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bulldog players and fans celebrate vj day..


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bulldog players and fans celebrate vj day

by steve hummer

the atlanta journal-constitution

published on: 10/27/07 jacksonville every once in awhile, georgia and florida may get into a little skirmish over water. but annually, they engage in a dispute over a resource considered far more essential to life college football.

and when georgia's bulldogs boldly upset their neighbors, when they finally rip the florida gators' scaly hold from around their neck, the celebration is a wonder to behold.

vj day, victory in jacksonville, arrived saturday in the form of a 42-30 victory over an ninth-ranked florida team that had been favored by nine points. georgia (6-2, 4-2 in the southeastern conference) became relevant again in the sec east race with the victory.

but that alone didn't explain the georgia players afterwards hurling themselves at an 8-foot-high fence to join joyous bulldog fans screeching in the end zone seats. it didn't account for the bulldogs' straight-laced head coach ordering his team to draw an excessive celebration penalty after scoring their first touchdown of the afternoon. nor university president michael adams beaming and gesturing on the field after the game like he had just landed a huge endowment.

only when weighing florida's recent domination of this series the stat of losing 15 of the past 17 to the gators was practically embedded in georgia dna can there be any real understanding of the bedlam that followed.

"this one is right up there with any victory over florida," exalted sonny seiler, the longtime keeper of georgia's bulldog mascot, uga. "we wanted it so badly and we waited so long."

"[losing to florida] has been tough on these guys, and tough on the program," said former georgia quarterback mike bobo, now the team's offensive coordinator. "having to answer all those questions: when are you going to beat florida; can you compete with florida?"

celebration for the ages

when you wear georgia colors and beat florida, there is no such thing as excessively celebrating. ask the head coach's wife. katharyn richt put a third-degree kissing on her husband behind the bulldogs bench that suggested he had just returned from a year at sea.

it was the afternoon that redshirt freshman knowshon moreno joined the pantheon of memorable georgia tailbacks with his 33 carries and 188 yards. the same afternoon that sophomore quarterback matthew stafford out-threw florida's celebrated tim tebow. beyond all that, saturday may well go down as the day that mark richt showed his kid rock side.

just two weeks ago, the georgia coach had ripped into his players for stomping on the midfield insignia at vanderbilt. the very same richt then turned around and told his team that it would face extra running if it didn't draw a celebration penalty after its first touchdown against the gators. it was stunningly out of character, a slap in the psyche to a team that was forgetting how to beat its chief rival.

the bulldogs didn't have to wait long. moreno did an inspector gadget stretch across the goal line to finish off the first possession of the game. the georgia sidelines emptied, every single player running to the end zone to rejoice in a 7-0 lead with still 55 minutes to play. never has a scene quite like it played out in all the years georgia has played this game.

"we had to change something," said richt of his ploy.

"it showed we were going to play with passion, that we were ready to compete," said center fernando velasco.

so, might the first-touchdown-riot become something of a georgia tradition? "hopefully not, or [kicker brandon] coutu is going to get pretty angry about it." by the time 30 yards in penalties was assessed, coutu kicked off from the georgia 8-yard line. he was one more personal foul from teeing it up outside with all the rvs.

the risk apparently was worth the reward. the bulldogs seized the lead, and save for a two-minute period in the second quarter, held it to the end. they played this game like they owned it.

fans kept hopes high

the bulldog fans had gathered this weekend in typical hopeful fashion. they were out in force and voice around jacksonville municipal stadium, as if the last two decades never happened.

just how were they keeping their hopes high, despite the almost constant drone of defeat?

part of the answer could be found in john short's cooler, into which for the better part of 29 years he has poured a concoction known as gator killer punch. the exact recipe is known only to the jacksonville transplant from atlanta. but the base he is happy to share: "14 ingredients, including nine liquors and a bottle of grain alcohol."

when that sort of help left off, georgia people appealed to a stronger spirit.

as part of the prayer during the pre-game bulldogs pep rally by the st. john's river, the master of ceremonies intoned: "the lord giveth and the lord taketh away. lord, it is time to giveth."

these bulldogs answered a lot of prayers saturday. beating florida had become not so much a gameplan as a mission. all that was required to complete it was a couple fiery offensive performances and a maligned defense stepping up to stuff florida's hybrid quarterback tebow. the gators' leading rusher left with minus-15 yards on the ground.

for once, the georgia fans were able to stand up and roar at the end of a game here while it was the florida side quickly emptying for the rush to the parking lot and the road home.

one task remained when the night was done. it is an unwritten not to mention slightly unsightly rule that following all georgia football victories over florida the president of the local bulldog club shall strip down to his shorts and hop into the st. john's river. it had been a dry couple of decades at the top.

"i was so happy, i didn't even notice if the water was cold," said jon mcginnis, having taken that leap saturday night. "it was nasty, i know that. but i didn't mind one bit. it was just great. we waited a long time to do that."

given the mood of the georgia following this day, his swim seemed like a baptism in pure holy water.

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