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Georgia Fans Prep for Yet Another Cocktail Party Loss

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For many cigar smoke is a reminder of a wedding consummation amongst groomsmen or some chubby man trolling around the neighborhood with a dog that’s much too small for him, but for me it’s the nosebleed section of Sanford Stadium where my dad and I once had season tickets to UGA games and sat on aluminum bleachers that got so hot in the sun that if your shorts weren’t long enough, the bottoms of your thighs would start to burn like pieces of white chicken meat tossed on top of a grill, and the man who sat in front of us in those seats had a face like Mr. Edwards from Little House on the Prairie and puffed away from the first sick ’em to the final second of every home game.

He puffed through cupcakes like the Western Carolina Catamounts and powerhouses like Clemson and Auburn, and no matter what the temperatures hit in late August and September, he kept blowing heat out of that sun baked roll of tobacco leaves that sat in his mouth like a thumb with no hand; and with every game, we breathed in the smoke like it was good for us. The year was 1991, the start of the Ray Goff era and the descent of Georgia football.

Something foreign to your body and its mechanisms can take root in you without you even knowing it. Your weakness to act today can be born a thousand yesterdays ago, and you wouldn’t even know it. In fact, it could be waiting to announce itself tomorrow, from inside you, and when it does, chances are there won’t be a damn thing you can do about it.

I grew up in the mighty Ray Goff era; I’m sure he’s a very nice man (I think I even shook his hand, once); but he sure wasn’t a good football coach. In seven years, his record was 46-34-1, with no wins against Tennessee, a 1-6 mark against Florida, and a 2-4-1 tally against Auburn. He was 5-2 versus Georgia Tech, and those numbers shaped my view of Georgia football: Florida>Georgia, Tennessee >Georgia, Auburn=Georgia, and Georgia>Georgia Tech. And to this day, about half of those conclusions still hold true (Cam Newton not withstanding). 

I was born in 1983. Vince Dooley was still the coach, but my only experience with Vince Dooley was visiting a football museum–he was a relic of some bygone era by the time I could remember anything other than shapes and colors–which means my picture of Georgia football is painted from the perspective of a football middle class: UGA doesn’t live in the trailer park with Kentucky and Vandy, but in a single family across the street from South Carolina’s townhouse, and is in a whole other neighborhood from Tennessee and Florida. And it’s this perspective that makes me enter into a conversation about Mark Richt’s on again off again relationship with the hot seat from a totally different perspective than someone who can remember a living, breathing Vince Dooley on the sideline. And I wonder if it cheapens my expectations of what Georgia football can be.

Mark Richt has been the best and longest tenured coach that I can remember (maybe even the only one who can be deemed a success). His decade at Georgia has seen him get off to a 101-36 start, he’s 7-3 in Bowl games, won two SEC titles, and three Eastern Divisions. He’s 6-4 versus Auburn, including the four games prior to being introduced to Mr. Cam Newton last year. He’s 6-4 against Tennessee, and 9-1 versus Tech. And, if you compare his first decade as coach to past Georgia coaches, you almost get the feeling that if his 2008 squad had never been preseason number one, only to get thumped by Alabama and Florida, then the temperatures after the 2009 and 2010 campaigns wouldn’t have reached such a boil. In some ways, the disappointment of the last three seasons is paradoxically tied not only to Richt’s shortcomings but to the height of his achievements as well. It also says something about the state of a fanbase when a preseason ranking feels like an accomplishment, but when you’re physically sick and there is no cure, fleeting moments of perceived happiness are all you have; and everything else is just cigar smoke.

I’m 28 years old, and the last time Georgia had a winning streak against the Gators I was in kindergarten, which means I don’t remember it. If you hand me a box of Crayolas, I’m not going to think of Rodney Hampton hitting a hole, but I will remember Ms. Nash’s high heels, blond hair, and recess at Barnett Shoals Elementary. In short, it’s been a long time since Georgia has had much to bark about against one of its biggest rivals, going 3-18 versus Florida since 1990; and that puts us right smack dab back in the Ray Goff era.

Mark Richt’s shortcomings against the Gators are nothing new, but they (along with seeing several SEC schools win national titles recently) are at the heart of what’s burning, periodically, under the britches of his job security. And while Chad Gilbert claims that Georgia has to quit letting Florida and other schools lay pipeline into their backyard recruiting wise, that pipeline was laid during a decade of mediocrity prior to Mark Richt’s tenure, when Florida leapfrogged Georgia, within the conference and nationally, so just as one President did not pile up all of America’s debt, neither did one football coach lose ground to all of Georgia’s SEC rivals.

There was a time when Georgia football was a dominant, vibrant force, that the pendulum swung north across the Okefenokee Swamp. I don’t remember it, but Wikipedia and old men tell me it’s true, as does the fact that despite dropping eighteen of the last twenty-one meetings, Georgia still holds a 47-40-2 record against the Gators. And it’s the fact that three of those victories have occurred in the last two decades that makes Bulldawg fans so depressed, so agitated, and so at odds with reality.

If a doctor tells you you’re sick, especially if the diagnosis is fatal, then what other responses can a human being have other than shock and denial?

Georgia and Florida will play again this Saturday. The Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will take place as scheduled. Trash will be talked. Players and mothers insulted, and someone will probably bring up a goal line stomping, which was the last time Georgia won this thing, but what gets lost in the commotion of all those drinks and the images of Georgia players celebrating a touchdown is that by the time they were done the ground was already moving underneath them, away from them, pushing all those players and all of their fans closer and closer to a hospital bed while Tim Tebow became the patron-saint of college football’s 21st century. The players may play the game, but second hand smoke is a fan killer.

I would say go Dawgs, but I’ve grown to dread this Saturday like it was a funeral I’m forced to attend every year; so in accordance with the season, I’ll pray that Georgia’s season doesn’t turn brown and wind up in someone else’s victory cigar. Amen.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.