October 31, 2013

Recollections of 1985: My First Trip to Jacksonville

So in the Fall of 1985 I was a ten year old boy who loved nothing more than his Georgia Bulldogs. At that time, I had been to exactly two Georgia games on the road - Mississippi State in 1982 (we have a bunch of family in Magnolia State) and the 1984 South Carolina game (which I've written about at my other blog). My brother and I both had already been to probably dozens of home games by then, but not that many on the road.

So it was really exciting when our Dad announced that we'd be making a family trip to Jacksonville that year. As fate would have it, my brother and I did something really dumb the week of that game - involving flushing a marker down the toilet - and on the Wednesday evening after my Dad had pulled the toilet and discovered what the problem was (of course we never mentioned that we had anything to do with it until the evidence was found), he declared that we probably WOULDN'T BE GOING TO THE GAME because of our actions. He strung us along for a day or so until he finally told us that we were still going to Jacksonville even though he was seriously disappointed that we would do something that stupid...and then lie about it.

Leaving out from Covington towards Florida always meant you took the back way through Jackson and Flovilla to get to I-75,  so we naturally stopped at Fresh Air BBQ. Always a treat! We drove for a few hours and stopped at a motel about an hour and half outside of Jax. We got up super early and got to the Gator Bowl in time to soak up the pregame atmosphere.

As people that have been can tell you, especially back then, you could literally smell the liquor and beer in the air. Even as a 10-year old boy, I knew that I loved that smell! I also knew that the Florida fan base was a lot different than ours. A mix of some serious rednecks and then...kind of these preppy, transplanted-yankee weirdo types. An odd mix, no doubt. Lots of trash was being talked back and forth. Again, I absolutely loved it.

Once we got to our seats, I marveled at the atmosphere. I had never seen anything like it at a college football game in my life. It was amazing. The 50/50 split for this game really is a beautiful thing. And as you may remember, there were many storylines going into this one. Florida, just that week, had become the #1 team in the country for the first time in its history. Also, they had this prolific, pass-happy offense led by their phenom QB, Kerwin Bell. Georgia, meanwhile, was ranked, and considered a pretty solid team, but most experts felt like Florida would win and probably win big.

Well, somebody forgot to tell our Dawgs that because they just played an incredible game. Long TD runs by Henderson and Worley led an offenisve performance that was good enough. Our defense would get sliced and diced between the 20s all day long, but they would always tighten up in the red zone and would never give up a touchdown. As I distinctly remembered a gentleman sitting behind us say - "the Junkyard Dawgs were back!" 24-3 was the final, but you wouldn't know it looking at the box score. Like I said, UF was pretty much moving it at will all day but they couldn't get in the end zone. It was beautiful. And a great first WLOCP game for a young, Bulldog fan...

My family and I would go to the next four Jacksonville games together. Later, I would attend many more either as a student or alumnus including several with my brother, but none have ever come close to matching the excitement and awe as that first one. It really was a special experience and one that I'll always cherish. 

A win on Saturday would do so much to salvage this season, but really - we don't even need to look at it like that. This is Florida. A win would give us three in a row, four of the last seven, and a .500 mark for the last decade. That would be huge. Let's get it done. Go Dawgs!

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