Well, what can I say about this past weekend except I shouldn't have watched "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" Friday night -- everything I needed to know about what was going to go down the following afternoon was right in there.
Except when you get right down to it, the above scene, iconic though it may be, is insufficient -- and entirely too simplistic -- to accurately portray Georgia's misery in this rivalry, particularly when there's a far more apt metaphor in the very same TV special. I mean, yeah, Charlie Brown gets the ball whipped away from him at the last second every single time, which is embarrassing enough, but you'll notice nobody is ever around to watch it; the humiliation is at least a dark secret shared only between him and Lucy. To declare that "Lucy = Florida" also doesn't work -- while Lucy and the Gators are both bitches who wear blue and aren't nearly as hot as they fancy themselves, that statement implies that Georgia's chances for success are entirely in Florida's hands, which, no matter what Bulldog Nation may be thinking in its most desperate moments, isn't true either.
No, the better metaphor is "Great Pumpkin = equal footing in the Georgia-Florida rivalry." More obscure, I know, and definitely more abstract, but sometimes to make sense of cosmic absurdity like this you gotta be willing to try and wrap your brain around something challenging. Every year, we think it's coming; every year we think that if we just believe enough, it will reveal itself to us and, out of moral obligation, reward us for our seemingly unending persecution in its name. OK, I just totally fucking freaked myself out by sussing out that the Great Pumpkin is a metaphor for the Second Coming -- seriously, Charles Schultz, way to blow a brother's mind on what is otherwise a day of perfectly festive debauchery -- but all that being said, we believe, it doesn't show, and we get publicly humiliated for our faith all over again.
I believed. Oh, boy howdy, did I believe. I believed even after Aaron Murray got picked off on the game's very first play from scrimmage, believed even when Florida's previously moribund offense started gathering steam, believed even when we went into halftime down 21-7. Because look! We roared back after halftime and went on a 17-3 run to tie things up, and then, when Florida scored a relatively rapid-fire TD that put them back on top, we went right back down the field to tie it up again and, just for good measure, held on Florida's final drive of regulation and successfully forced overtime. All the trappings of that rare amazing Georgia victory were there: More than 30 points against a very good Gator defense? Check. Great QB play? After a miserable first half, Aaron Murray settled down in the second, going 13-of-21 for 198 yards, two TDs and no turnovers, looking once again like the stunningly poised player we'd seen over the first eight games. Confident squad? By the time Georgia tied it up with four and a half minutes left in regulation, our guys were jumping all over the place. The defense couldn't wait to get out on the field and make a stop; the offense looked hungry to get out there and take a stab at getting the winning score.
But obviously we didn't. Yeah, some of it comes down to inferior play -- the turnoverpalooza in the first half, f'rinstance, without which we might have been up by two scores and simply handing the ball off to Caleb King and Washaun Ealey to see how much clock, and how much of Urban Meyer's soul, they could grind down. Some of it also comes down to inexplicable coaching -- we were lucky enough that the Mikey Henderson "One and Done" play worked the first time three years ago, so did we really think we were gonna outsmart Florida's secondary with it a second time, particularly with a QB who I'm not sure has hit a fade to the end zone all season?
Some of it, though, I'm struggling to justify with any word other than "luck." Take these four situations:
Two times the ball began the play in Florida's hands, two times it started off in Georgia's; all four times Georgia gets a hand on it at some point; but all four times it belongs to Florida by the time the whistle is blown. Yeah, yeah, I know: Inferior play had a hand in some of this, too, even the blown opportunities with the fumbles -- if we just fucking fall on that first one rather than trying to pick it up and run with it, for example, we start inside the Florida red zone with three near-automatic points and a pretty good chance at seven, and we deny Florida the long TD drive that swing momentum in their favor for pretty much the rest of the first half.
- Trey Burton fumbles at the Florida 14 and Georgia picks it up.
- Aaron Murray fires a pass over the middle to 6'4" TE Aron White, and it's a little high but White gets a hand on it.
- John Brantley gets sacked by Darryl Gamble at the Georgia 35 and fumbles, and a Georgia player gets a hand on it.
- Aaron Murray throws another one over the middle to A.J. Green, the best receiver in college football, and A.J. gets a hand on it.
Still: Four times we get a hand on the ball and we don't get any of them? Not one? If we can have a game like that less than a year removed from going -16 in turnover margin, fuck a regression to the mean. It wasn't just the turnovers, either. Late fourth quarter, game tied at 31, Florida's gotten another good KO return from Chris Rainey -- and oh, God, don't get me started on his sociopathic ass being suited up and in the game to begin with -- and they've got 2nd-and-9 just a couple yards shy of midfield. Darryl Gamble crushes Brantley eight yards behind the line, resulting in 3rd-and-17 from the 40 (on a day when we're actually covering third downs pretty well, wonder of wonders), which gives us a chance to force a punt and set ourselves up with not-horrible field position and a couple minutes and two time-outs with which to get Blair Walsh in place for the game-winning field goal. Awesome, right? Right?
Nope -- a false start by Florida, their fifth false start of the day, negates the sack. They get the first down, drive into Georgia territory, pin the Dawgs at their own 6 and it's off to overtime we go. Even when they fuck up, it turns out better for them.
I realize I'm leaving myself getting open to getting flayed here -- by fans both Florida-identified and non -- with charges of whining. Hey, you're taunting a dude who's lost the ability to feel, so you're the one who's arguably wasting more energy here. And yes, again, I realize that no small amount of what I've described above goes back to Georgia's players not having the focus or fortitude to make the optimal play in a given situation, whatever that happens to be. And not long after I got home from Atlanta this evening, as I gathered my thoughts and tried to figure out what exactly I wanted to say in this space, I'll admit I briefly entertained the thought that the loud, heavily publicized, tension-fraught atmosphere of Jacksonville might have something to do with that lack of focus, which of course led to me wondering if maybe we should move the Cocktail Party out of there after all. (I mean, we've already officially ripped the words "Cocktail" and "Party" out of it to begin with; after that, any talk of tradition, on the parts of the respective university presidents at least, is pretty ridiculous.)
But no, I'm not gonna go there. Even if you think the series would be more fun for the students as a home-and-home; even if you can make a case, in spite of Georgia's still-pretty-good road record under Mark Richt, that the Dawgs' greater travel distance is a tangible hindrance to their chances of winning in this rivalry; even if you think that the Dawgs face a "hostile environment" in a stadium that is divided directly down the middle between Dawgs and Gators, it would be wrong to move this game. Why? BECAUSE IT WOULD BE A BITCH MOVE. If we were to go to a home-and-home, then no matter how dominant a run Georgia went on immediately afterward, no matter how supposedly solid our reasoning was for moving the game, we'd be the the school that whined the Cocktail Party out of Jacksonville and one of the sport's last remaining neutral-site rivalries out of existence. I'll be damned if I'm going to have that on my conscience, or the University of Georgia's.
Unfortunately, that doesn't get us a millimeter closer to solving the critical question: What do we do? I'm sorry if you came here for answers, because I don't know. What I do know is that I won't be watching the game next year. If I'm in front of a TV, it'll be tuned to something else (maybe I'll put a "Mad Men" DVD on); if I'm in the Jacksonville area, I'll be relaxing on a sunlit beach, stuffing a lime into the neck of a Corona and thanking the good Lord that, independent of any fortune or misfortune being visited upon my football team, I'm gainfully employed, living in what remains the freest country on earth, and blessed with an inordinate number of family and friends who care about me dearly. But I can't put myself through the misery of another one of these -- not for another year or so, anyway. Believe me, I've got nothing but admiration for Linus for going out there year after year in the face of overwhelming odds and public humiliation and laying bare his trusting soul for all the world to see. But I'm not Linus; I don't have a blanket to turn to anymore; and when I dated a girl named Sally in high school, she dumped me for a dude in the band. I've had an inkling for a while now, in other words, that the Great Pumpkin ain't coming for me. So I think I've earned a year off.