Florida Football: Why the Gators Will Break the 20-Year Jacksonville Curse

Neil ShulmanCorrespondent IOctober 25, 2012

Earlier this week, I went into the Xs and Os of the Florida running game vs. the Georgia defense, which I believe is the key to the game.

However, games are not won on paper, nor are they won on sheer talent or even superior coaching.

No, there are all kinds of non-football factors that play into any game of football. Some include weather, players being nervous or injured and even curses.

And the Gators are fighting a pretty big one in Jacksonville.

The numbers don't lie: While Florida has beaten Georgia 18 of the past 22 years, Georgia went 15-4 against Florida right before that run, Florida had a 13-5 run before that, and Georgia had a 17-3 streak before that.

So looking at those numbers, the easy assumption would be that Florida has just completed its two decade reign of dominance, and the 18-3 romp from 1990 to 2010 is over, and Georgia has begun one of their own with a win last year.

Often, people will tell you that in rivalry games, the records and how good each team is never matters, and that either team—no matter how much the other team is favored—can always win.

That's partially true here. The main difference is that whichever team is on their two-decade reign of supremacy in this series will just about always win—no matter how much the other team is favored.

Take the 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2010 games. Georgia was favored to win each of those four games. If Georgia had won those four games, the score since 1990 would be a somewhat dominant Florida stretch (14-8) instead of a ridiculous 22-year comedy show.

During the last 22 years, Georgia has lost the game known unofficially as the Cocktail Party in every fashion imaginable.

Steve Spurrier never seemed to like Georgia, for some reason. Maybe it had something to do with his 1966 loss to Georgia. But whatever it was, he never hesitated to pour it on the Bulldogs and then blast them in the postgame press conference.

Some scores included 52-14, 47-7, 38-7 (on two different occasions), 45-13, and of course, the famous "Half a Hundred Between the Hedges Game," where Florida was up 45-17 late and Spurrier opted to throw a flea flicker in the closing moments just to put 50 on Georgia. That was the first time any team had ever done that in Georgia's home stadium (the game was moved to each team's home stadium for one year apiece due to the renovations being done to Jacksonville's Gator Bowl).

But sprinkled in along with those blowouts were two extremely tough losses for Georgia to take—a furious comeback rally fell short in 1992, and a wacky sequence of events ultimately broke the Bulldogs' hearts the very next year.

UGA QB Eric Zeier threw an apparent game-tying TD pass as time expired, only to find out that Florida's Anthone Lott had called timeout right before the ball was snapped. So Georgia had to try it again, and Zeier's pass fell incomplete. But Lott was called for pass interference on the play, so Georgia got another chance. This time, Zeier's pass was incomplete and there was no flag, so Florida held on.

After the 2001 season, Spurrier left, Ron Zook came in and the Gators kept winning, only now, instead of blowing Georgia out of the water, the Bulldogs lost in two of the most aggravating ways possible—a wide open Terrence Edwards (the all-time SEC leader in receiving yardage) dropped an easy ball from David Greene that would have kept the game alive, and the following year, Matt Leach nailed the game-winning field goal for Florida. In each case, Georgia was the heavy favorite, and in 2002, it cost Georgia the BCS Championship.

Enter Urban Meyer and a pair of equally devastating losses for Georgia in 2005 and 2006. The former game was lost due in large part to Georgia's starting QB (DJ Shockley) being injured for that game and his replacement (Joe Tereshinski) going 8-of-21 for exactly 100 yards. The latter game was lost after the Bulldogs came back from 21-0 down to 21-14 midway through the third quarter but could never get that final tying touchdown.

After a rare Georgia win in 2007, the Gators apparently decided they didn't like Georgia's end-zone dance-off and reverted to their 1990s form—by pounding the Bulldogs the next two years, 49-10 and 41-17.

The 2008 game, the 49-10 one, handed Mark Richt what still stands to this day as the worst loss he has ever taken as a head coach. But that wasn't the worst of it—Urban Meyer called timeout twice in the last minute to make the Dawgs just sit there and take it for a few minutes more.

Of all the heartbreaking losses to Florida that Georgia took since 1990, none were worse than the 2010 game.

I'm a Gators fan, and I'll say it—Georgia was better than Florida in 2010. Aaron Murray absolutely lit the Gators up that day, yet he also turned the ball over four times. Florida's offense was absolutely dreadful that whole year, but they hung 450 yards of offense on Georgia. And most importantly, Chas Henry was absolutely awful as a placekicker, yet he nailed the winning field goal in overtime to beat Georgia.

I'll defend Chas Henry to my death as an amazing punter for four years for Florida. He just took a beating for doing poorly at a job he wasn't supposed to do, which took away from how great he was at the job he was supposed to do. I will always fondly remember him—but as a punter, NOT as a placekicker, because he was just flat-out a bad kicker.

The point is, Henry wasn't supposed to make that field goal. DJ Shockley wasn't supposed to be injured for one game of the season. Anthone Lott wasn't supposed to call timeout literally nanoseconds before Zeier threw the game-tying touchdown. Terrence Edwards wasn't supposed to drop a huge pass that would have set up a tying touchdown. 

But they all did.

These are some very strange things that you just never see in football. They all happened to Georgia, they all happened against Florida, and they all cost Georgia the game. Since 1990, Georgia was simply cursed against the Gators.

Of course, this has worked to Georgia's advantage as well. 

In 1975, Florida was just moments away from beating Georgia. With 3:10 left and the ball on his own 20, Vince Dooley—who called fewer trick plays than Nick Saban—ordered one right then and there. And of course, since this was Georgia's turn, it worked. The 80-yard reverse pass ultimately doomed the Gators in a 10-7 loss.

The 1976 Cocktail Party featured perhaps the dumbest play call in the history of football—yes, dumber than anything Steve Addazio had ever called. So dumb was this call that it's still referred to as exactly that—dumb.

The Gators held a comfortable 27-13 halftime lead—and then totally collapsed in every facet of the game, allowing Georgia to rack up 28 unanswered points for a 41-27 win. Perhaps the bleeding could have been stopped after Georgia's first comeback touchdown...if only Gators coach Doug Dickey had elected to punt on fourth down on his own 29-yard line after a three-and-out. He didn't, the Gators didn't get it, and Georgia rolled on.

The game four years later was even worse. The Gators were on their way to a monumental win over Georgia in 1980, when a certain play caused heart attacks among Gator Nation. I won't say anything else about it out of respect to every Gators fan reading this. I will say that the play's result—a Georgia game-winning TD—epitomized the notion that no matter how well they played, Florida just couldn't beat Georgia during that awful stretch.

As bad as 1980's game was, though, I personally believe the 1985 game was the worst of all. It wasn't a close loss in the final seconds, nor was it a complete obliteration. The score lay in between those two categories (24-3), but it was what it cost Florida that made it so hard to take.

It proved to be Florida's only loss of the whole season, and while the Gators were ineligible to win a championship anyway, it spoiled what would have been Florida's second perfect season ever. Florida finished that season 9-1, while Georgia finished 7-3.

Nothing that I mentioned that happened should have happened, but they all did. Some of the most inexplicable things happen in Jacksonville, and as I have stated many times, have benefited both teams (it just depends which team's turn it is).

One thing, however, has remained constant. The period of dominance for either team is usually circa 20 years. Sometimes it's for 19, sometimes it's for 21, but it's always around 20.

It's up to the current Gators team to break the 20-year spell history suggests is going to fall on them before it ever happens.

I believe it will happen, too.

I noticed something really strange in last year's Cocktail Party. Usually, it's the team that is being cursed making the huge mistakes that cost them. But time said that last year should have started the Dawgs' 20 year run—yet it was Georgia making the stupid mistakes.

Sure, you could say that Florida exhibited some of the symptoms of the Jacksonville Curse, but they were supposed to, because they were so bad all year long that what else was a rational person to expect? 

Georgia, on the other hand, was in prime position to win the SEC East after starting out 0-2. They had played so, so well from the second week of the season up until that point—and then they played like it was the 1990s.

You name it, Georgia did it. A free safety (Bacarri Rambo) running himself 20 yards out of position to not only allow the Gators to convert a 4th-and-19, but to get a touchdown out of it? Check.

A clearly hobbled running back (Jeff Demps) sprinting past everybody for a 100-yard kick-return TD—after being tracked down from behind on an earlier run? Check.

Georgia's normally unflappable and future NFL QB (Murray) missing nine straight pass attempts? Check.

A pass bouncing off a running back's helmet for a pick? An All-American kicker (Blair Walsh) missing field goals of 33 and 37 yards? The Ray Guy Award winner (Drew Butler) shanking a 25-yard punt? Check, check, check.

As we all know, Florida still lost the game, but this one didn't have the feeling that I suspect Gator fans got from some of those games from 1970 to 1989, or the feeling Georgia fans got from a slew of games since 1990. I was more inclined to believe that Florida lost because they were simply a terrible football team. As Will Muschamp put it, the team was soft.

It certainly wasn't because Florida beat themselves or because they were cursed, because all year long, the Gators showed just how bad they truly were. It wasn't like this was a dynamite Gators team that picked the Georgia game to play like garbage. Rather, the Georgia game was nothing more than the norm. Of course, Georgia played like a high school team in that one game, but Florida played like a middle school team all season.

I'm no fortuneteller, and have no experience dealing with curses or hexes, but this particular curse on one of these teams seems to be pretty easy to figure out.

But now there seems to be a twist. 

Ron Zook never lost more than five games in one year. Of course, neither did Spurrier, nor did Meyer. Will Muschamp lost six in his first year. Blame that on who you want, but it appears that the benchmark for the curse is a five-loss team.

What I'm saying is, the curse can only help so much. Imagine that the dominant team in this rivalry (let's say Georgia) is a high school football team, and the whipping boys (Florida) are a JV team. Now let's say that the curse is Tom Brady and Ray Lewis.

It's not so unfathomable to believe that a team of one of the best professional football players on each side of the ball, combined with 10 JV players, could beat a high school varsity team. Brady could make the defenders nervous and start overthinking things and bust a coverage for an easy TD, and Lewis could force some turnovers, thus winning the battle for their units on both sides of the ball.

But now pretend that instead of a JV team, the underdog team is a Pee Wee team. The pros might keep the game from being a blowout, but they can't rescue a team of pre-teens against a high school varsity team.

Those JV teams were the Zook-coached Gators, and the Pee Wee team was the 2011 version of the Gators. The Bulldogs have been cursed since 1990 on both sides of the ball (and special teams, for that matter), and it always cost them in turnovers and busted coverages. Last year was no exception in either category (though the quantity of these mistakes did decrease slightly), yet Georgia won. The curse can only help a team that's good enough to use it.

Don't tell me that Georgia didn't screw themselves enough in order to lose, or that Florida made some mistakes of their own. The fact that the Gators were so incredibly weak on the line of scrimmage, combined with the fact that the offense as a whole was a complete mess, added up to a 24-20 loss despite Georgia trying really hard to give it away.

This year, of course, is very different. The Gators enter this game at 7-0, not 4-3, and with the No. 2 spot in the BCS, as opposed to being unranked at this time last year. A win clinches the SEC East outright for the Gators. While Georgia comes in at 6-1 and No. 10 in the BCS, they could essentially clinch the East as well with a win.

Like last year, the Gators have faced numerous tough tests this year, but unlike last year, the Gators have won each and every one of them, and with some style. Once again, the Georgia game is another huge test, only this time, the Gators have passed those tests before the Georgia game, so a loss would truly be a sign of a curse, where last year it was expected since the Gators were such a pathetic football team.

If my observation of last year's game is correct, the Gators have already broken the 20-Year Jacksonville Curse. But I need to see it all translate to an actual Gators victory on the field before I can confidently say that. If Florida beats Georgia on Saturday, there will be no doubt about it.

There's another, smaller hex Will Muschamp is fighting—he's never won in this game. Ever. Not as a Georgia safety, and not as the Gators' coach. Four losses as a Bulldog safety and one as the Gator coach add up to an ugly 0-5 all-time record in perhaps the most heated rivalry in all of college football. You can bet he'd love to simultaneously snap both curses in one game.

Another pregame story was the promise made by Georgia fullback Alex Ogletree that the Bulldogs would rush the field following the first touchdown en masse. Maybe he's thinking that the last time Georgia did that, it snapped the Gators' streak of dominance. In a way, that's true—including that game, Florida is only 3-2 against Georgia since then.

I guess we'll find that out on Saturday, too.

So to back up the bold statement I made in this article's title with a reason, here you go: Florida has already started hacking away at the Jacksonville Curse with last year's performance, but couldn't finish destroying it, much like the way they couldn't finish anything last year. But now, a bruised and battle-tested Gators team has risen from the cellar of the SEC to try again, this time much better equipped to actually do it. Georgia's performance in last year's Cocktail Party suggested that maybe the Curse hasn't swung back to their side after all, but rather, Florida just wasn't good enough to do anything about it. 

Now they are, and if last year's game was any indication (or Georgia not playing well at all this year despite winning), Georgia will once again crumble under the weight of the Jacksonville Curse. 

The bottom line is this: Georgia has played too poorly so far and Florida has played too well so far for a Georgia win on Saturday to be considered anything other than an upset; i.e. the curse. This is Florida's game to win or lose, and here's betting that for once in this series, the team that appears better throughout the season wins (and not because the other team is being cursed, because history says it's Florida's turn to suffer), but because they're supposed to.

That, or Georgia is being cursed forever for something they did since 1990. Maybe it was Jim Donnan's Ponzi scheme?


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