Gator stomp: An oral history of the 2007 Florida-Georgia game
For more than a century, football teams from the University of Florida and the University of Georgia have met on the gridiron.
These college programs dislike each other to such a high degree that they can’t even agree on their collective history. Georgia believes the series record is 50-40-2 in its favor; Florida counts that mark at 49-40-2. The 1904 game, won by Georgia 52-0, is the point of contention.
(If you were at that game, let us know what really went down. I’m talking to you, 122-year-old man in Macon…)
On October 27, 2007, that loathing reached a new level.
OKTC spoke with folks on the field, on the sidelines, in the stands and in the press box to get their first- hand accounts of one of the most memorable moments in the history of this rivalry.
So sit back, grab a beverage of choice, and find out what happens when people stop being polite and start rushing the field in what some could perceive as an inappropriate manner.
Unless otherwise noted, positions listed are those held by the interview subjects the day of this game, followed by what they are up to today.
Part I – “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”
As opposed to a traditional rivalry, the Florida-Georgia game is not played in Gainesville or Athens, but takes place instead at a neutral setting in Jacksonville, with ticket allocation split down the middle between both schools. The pre-game and post-game revelry often overshadows the contest itself.
Pete Thamel – National College Sports Writer for The New York Times. Today, senior writer at Sports Illustrated.
The Cocktail Party is self-explanatory. It's a bubbling cauldron of booze and college students with an undercurrent of vitriol from one of America's best rivalries. Just an electric and kinetic atmosphere, fueled by passion, vodka and contempt.
Chuck Dowdle – WSB-TV Sports Director, Host of “The Mark Richt Show.” Today, retired but still hosting “The Mark Richt Show.” Also serves as sideline reporter for The Bulldog Network football broadcasts.
There’s nothing else like it. I don’t think there is any other sporting event like it. I’ve covered Super Bowls, World Series, Final Fours … but I don’t know any other sporting event that has the atmosphere and flavor to it that game has.
Joe Girvan – University of Florida graduate (1995), former Sports Director at WCJB-TV in Gainesville. Today, WPTV-TV Sports Anchor/ESPN 106.3 Reporter in West Palm Beach.
It. Is. Awesome! I absolutely loved going to that game as a student. It's the best party in college football. The night before the game at The Landing is an incredible party. You really have to experience it to know how much fun it is.
Bill Graham – Photographer for Georgia Bulldog Club of Jacksonville. Today, same position.
Out of all the games you go to it is just so different. It is a week-long event. All the RVs get here on Tuesday. It’s “RV City” right by the stadium. They party all week, Georgia and Florida fans mingling… There is something going on every day and night. It is like a Super Bowl.
Cody Jones – Worked for GatorCountry.com. Today, works for FightinGators.com, the Scout.com affiliate for Florida.
Every SEC stadium has a few lots with impressive tailgate setups, but when you're walking around the stadium in Jacksonville, every row of cars has the most elaborate tailgate setting you've ever seen. There are always people that travel to games just to tailgate, but at Florida-Georgia, people truly come for the atmosphere outside the stadium before the game.
Clint Boling – Georgia offensive guard. Today, Cincinnati Bengals offensive guard.
It is unlike any other game I played. Even bowl games aren’t like that. One of the coolest things is right before the fourth quarter when they play both fight songs and the fans all sway… It’s really neat to see.
Percy Harvin – Florida wide receiver. Today, New York Jets wide receiver.
I think it’s one of the best rivalries in college football. Being the “biggest cocktail party” I remember arriving to the game and seeing all of the people that had been tailgating for two or three days. I loved the fact that the stadium was just split down the middle with half wearing blue and orange and the other half red and black. It really creates a championship environment and that’s one of the games I enjoyed playing in the most.
Brandon Spikes – Florida Linebacker. Today, Buffalo Bills Linebacker.
It is electric, lots of energy. Passionate fans wait the entire year for this one game at a neutral site. Man. It’s a circus. In my eyes it is one of the biggest rivalries in the SEC. They party all week. I’ve never gotten to enjoy it as a fan but I have heard crazy stories. I’m glad I’m on the field playing.
Part II – A One-Sided Rivalry
Heading into the 2007 Florida-Georgia game, the pendulum was tilted squarely in favor of the Gators. In the 17 previous meetings, the Bulldogs were victorious twice. Whether it was Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook or Urban Meyer running the show, Florida was dominating Georgia.
Steve Russell – Sports Director and Sports Talk Show Host at WRUF Radio in Gainesville. Today, same positions at ESPN 850 WRUF Radio.
Without a doubt Florida had a psychological advantage. And in a lot of those matchups, it wasn’t close. Spurrier gave the Gators that confidence and they knew they could beat Georgia. They had never had that feeling before where they knew they would go out and win.
Steve Spurrier – Florida Head Coach (1990-2001). Today, South Carolina Head Coach.
We had better players than they did.
Andre Caldwell – Florida wide receiver. Today, Denver Broncos wide receiver/kick returner.
We had a better group of players and had great coaches that did a great job scheming against them. Our coaches let us go out there and play and not think. So I figure we had better players than they do and it showed most of the time.
Knowshon Moreno runs for hard yards against Florida.
Spikes: The mindset that Urban Meyer and (former Florida defensive coordinator) Charlie Strong had … it was kill or be killed, man … We all bought in and figured that we couldn’t be beat. We knew we would win (those Georgia games). The only question was by how much. We talked trash and felt that we could back it up. We talked big talk and we went out there and got it done. It was that simple.
Jones: Of all of Urban Meyer's strengths, coaching in rivalry games was a big deal to him. A lot of coaches can play the "It's just one game" mantra, but Meyer wasn't like that. It didn't matter if the opponent was Florida State, Georgia or Tennessee; the mood around the program was different during rivalry weeks. His teams had the mental advantage going into those rivalries, and it sometimes even felt like Georgia knew that.
Girvan: I asked some Georgia players this at SEC Media Days back then, and they admitted the Gators were in their heads.
Boling: It got to a point that it was a mental thing. They really had our number.
Marcus Howard – Georgia defensive end. Today, Edmonton Eskimos (CFL) defensive end.
I think in prior years our guys were playing uptight most of the time. Florida had a higher ranking than us. You want to win, but it is gonna be pretty hard to beat these guys. They had great players and they had a great head coach. That was when they had Tim Tebow, Chris Leak before that, Percy Harvin, a great defense ... Just hard to get over that hurdle.
Dowdle: It was one of those things that had Georgia fans in a mood where they couldn’t understand why things couldn’t be the way they used to be when Georgia dominated Florida all the time. They dominated the Gators for decades. (Former Georgia head coach/athletic director) Vince Dooley used to talk about this, that if anybody came into Florida and started recruiting the state of Florida well, it would make a difference in this series because so many great athletes come out of Florida. Spurrier did that, started getting good players and the guy could coach a little bit too. So that series turned heavily in favor of the Gators to where some games Georgia showed up thinking they were beaten and not having much of a chance going in.
Part III – Game Week
Florida and Georgia entered the 2007 meeting with identical 5-2 records, and the same 3-2 mark in the SEC East. Florida was favored to once again knock off its rivals. Georgia head coach Mark Richt was looking for ways to turn the tide in the rivalry.
Russell: I remember doing my radio show in the week leading up to the game and asking fans why they thought UF was so dominant in the series and if it would continue, seeing that Florida had only won by a touchdown when winning the national title the year before. Most fans believed that UF would continue its dominance. There was a lot of buzz of course about quarterback Tim Tebow and wide receiver Percy Harvin and the expectation was that Florida would find a way to win again.
Jones: The Gators opened 5-0 during Tim Tebow's first year as a starter, and he was the focus of every team. After back-to-back losses to Auburn and LSU, the team rebounded to beat one of Kentucky's best teams in recent memory, and it felt like some momentum was coming back. In the minds of most Florida fans, the Georgia game was exactly what the team needed to get back in the win column.
Boling: One of the things that Coach Richt harped on that week was that we were not going to let them push us around anymore.
Howard: We were confident and knew we had a good team. We had a meeting with Coach Richt (the night before the game) and he said that if we score first that we could go crazy.
Mohamed Massaquoi – Georgia wide receiver
Coach Richt was normally always cool and collected. In that moment he said, “I want you all to go out and do something.” What that something was, nobody really knew.
Mark Richt – Georgia head coach. Today, same position.
I told the team two weeks ago I was going to create enthusiasm whether they liked it. I told them if they didn’t get a celebration penalty after our first score, all of them would be doing early morning runs … I wanted to make sure we left this game with our hearts on the field.
(Richt quotes made to media following 2007 Florida-Georgia game on October 27, 2007)
Part IV - “We may have 15 hankies in the air on this one. I can’t believe this!”
Florida received the opening kickoff in the 2007 game. A fumble by running back Kestahn Moore was recovered by Georgia’s Asher Allen early in the first quarter. The Bulldogs worked a short field, and eventually faced third-and- goal from inside the Florida 2-yard line. Redshirt freshman running back Knowshon Moreno dove over the goal-line (barely) for a UGA touchdown, setting off a wild, never seen before celebration.
Boling: I was on the bottom of the pile when Moreno scored. Next thing I knew the whole team was running on the field.
Dowdle: Shock. Look at this! Look at this! That was the reaction in the press box. People, look at this! What’s going on?
Jones: I don't think anybody knew what was going on. Even the Georgia side of the stadium seemed confused when it first happened. It felt like there were three different plays called at once and the every offensive player on the sideline thought he needed to be on the field. And then the players just kept coming.
Russell: After Moreno scored and I saw all the players on the field, my first reaction was that there was some kind of fight or bench clearing brawl about to take place. Then as I looked closer I realized that it was Georgia players reacting to the score. Frankly, I could not believe what I was seeing, and when I realized what it was, I thought that Coach Richt was doing something pretty desperate to try and motivate this team to finally beat Florida. I wondered aloud, why this was needed when losing 15 of 17 or whatever wouldn’t be motivation enough?
Erik Waxler – University of Florida graduate (1994). Today, news reporter at WFTS-TV in Tampa.
I think I probably thought, "Oh crap, the Gators are going to lose this game.” Mark Richt is trying to do what Spurrier did, and rev up the rivalry and get his players fired up.
Howard: I actually didn’t go out on the field because I didn’t think it would happen. But the cameras caught me on the sidelines going crazy (Howard is #38, seen at :23 mark), just seeing my teams go crazy on the field, just enjoying it.
Massaquoi: No one knew what was going to happen, but it was gonna be a break from the norm. It was spontaneous. Watch the film. There were waves of guys running on the field. So, ok, that’s what this is.
Graham: I got a picture when Moreno went over the top. I gave him a high five when he went back to the sidelines. Then I looked down and realized I was 10 yards onto the field. Whoops! I guess I was pretty excited too.
Harlow Sumerford – Georgia fan, former WATE-TV news reporter. Today, East Tennessee field director for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
Normally, I can’t stand any kind of taunting and it felt like a move the Gators would pull instead of us. But you know what? I think most Georgia fans felt like whatever it takes to get our players fired up is worth it. We were so tired of seeing Florida jump out to an early lead in those games that we understood the player’s excitement and we felt the same way. It was time to send a message that we aren’t losing again.
Dowdle: As it turned out, he (Richt) told players that he wanted a celebration. He wanted guys to celebrate and show team camaraderie. He was telling the team he meant the eleven guys on the field. As it turned out the whole team took it as, we are all going out there. Deep down inside, even though that was not what he asked for, I think he was proud of every single one of those players.
Spikes: Honestly? I was in awe. I had never seen anything like that. I was embarrassed, felt disrespected. They were beating us pretty good but to see the whole team go out there and just kinda spit on us like that in our face? It was demoralizing.
Caldwell: It was shocking. For a team that you have kicked their ass the past couple of years … to come out and disrespect you like that? It was shocking. We didn’t expect it.
Harvin: We all felt it was disrespectful to our entire team. We felt it was even more disrespectful since it seemed as if it was planned by them and their coaching staff. To plan something like that in a game like that, we felt it was just totally disrespectful and we took it that way.
Percy Harvin felt disrespected.
Boling: Florida didn’t know what was going on, but you look at the video and you see that afterwards they were fired up. Richt was stone faced. He wasn’t upset because of the penalties.
Waxler: I think teams are always looking for ways they are being disrespected. Was it WAY over the top? Sure, but it obviously fired Georgia up.
Urban Meyer – Florida head coach. Today, Ohio State head coach.
That wasn’t right. It was a bad deal. And it will forever be in the mind of Urban Meyer and in the mind of our football team … so we’ll handle it. And it’s going to be a big deal.
Meyer’s quote from “Urban’s Way,” the authorized biography written by Buddy Martin.
Georgia would be assessed two personal foul penalties due to the excessive celebration, forcing the ensuing kickoff to be backed up to inside its own 8-yard line. Momentum that the Bulldogs gained from the celebration would have to carry over for another 3½ quarters.
Jones: I think it helped the psyche of the Georgia team, but what people forget is that Florida marched down the field on a three-play, 67-yard touchdown drive right after that. That score created one of the most unique settings I've ever seen. The Georgia side of the stadium was still buzzing about the celebration, and the Florida side had an angry sense of excitement because of the celebration, followed by the quick touchdown.
Massaquoi: When you do something like that, it puts more pressure on you to execute. That’s why so many guys were executing at a high level because it would have been so embarrassing had we not won that game. There are a lot of guys with pride that play for University of Georgia. That Georgia “G” means a lot. It was just something we knew we had to back up.
Urban Meyer had better days than against Georgia in 2007.
Howard: Florida pretty much had the upper hand going into that game, so to see those guys go out and celebrate, made me want to go out and play even harder, and made other guys want to play harder also.
Boling: If we lost, that play would have made us look so stupid. It ended up being a close game, but it would have made us look so bad if we hadn’t won. That play set the tone… but it was a very physical game. All those games against Florida were chippy.
Led by Moreno’s 205 total yards and three touchdowns, the Bulldogs would eventually topple the Gators 42-30.
Spikes: It was an eye opener for us because we were like oh, these guys aren’t scared of us or we aren’t as good as we think we are. It definitely humbled us, but at the same time it made us really, really hungry.
Russell: Even though Georgia had beaten Florida as late as the 2004 season, it was amazing to see how relieved Georgia players and fans were to beat Florida in sort of a physical way, which had not really been done in recent seasons. It was the WAY they beat Florida that was almost as important as the win.
Georgia would lose the SEC Eastern Division tiebreaker to Tennessee, but finished the season ranked 2nd in the nation, with an 11-2 record and a victory in the Sugar Bowl. Florida would finish the season ranked 13th in the nation with a 9-4 record.
Part V – “We wanted to let it sink in as long as possible.”
The following season both teams entered the Cocktail Party ranked in the top 10. The winner would have the inside track at the SEC Eastern Division title and a possible berth in the BCS National Championship Game. It became clear from the start that Florida’s focus was on getting revenge against Georgia.
Harvin: I know that entire week leading up to the game, and really that whole off season, that was all we were talking about. Then, the day before the game we kept seeing that replay and that put it back fresh in our minds. We couldn’t wait to get to play that game and it was one of the highlights of our year.
Caldwell: I remember after the 2007 game, Brandon Spikes was in locker room bawling because he missed a couple of tackles. He said it would never happen to him again and the next year he made every play.
Spikes: After that season we trained the entire year season to the next Cocktail Party in my opinion. It wasn’t about anything else but beating Georgia. It was crazy. Knowshon Moreno had 188 yards rushing against us… so that off season every rep was 188 of everything. Pushups. Bench. Abs. Shoulders. Everything was 188. It was a brutal off season. But the next year? Man… you saw what happened when we came back.
Spikes: Honestly, there was no greater feeling … to see the whole defense feed off that one play. I got a good lick on him, but it was a whole defensive effort. Everyone played in their gap and I was able to get through and set the tone. To see the whole team … to see that energy and emotion … The Gators still talk about it. It was years ago but they still talk about it. It was magical in my opinion. It set the tone and we went on to beat the crap out of them. We were so invested in that, put in a lot of time, it felt great. It felt great … honestly.
Caldwell: He was a big factor in the game and made sure they whooped them. It was so emotional in the locker room after that game.
In the closing moments of the 49-10 shellacking by the Gators over the Bulldogs, Urban Meyer got his revenge. He called a timeout with 44 seconds left in the game, and another with 30 seconds to go.
Caldwell: They deserved that. They rushed the field the year before, and the next year we kicked their ass. We wanted to let it sink in as long as possible. So he (Urban) was a jerk about it and called time outs at the end, but I think it was well deserved.
Thamel: Urban Meyer is as calculating a coach as I've ever been around. Nothing he ever has done is on accident. He also understands the value in the media and perception of those types of things better than anyone. Florida had been so dominant in that series before the “Gator Stomp,” and the tenor of this game and the timeouts at the end perpetuated the notion of Florida dominance.
Russell: Without question, what Georgia did in 2007 infuriated Meyer. He pointed to this game and by calling the timeouts, made it very clear what he thought of what Georgia had done the previous year. And make no mistake … he remembered this incident in the other games he coached against Georgia too. Meyer was big on beating his rivals, and certainly Georgia is one of them.
Sumerford: If the ultimate payback is embarrassing another team rather than celebrating your own, then yes (it was the ultimate payback). It certainly did not show much class on his part.
Waxler: Coaches can say things like that (2007 celebration) don't mean anything, but they obviously do. Good sportsmanship? Heck no. But does it make things more interesting? You bet!
Dowdle: Message sent. Anybody that knows Coach Meyer knows exactly what that was.
Florida would go on to finish the 2008 season at 13-1, winning their second SEC and BCS National Championships in three years. Georgia, which was the preseason #1 team in the nation, finished the year 10-3 and ranked 13th.
Part VI – Legacy of “The Gator Stomp”
Following the 2007 Florida-Georgia game, the Gators won the next three meetings. Georgia has bounced back, winning the last three. Even seven years later, the “Gator Stomp” remains one of the most enduring memories in this century old rivalry.
Dowdle: I don’t think it hurt the game at all. It added to the rivalry that was already a pretty good rivalry. It is another one of those great moments that people will point to. ‘Remember that time the Georgia team ran on the field? Remember what Urban did?’ It’s all part of what makes Georgia hate Florida and Florida hate Georgia.
Sumerford: I think for many older Georgia fans, that game was a chance to at least quiet the younger generation of Florida fans who expected to win the Cocktail Party every year. Even with Florida’s success under Spurrier and Meyer, Georgia still leads the series overall. For younger Georgia fans that weren’t around for the dominance of Herschel Walker, Tim Worley, and Rodney Hampton, it gave them a chance to experience the rivalry they had always heard about.
Boling: You could take that play however you want to take it. You could almost take it is a sign of respect for Florida that we had to do that because they had been beating us so badly that we needed to do that. All depends on how you want to take it.
Caldwell: It definitely sticks. I played with Knowshon (in Denver). He was a big part of that 2007 game and never let that die down, so I had to deal with that for a couple of years. They rushed the field. That hurt us and we lost. They disrespected us and pulled out the game so that really hurt. That was my senior year, my last Florida-Georgia game ever and I lost it. I have to deal with that the rest of my life. Even though I won a national championship (in 2006), that’s a big part of it too.
Russell: I do think it helped Georgia in terms of fight and grit; they realized they could play with Florida and hung in the game and came back to win. Would they have won the game without storming the field? I think so, but you might not convince Georgia fans!
Girvan: It was a renaissance for Georgia. After so many years of being beaten down by the Gators, they announced to the college football world that they were back. Dawg fans loved it and Gator fans hated it. It was crazy to witness... you almost didn't believe your eyes. And when I heard Mark Richt was behind it, well... that was a different level of respect/distaste. Genius move by him.
Spikes: It (the rivalry) is vicious, and it goes on in the stands and into the parking lot. That’s what is crazy about it, the players and coaches and families and fans… it runs deep. Deeper than football, honestly.
Florida and Georgia will renew acquaintances on Saturday kickoff at 3:30 p.m. (ET) in Jacksonville.