When Georgia coach Mark Richt heard that this year's Florida-Georgia game is being referred to by some as "The World's Largest Outdoor Pity Party," he broke out into a hearty laugh.
Although he takes exception to the validity of the phrase, he understands where it's coming from.
When Florida and Georgia meet today in their annual interstate rivalry in Jacksonville, both teams will be riddled with serious injuries and limping in off tough losses in their previous outing. Florida and Georgia entered the season ranked in the Top 10, but today will meet with both unranked for only the second time since 1980. Florida has lost eight players to season-ending injuries, and Georgia's lengthy injury list includes running back Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley.
A season that began for both with title expectations is now a season of desperation, trying to salvage what's left.
"I don't think Florida or Georgia is going to be feeling sorry," Richt said. "We're not feeling sorry for ourselves. I doubt Florida is feeling sorry for themselves. I think both teams know with a win we stay in the race for the East, so that's nothing to be feeling pitiful about."
While the rest of the nation watches games elsewhere this weekend with national title implications, this always-intense rivalry will remain so for the two teams and their fans simply because they are hated rivals with their seasons on the line.
"The reason this game means so much is because it means so little," CBS lead analyst Gary Danielson said. "Both of these teams entered the season thinking they could compete for the national championship, and the loser of this game is going to have a devastated season. That creates a whole lot of pressure in this football game."
"I think everybody is motivated a little differently, but I don't think this is a game that needs a whole lot of extra motivation," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "Our guys understand the importance, and I bet their team does as well."
In fact, hanging onto a sliver of hope concerning the SEC East is about the best thing the Bulldogs and Gators have going for themselves at this point. With Missouri's double-overtime loss to South Carolina last week, the Gators and Bulldogs remain in the East title hunt — although both need help from other teams. The winner gets to hope one more week, the loser spends the next few weeks trying to get bowl-eligible.
"Both teams are in the same boat," Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy said. "We're both 4-3. Both teams probably expected to be undefeated or have a better record coming into this game. It doesn't change. Both teams still have high hopes of finishing the season off well. It's kind of like a one-game playoff. If you lose, your season's kind of done and down in the dumps. Both teams are going to come out hungry and ready to go."
And then there's the pride factor. Florida has lost consecutive games to Georgia, including last season's loss that knocked UF out of the East race and propelled Georgia to the SEC title game. The score — Georgia 17, Florida 9 — has been hanging in various spots around the Gators' practice facility ever since. It's extremely tough on the Georgia natives on the Florida roster.
"My two years playing here, I haven't beat them yet," linebacker Michael Taylor said. "This is one of the schools that recruited me, recruited a lot of us, and we know a lot of those players. Even my mom will tell me because she lives in Atlanta, she'll tell me, 'Y'all have to beat them this year because I don't want to have to hear about it from supervisors — because all the supervisors went to Georgia. So I have even more motivation to win this game so my mom ain't got to hear about it for the next 365 days of the year."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]