Stomp turned up ‘juice’ in stagnant series

GAINESVILLE — There was the dance.

Then came the timeouts.

They were followed by an (attempted) eye gouge.

After which came a choke sign.

Florida’s lopsided victories in the 1990s and sterile games in the early 2000s turned what had once been a bitter rivalry with Georgia into a polite gathering. But the events of the last four years has finally brought some life back into the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

“I think that there’s no question there’s a little more juice involved in the game as far as a game like this one,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “This is one of the great rivalries in all of sports.”

The series is filled with big plays and heartache, devastating losses and season-saving victories, and watershed moments fans remember no matter which color they wear. That’s what made the annual meeting between the two Southeastern Conference schools such a great rivalry.

But all those things that made the rivalry so exciting had largely been missing since Florida and Steve Spurrier seized control in 1990. The Gators have won 18 of the past 21 meetings, and things had gotten boring — until 2007.

That’s when Georgia’s players rushed the end zone to celebrate running back Knowshon Moreno’s 1-yard touchdown run nine minutes into the game. The celebration has been nicknamed the Gator Stomp, but it really was a sea of red and black dancing and bouncing.

It was the spark the Bulldogs needed, and they rode it to a 42-30 victory. And it’s also something Florida’s players haven’t forgotten even though there are only four players from the 2007 team on the current roster.

“All I can remember of this team is when they were dancing on us,” fifth-year senior running back Chris Rainey said. “It’s embarrassing and we lost that game.

“… It stays in my head when people do something like that to me.”

The clip has been shown over and over throughout the Florida football facility the week before the Georgia game every year. The reaction in Gainesville is certainly different from the one in Athens, where the clip is rarely shown and usually only seen when a TV network replays it.

“When they show a clip, I start laughing about it,” said Georgia fifth-year senior fullback Bruce Figgins. “We were probably the only team that’s done something like that to that extreme after a touchdown.”

As payback, then-Florida coach Urban Meyer used his two remaining timeouts in the game’s final minute, with a 39-point lead.

“Well, the rules say you have three timeouts per half. They can use as many as they want within the rules,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after the game. “They have a right to do that.”

Things got a bit ugly in 2009 and last year, though.

Video of Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes allegedly trying to gouge the eyes of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey at the bottom of a pile in the 2009 game surfaced on YouTube the day after the Gators’ 41-17 victory.

Meyer said Spikes’ actions were in retaliation for things that happened earlier in the game. Spikes had his helmet ripped off by a Georgia player and there were several incidences of pushing and shoving. Officials called five personal fouls.

Florida won last year’s game 34-31 in overtime. Just moments before Chas Henry kicked the game-winning 37-yard field goal, television cameras caught Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham grabbing his throat and giving Henry the “choke” sign.

Richt said he hadn’t thought about any of those incidences this week, but admitted that the series has heated up of late. However, he says it’s because the Bulldogs have won a couple times (2004, 2007) and haven’t allowed the Gators to go on a long run like they did most recently when they won six consecutive times from 1998-2003.

“It always heats up if a team like us, who’s had not a lot of success, wins every once in a while,” Richt said. “If Florida lines up and wins every single time then there’s really not much drama and I don’t think anybody gets too excited about it. If you get your victory here and there and all of a sudden people gain a little bit more respect for you, I think it livens it up.”

And it helps, too, if someone is willing to hold a grudge for a while — maybe even into their 50s.

“Yes sir,” Rainey said. “That’s me.”

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