Georgia Football: Haunted by ghosts of Jacksonville past

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 02: (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 02: (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Every year around this time, the ghosts come out, you know the Georgia football fans who complain about the Georgia/Florida game being in Jacksonville.

There are always a few fans and at least one or two reporters who drag out their skeleton arguments of missed recruiting, dusting them off and putting them on full display as if they’re something to be proud of and worth listening to.

As if the Georgia, Florida game being played in Jacksonville is their worst nightmare and should be ours too.

Haunted by the horrible recruiting classes Georgia has brought in because of this Jacksonville game, they should be haunted by memories of losing in the Swamp in 1994 and hearing Steve Spurrier cackle about “hanging half a hundred” on the Dawgs in Sanford.

But I can see right through the bare bones of their argument. Literally, for whatever reason, hatred or fear, they’re scared of playing in Jax and want the rest of us to be scared too.

“Just imagine,” they whisper, “having to face half a stadium of obnoxious Gator fans if we lose.” Well, if that makes your skin crawl, you should try losing in the Swamp, where the whole stadium is full of Gators, ready to gloat and chomp in your face every minute of the lonely, eerie walk back to your car.

“But the missed recruits,” they say as they point to the shadows behind them. Sorry, but I can’t even see that little shadowy corner from the light of all these five stars on the roster. Blinded by the truth, they reach for their final and weakest scare tactic— distance.

And then the same people who say it’s not about where you play but how you play begin to scream about how Jacksonville is a home game for Florida because wait for it — it’s in Florida.

As odd as it sounds, I never thought of a 50/50 split as a home game, especially when both teams travel an hour and a half to reach the game, one by bus and the other by plane.

Jacksonville was chosen as the location for the game because of its proximity to the border. That’s why one of the nicknames given to the annual rivalry is the Battle for the Border.

While red clay makes up most of Georgia and most of Florida is covered in swamps, there’s a little area between the two where the difference is imperceptible, except for the state line dividing the two.

Palm trees, coastal breezes, live oaks, and southern charm blend together in a beautiful way, creating something wholly unique to the Golden Isles and Jacksonville. Unfortunately, fear cannot be reasoned with, but neither can the heart.

And for those of us in the in between, Florida fans in South Georgia and Georgia fans in North Florida, this game means everything. This is the game of our childhood. The game we looked forward to and talked about all season, hoping for bragging rights for the next year. And we still do.

It’s the one time a year that our team gets to be in our hometown. We don’t have to travel to Gainesville or Athens to experience the magic of an SEC rivalry game because its storied history is right in our backyard.

And in a landscape that is ever changing, always drawn by the lure of money, I hope we hold on to a little bit of sentiment and wonder, never losing sight of the beauty of tradition and a rivalry game on the banks of the St. John’s River.

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Like fear, hearts cannot be reasoned with, and no matter the outcome of the game, my heart will always love the Dawgs, Jax, and that annual party beside the river.