 45, 50, 45, 40. Run Lindsay, 25, 20, 15, 10, Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott.”
OK, so Munson never uttered the word “touchdown.” He couldn’t. He broke his chair in the excitement. But he didn’t have to. Everyone listening knew that Georgia, undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country, had survived the biggest scare of its fairy-tale season, and the red half of the Gator Bowl shook the old stadium down to its steel rafters. Scott’s last-minute touchdown lifted the Dogs to a 26-21 victory.
More Munson: “We were gone. I gave up. You did too. … We were out of it and gone. … Miracle.”
To say the tables have been turned in this series would be to say Herschel Walker was a pretty fair running back. Ray Goff won his first Georgia-Florida game as a coach, in 1989 but never won again. Florida’s 38-7 victory in 1990 proved to be more than just an aberration. It began a stretch of unprecedented Gator domination — seven straight wins that kicked off a 17-of-20 run that was punctuated with a pair of wins the past two seasons by a combined score of 90-27.
It’s that inescapable truth that makes today’s Georgia-Florida game the most important one for the Bulldogs in the past quarter century. Granted, beating Florida this season would not constitute a high-water mark for the program. The Gators already have lost to Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State. Perhaps even more telling is that they looked shockingly ordinary in beating Miami of Ohio, South Florida and the worst Tennessee team in three decades.
The gains made by the Bulldogs in the Mark Richt era — two victories and four hard-fought losses — had been erased by two humiliating losses. But at least those were great Florida teams.
To lose again to this average Florida team — even if the Dogs are middling — would reaffirm Florida’s domination of this series. Whatever the outcome is, it won’t have any bearing on next year’s game. But it could have repercussions in recruiting and national perception. Think perception doesn’t matter? Ask Boise State and TCU. As long as college football picks its national champion and bowl matchups based on perception, then Andre Agassi’s line will apply: Image is everything.
— Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger- enquirer.com