The World’s Largest (Socially Distanced) Outdoor Cocktail Party. By Gareth Evans

The World’s Largest (Socially Distanced) Outdoor Cocktail Party. By Gareth Evans
Reading Time: 4 minutes.

Florida and Georgia have an intense rivalrly – known as the World’s largest outdoor cocktail party.

The rivalry between Florida and Georgia took is so contentious they can’t even decide when it began. Their latest meeting took place last night in a battle for the SEC East. And the right to face (likely) Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

The History

A 1904 game between the University of Georgia and a school known as Florida Agricultural College and a historical predecessor to the University of Florida is cited by Georgia as the first meeting. They won 52-0. Florida cite that as their university wasn’t officially established until 1905, that the first meeting took place in 1915.Apart from a wartime break on 1943, the two teams have met every year since 1926.

Jacksonville has hosted the game since 1933. A neutral site for college football games was more lucrative. The Cotton Bowl has hosted Texas-Oklahoma for years. Jacksonville’s easy access by road and rail and it’s situation as the largest city between Athens and Gainesville made it the natural neutral venue. Thousands of Gators and Dawgs fans would descend on Jacksonville on game weekend. Turning it into a party town and earning it the nickname “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”.

Two back-to-back years in the 1980s of drink-fuelled fans tearing down the goalposts in victory led to both schools and the city dropping the nickname. As with Alabama-Georgia, this game was becoming a modern classic without a trophy. This changed in 2009 when the two universities’ student bodies created the Okefenokee Oar. This 10-foot trophy is symbolic as it was carved from the remains of a cypress tree that grew in the Okefenokee Swamp which straddles the border between the two states.

The Rivalry

As with most rivalries, periods of dominance swayed, with both teams reaching winning streaks of seven games. Bob Woodruff and Ray Graves’ teams swing meant Florida dominated the late Fifties and early Sixties. Before Georgia’s hiring of Vince Dooley turned the games in their favour.

Steve Spurrier, Florida’s Heisman-winning quarterback in 1966, became coach of his alma mater in 1990. And led a period of dominance. Continued by Urban Meyer through the Nineties and mid-2000s.

The 1992 split of the SEC into West and East divisions put Florida and Georgia in the latter. This only intensified the rivalry as only the winner got to play for the SEC title.

Uniquely, Florida-Georgia has its own Hall of Fame, established in 1995. Inducting two new members from each school every year. This unique tradition is a perfect way to commemorate key figures from this rivalry. Including Herschel Walker, Lindsay Scott and Vince Dooley for the Dawgs. Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow for the Gators.

This Year’s Game – No.8 Florida 44-28 No.5 Georgia

(Image credit AP/John Raoux)

18,000 fans in TIAA Bank Stadium attended a socially distanced version of The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Georgia, with the best defense in the SEC were facing a high-octane Florida offense. But came to Jacksonville confident on the back of three straight wins over the Gators.

The Bulldogs started fast. Zamir White, on the back of a career-best performance last week, ran for a 75-yard touchdown on the very first play. Three minutes later, Stetson Bennett found freshman receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint for a touchdown to put Georgia two scores up. The rookie suffered a horrific season-ending ankle injury in the process and did well to hang on.

Georgia’s defense lost three key individuals after their previous win over Kentucky.  Defensive linemen Julian Rochester (knee) and Jordan Davis were joined by lynchpin Richard LeCounte. Whose motorcycle accident rules him out for 4-5 weeks. LeCounte had a career high 13 tackles last week against the Wildcats. His absence proved critical as without their play caller, the much-vaunted Georgia defense struggled. They looked out of sorts at times and their misalignment cost them on critical plays in the first half. Where the Gators had been trailing 14-0, they went into the break 38-21 up.

It didn’t help that they were facing a Florida offense finding its form at the right time. Gators quarterback Kyle Trask has broken the SEC record with 18 touchdowns in his first four games. Overtaking legendary Florida alumni Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel. He added four more last night, all in the first half. Finishing the game with 474 yards and a performance that must put him in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy.

With eight minutes left in the first quarter, a Trask pass to Justin Shorter put Florida on the board. And they were level by the end of the first quarter.

Florida took Control

Eric Stokes intercepted Trask for a touchdown and his second pick-six of the year to put Georgia back in front early in the second quarter. But it was effectively one way traffic after that. Stetson Bennett struggled to shrug off a hit on the shoulder. He was benched early in the third with having made some poor throws which could have led to points. Bennett completed just 5 of 16 passes for 78 yards.

His counterpart Trask, by contrast, threw for 341 yards in the first half alone. He has a wealth of options to throw to. Kadarius Toney is emerging as a promising receiver. While Florida’s backs also give their quarterback options, catching passes for 212 yards last night. Malik Davis was the pick, catching five passes for 100 yards. Kyle Pitts, at 6’6” is arguably the best tight end in college football. Described by ESPN commentators as a “matchup nightmare”. 

A 25 yard touchdown reception by Pitts tied the game at 21-21 and the Gators never looked back. The Florida tight end’s night ended a few plays later as Lewis Cine smashed a late shoulder into him, and was summarily ejected for targeting.

Two field goals and a Shawn Davis interception for the Gators sealed the second half. Florida wrestled away the SEC East lead and are looking at a clear route to Atlanta. Where awaits a possible showdown with Alabama for the SEC Championship.

This article was contributed by Gareth Evans who continues to enjoy sharing his passion for college football with us all.

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