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'Dog days are pleasant for Gators

Published Sep. 2, 2005

The new governor of the property formerly known as Georgia raced across the field, the emotions flooding onto his face.

Ron Zook was in the open field, running like a receiver through the secondary, the disappointments and the criticisms left far behind. He ran toward the sideline, toward a section of stands filled with Florida fans. He leapt onto his players bench, and his right hand shot into the air in triumph and, wonder of wonder, the fans cheered.

Take the snapshot. Put it in a frame.

Georgia fans, meet your Daddy.

They own the state now, lock, stock and peanut farms. After six straight victories, after 13 wins in 14 years, the Gators have become the deedholders of Georgia.

So go ahead. Ring the familiar chapel bell on the Georgia campus to the tune of The Boys of Florida. Trim the infernal hedges into the shape of an alligator. Change the name of Highway 361 as it leads into Athens to Alligator Alley. Carve Zook's face into nearby Stone Mountain.

Once again, the Gators turned Georgia into conquered territory Saturday night. Once more, the Bulldogs grabbed the silver medal and held on tight, losing a 16-13 decision.

This time, the Bulldogs had every advantage, and it didn't matter. Georgia was ranked fourth, and it didn't matter. The Bulldogs had the best defense in America, and it didn't matter. Georgia was quarterbacked by senior David Greene, and Florida had a freshman named Chris Leak, and it didn't matter.

Let's face it. It never matters. There are precious few things in life you can count on: Death, taxes and Florida beating Georgia are among them. There is something about the sight of the Gators, it seems, that leaves Uga whimpering like the Taco Bell Chihuahua and turns the Bulldogs into Florida's manservants.

Florida is Batman; Georgia is Alfred the Butler. Florida is Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy; Georgia is Morgan Freeman. Florida is Dudley Moore in Arthur; Georgia is John Gielgud. Get the picture?

If you are a Georgia fan, how familiar must this frustration feel? Since when does 390 yards and the No. 1 defense in the country not add up to victory? How do you rush for 240 yards and find the end zone only once? Weren't days like this supposed to be over when Ray Goff was chased out of town?

For crying out loud, against Florida, Mark Richt is Goff. Goff always came in with over-inflated recruited classes. Richt, for two seasons, has come in with over-inflated national rankings. It added up to the same thing: A desperate plea to see if, somehow, some way, Lindsay Scott has any eligibility remaining.

"It's another 365 days of heck," Richt said.

Of heck? Did Wally Butts ever refer to a year of heck? Did Vince Dooley? Such language, coach. Gee, willikers.

On the other hand, there is heck, and then there is heaven. Which brings us back to Zook on the bench, his fist in the air, the flush of the victory on his face. It was the third time in three games that Zook's team has beaten a ranked team. That 3-6 record that was staring the Gators in the face has been turned around. For the time being, at least, the critics will stop chewing at Zook's heels.

"That's the most emotional I've ever seen him," guard Shannon Snell said. "I've seen him angry, and I've seen him happy. But I've never seen him that emotional. This meant something to him."

Oh, don't forget what could have happened. If the Gators had lost in the fourth quarter, critics would be having Zook for brunch today over the conservative way the Gators played before their second field goal, running three straight times up the middle. Evidently, Chris Leak missed a couple of signals, but that wouldn't have slowed anyone down. The barbs would have flown, and Zook would have returned to being snippy and thin-skinned, and the trouble would have resumed.

Perhaps that is what led Zook to climb the bench to begin with. Perhaps Zook had full realization of what his team won, and what it avoided, and how narrow the difference.

"I'm aware of what the expectations are," Zook said. "Our team is aware of what they are. I just wanted to thank the fans."

This time, the Gators were able to remain calm in the final moments. This time, Leak guided his team downfield for the winning field goal as if he had played in this game for a decade. Never mind that he was play high school ball this time last year.

Leak's youth is another reason for the Bulldogs' fans to feel shivers down their spines. If Georgia wasn't going to win this year, when in the world was it going to get around to it?

"Let's see," Snell said, grinning. "How about 2010?"

Until then, Georgia belongs to the Gators. From Brasstown Bald to the Okefenokee, from Callaway Gardens to St. Simons, from the CNN Center to all 4,000 streets named Peachtree. There is officially a seventh flag over Georgia.

What do you know?

It has a Gator on it.