The subject is on lockdown this week among Florida and Georgia players, but that doesn't mean everyone else can't talk about it. Georgia's impromptu, mass, team celebration in the end zone after its first touchdown during a victory over Florida last season is one of those story lines that will live in the annals of this long-heated rivalry. In other words, it just won't die. It has carried through the offseason, motivating Gator players when they wanted to quit an extra hard workout. It led to an impassioned speech/explanation by Georgia coach Mark Richt at July's SEC Media Days; he again apologized, said no harm was meant. And then basically said everybody should get over it. Which is why he won't talk about it this week. As the No. 5 Gators and the No. 8 Bulldogs prepare to meet at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Saturday afternoon for the 76th time in Jacksonville (86th overall), talk of the celebration — and its implications in this year's game — have been renewed. So we join the conversation.
On its opening possession, Florida RB Kestahn Moore fumbled on the Georgia 44-yard line and Georgia's Asher Allen returned it to the Florida 39. Nine plays later, RB Knowshon Moreno leaped over a group of Florida defenders, just getting the ball over the line for a touchdown with six minutes remaining in the first quarter. Seconds later, the entire Georgia team descended upon the end zone in a mass celebration, while a stunned Urban Meyer and staff scrambled to get Gator players back to the sideline.
Why it mattered to Georgia
• Momentum, momentum: Urban Meyer said it this week: When you're dealing with the emotions of 18- to 22-year-olds, momentum is everything. Georgia entered that game having lost 15 of the past 17 to the Gators. Georgia coach Mark Richt acknowledged it was possible that all the talk, not necessarily the streak itself, but the constant mention of it among fans and the media, might be affecting his players' psyche. He needed a way to shake things up. Mission accomplished.
• Because they won. The celebration fired the Bulldogs up and they rode that emotion until the clock ran out. So from Georgia's perspective, the backlash it caused (a 15-yard penalty, and the SEC commissioner was not happy, among others) was well worth it.
Why it irritated the Gators
• Florida felt disrespected. In a rivalry that's filled with years of bitter wins and losses for both sides, the Gators felt dissed because Georgia showed them up. C'mon, a big OL like Trinton Sturdivant shaking his groove thing in the end zone while you get dragged back to your sideline? Not good. And it's not like it was a Raycom region game. Noooo, a national TV audience saw it. And then there were the ESPN replays. And the YouTube video. And … well, you get the idea. It was embarrassing for sure. Unless you're a Gator, in which case you felt the Bulldogs were the ones who embarrassed themselves.
• Because they lost. Let's be honest, if Florida had won, the Gators wouldn't be nearly as bothered by the whole incident. In fact, they probably would have made fun of the Dogs for acting the fool, then losing the game. But losing changes everything.
What Florida's saying
"That wasn't right. It was a bad deal. It will forever be in the mind of Urban Meyer and in the mind of our football team. We'll handle it and it's going to be a big deal." — Meyer in the biography Urban's Way.
"It's old news." — Meyer as the Gators enter this week's game.
"We've had a picture of them all dancing in our locker room. … There's been a lot of stuff like that." — QB Tim Tebow on using the loss as motivation during offseason workouts.
"Oh, no, that's not been our style. When teams do that, they expect not to score. We plan on putting points on the board so we don't need that. … We don't celebrate here. We go hug a big man and thank the people who got us in the end zone." — Junior WR Percy Harvin on whether the Gators would ever run out onto the field and celebrate.
"No comment." — DB Joe Haden and LB Brandon Spikes.
What Georgia's saying:
"Guys saw other guys running out so everybody else ran out. I saw everybody else do it, so I did it. I didn't want to be the last one when the cameras looked on the bench and I was the only one sitting there. It fired us up big time. I think we had like six personal fouls that game. That was the most we had all year. Guys were just Gator chomping and everything. I felt we had our swagger back after that." — DT Jeff Owens (Owens had season-ending knee surgery after the Georgia Southern game. His comments are from SEC Media Days.)
"I think that's really, really old news and I'm not going to make a comment on it." Richt on why he won't talk about it this week.
"I just don't need them commenting on it, they don't need to comment on it. I just told them to have ya'll ask me." — Richt on why he put a gag order on his players this week concerning the issue.