I read Chris Corr’s guest column in the early hours of October 15th. The day before, the University of Georgia and the University of Florida won their respective SEC football games. Both teams then said their goodbyes a week before their annual meeting in Jacksonville.
As a Jacksonville native and University of Georgia graduate, this event (and the weeks leading up to it) is my favorite time of the year. When I Dr. Reading Corr’s column, I wondered why the importance of history, tradition, fanfare and sentimentality in college football is pushed aside for financial reasons.
Born and raised in Jacksonville, I attended college in Athens, Georgia. That wasn’t a coincidence. You could say the University of Georgia was born in my blood. My maternal grandfather is a UGA graduate. My mother and her siblings are UGA graduates. My father was a UGA graduate. I have several first cousins who are UGA graduates. My sister also graduated from UGA and married a “double dawg” as my brother-in-law has a bachelor’s and law degree from UGA.
My parents moved to Jacksonville in 1974 after graduating from UGA. As children, my sister and I often spent Friday nights and early Saturday mornings in the back of a station wagon being driven to Athens for home games. But once a year the celebrations came to us. My family has hosted a tailgate for the game every year since at least 1974, before I was born.
After college, I returned to Florida to pursue graduate and law school in Jacksonville. I have been practicing law in Jacksonville for over 13 years. Having grown up here, going to school in Georgia, and building a professional life in Jacksonville, I have a large personal and professional circle that includes fans and alumni of both schools.
The Georgia-Florida game is the one time a year that we bring everyone together to reminisce, share a drink, have some barbecue, and celebrate the relationships and friendships that have been formed because of (and despite) our love for our… Alma matters arose. This year marks the 48th time we have hosted the tailgate; We only missed a few years for the birth of my nephew and my wedding. The importance of this meeting has nothing to do with money, status or the better team.
It’s a happy gathering of Dawgs and Gators (and occasionally “Noles”) where old friends and family meet and new friends are made. As I watched this happen year after year as a child and now as an adult, I learned the importance of putting differences aside, bringing people together, and celebrating the simple things in life.
Most importantly, this showed me the importance of cultivating relationships, even with people we only see once a year in a parking lot. These are valuable lessons and invaluable memories.
My father was president of the Georgia Bulldog Club of Jacksonville at a time when we almost always lost to Florida. When Georgia defeated Florida in 1989, the year he was president, he received a framed copy of the front page of the Florida Times-Union to commemorate the victory. I have this newspaper hanging in my house now. I still see some of his old friends occasionally and there is always a story from that time that I can tell.
The memories of this game are embedded in the minds and hearts of all of us.
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My father died in 2010 after a short battle with cancer. He still traveled to Athens for home games during his illness, and we made sure he had one last chance to experience a Georgia-Florida setback. I can’t remember if we won that year. His funeral was attended by a large group from the Georgia Bulldog Club of Jacksonville, all wearing red and black.
Even some of my dad’s closest Gators friends made an exception that day and wore red and black. Vince Dooley called my mother to offer his condolences. Obviously, the University of Georgia is important to my family and me.
My family is not the only one with stories like this. When fans from Georgia hear the principal trumpeter play the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and when fans from Florida sing “We Are the Boys from Old Florida,” they are reminded of some of the most important memories and people in their lives. As we gather in the parking lots around EverBank Stadium, where younger generations are now represented, we can spend time with people from all stages of our lives.
In doing so, we are helping to continue a Jacksonville tradition that has existed for 90 years.
Dr. Corr’s description of this meeting as a “grotesque” environment and his suggestion that it be relocated in the name of financial benefit to both schools misses the point. You cannot put a price on history or value the loss of tradition.
The City of Jacksonville, the University of Georgia and the University of Florida have all played an important role in the lives of countless Jacksonville residents, including myself. Marriages, friendships and professional relationships have been formed through the connections made during the Georgia-Florida game festivities.
This annual gathering is more than just a football game, and its importance to Jacksonville goes beyond the game’s financial impact on the city. When decisions are made in the coming years to keep this game in Jacksonville, I hope the people involved think beyond just dollars and cents.
We would like Dr. Corr and his family at our tailgate to show that it’s far from grotesque that the kids are having just as much fun as the adults, and to help you understand why the Georgia-Florida game is staying in Jacksonville should .
Stephanie Sussman, Jacksonville
This guest column represents the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Times-Union. We welcome a diversity of opinions.