Truth In Love, Except on Game Day

Like most parents, I’ve spent countless hours teaching my five children how to love and treat people with kindness. I have usually directed them to the truth of Ephesians 4:29, which says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” It’s never easy to maintain such a high standard, but doing so during football season, especially right here – smack dab in the middle of SEC country – is like the obedience test of all tests. In fact, I have sometimes found myself asking why the apostle Paul couldn’t have gone on to say, “except on the last Saturday in October when Georgia plays Florida. Then you may trash-talk the Gators. In love.”  As you might imagine, it isn’t easy for a Georgia fan to live in the state of Alabama. I’m surrounded by Tide and Tiger fans, though thankfully they’re so tied up with hating on one another that they don’t really have the time or energy to hate on us Bulldogs too often. I’ve tried to explain to my kids (who I’m successfully raising to be Georgia fans, I might add) that though it may not be quite as intense as the Iron Bowl, the contest between UGA and Florida brings a history of hatred that can go toe-to-toe with any other rivalry in college football. Since we don’t live in the state of Georgia or even around too many Gator fans, it’s been a little difficult to explain to them why we should hate on Florida, and why it’s okay…at least around the house…to allow a little unwholesome Gator talk out of our mouths. I’ve tried narrowing it down to these five reasons, and I trust that as the kids get older and more seasoned they’ll end up with a few more justifications of their own:

Steve Spurrier. Do I really need to say more? I have vivid childhood memories of my dad yelling, “I CAN’T STAND THAT COCKY SOB!” So maybe part of my disdain for Spurrier is genetic. But cocky he was, and I guess rightly so. He led the Gators to six SEC Championship titles and one National Championship title, making him the winningest coach in Florida history, and he did all that in a span of time that coincides perfectly with my childhood years. He often trash talked other teams and coaches himself. Many of us UGA fans remember him referring to Coach Ray Goff as Ray Goof, and how he said that it was fun to play us because we always had some suspended players. Few could forget Spurrier laughing and saying post-game, “Nobody’s ever scored 50 points against Georgia at home, and I just wanted to see what it felt like to be the first.” To my children, I simply say, “Their once obnoxious coach hated us, so we hated him back.” It seems to resonate.

 Gator fans. Obviously this is where I need to add the disclaimer that not ALL Florida fans are obnoxious. I happen to know a few who I really like. But go to one Georgia-Florida game and you’ll quickly see just how next level Gator fans are. It’s as if they’ve taken a class on how to offend UGA fans, and it’s made worse by their refusal to quit wearing jorts and sporting mullets. Our delicate UGA senses are simply overwhelmed by the indecency. Even outside of games, I get snarky comments from Gator fans if I’m seen wearing Bulldog attire. Over time I’ve learned not to wear too much red and black if I’m vacationing in Florida. Not even the magic of Disney will prevent some Florida fans from spewing a “Go Gators,” or even worse, performing a Gator chomp in your safe space as you stand in line to ride Space Mountain. Don’t ask me how I know that. Which leads me to my next reason…

 The Gator Chomp. In my opinion it ranks just as high as hearing the Vols sing Rocky Top 500 times per quarter, or even hearing the FSU Tomahawk chant every 30 seconds. The Chomp is the Gator fans’ version of clapping, and they do it incessantly and often directly in your face. It’s just annoying. The only thing I can think of that’s worse is a hearing a cowbell for 4 straight quarters – but that’s a different subject.

 Orange. It’s ugly. Thanks to Auburn and Tennessee, my children have already pieced together that orange = bad. So Florida being another orange team has made it easy for them to understand why the Gators are a big rival. As we Dawg fans like to say, “Friends don’t let friends wear orange.” And finally…

 Because that’s just what Georgia Bulldogs do. We hate on Florida. There really is no bigger or better reason apart from that. When you’re born into the Dawg family, you are raised to loathe the Gators and you don’t stray from it. Even when Tim Tebow – the most amazing, precious, angel-from-heaven college football player ever – tempts you to actually cheer for him and his team, you don’t. Because Georgia Bulldogs, under no circumstances, ever pull for the Florida Gators. Ever. That, friends, is the gospel according to the Dawg Nation. 

  In just a couple of short weeks, Georgia and Florida will meet once again for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. No one from my household will be there, but the spirit of that rivalry will be alive and well here in my corner of Birmingham, Alabama. The game is so intense that it’s like a season in itself, and it’s always difficult to predict who will win. But one prediction I can confidently make is this: Bulldog and Gator fans alike will shell out their best insults and trash talk, fueled by disdain for one another and a deep love for the game itself. And isn’t that passion the thing that makes SEC football so fun to watch and experience as a whole? Normally, mixing red, black, blue and orange together doesn’t produce anything very pretty. But on the last Saturday in October, it’s a sight to behold. In our complicated world, there are plenty of things more important than football. But it’s hard to overstate the thrill of hundreds of thousands of fans coming together every week to cheer on their favorite teams and rage against their rivals. Maybe it’s my southern heritage, but I can hardly think of anything more fun than that. It’s a total blast! So no, I don’t mind teaching my kids to hate on Florida. Ideally year round, but at least on that last day of October. And I’m still searching for that extra verse in Ephesians. It’s surely in there somewhere, right? Gotta be.
Go Dawgs!