Thursday October 30th, 2008

Everyone zipped their lips. But why?

Why, on the eve of the Florida-Georgia game with the highest stakes in years, did the Gators and Bulldogs stop talking about the stomp? Seventy Georgia players stormed the field in Jacksonville to celebrate the team's first touchdown last year. The officials ran out of things to throw. The act inspired debate on talk radio, television and bar stools across the nation.

Yet all of a sudden, the Gators and Bulldogs are mum.

In his authorized biography, Urban's Way, Florida coach Urban Meyer swore vengeance, Bob Dole-style: "That wasn't right. It was a bad deal," Meyer wrote. "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." This week, Meyer called the stomp "old news."

Georgia coach Mark Richt offered a lengthy explanation of the circumstances surrounding the stomp in July at SEC media days. Short version: He ordered his players to draw an excessive celebration penalty, but he never imagined the whole team would charge the field; he apologized and said he'd never do anything like it again. And Richt has referred everyone back to those comments this week.

So the biggest subplot in one of the biggest games in the rivalry's history is off-limits. That could only mean one thing. Something huge is about to happen.

With no one talking, I sent word through the college football grapevine that I was searching for clues as to what the two teams had in store for the Planet's Biggest Solar-Powered Libation Celebration (we can't call it the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party anymore, you know). Sure enough, I got some answers ...

The first envelope arrived with a Tallahassee, Fla., postmark. So much for subterfuge. Inside was a single sheet of paper with a yellow Post-It note attached. Here's what the note said:

Andy,

Dadgummit, I just don't see the point in all these celebrations. What's wrong with just running a good, old-fashioned fumblerooski?

B.B.

I plucked the note from the paper and read on:

Memorandum

From: Head Coach Urban Meyer

To: Gators players and coaches

Re: Operation Cocktail Party

Gentlemen,

I promised in my biography that we would respond to Georgia's stomp with extreme prejudice. I do not want to let down all those readers who paid $24.95 instead of waiting a few months to grab the thing for $4.99 in the discount bin at Barnes & Noble. I have a few ideas.

1) After our first touchdown, a stage rises from the end zone. On it are the remaining members of hard-working Jacksonville band Lynyrd Skynyrd, playing Gimme Three Steps while our cheerleaders, wearing jean shorts and tube tops, dance around them. Since quarterback Tim Tebow has some stage experience, he will then take the mic and sing Free Bird. A capella. After that, we'll lay waste to any Bulldogs who didn't run from the field with their ears bleeding.

2) We offer to settle things like the ancient Greeks. They pick a champion, and we pick a champion. But since I'm an enlightened despot, I'll let Richt spin the Wheel of Tasks to decide how our champions will compete. Of course, 11 of the 12 spaces on the Wheel of Tasks will read "100-meter dash," and freshman tailback Jeff Demps -- who barely missed making the Olympic team -- will be good and limber. Note to the walk-ons who must construct the Wheel of Tasks: Do not, under any circumstances, make the 12th space a Soulja Boy dance contest. If Richt picks Knowshon Moreno as his champion and the wheel lands there, we're sunk.

3) Gators go Broadway. I'm thinking Pirates of Penzance, because, well, I am the very model of a modern major general. But we could go with something else. Maybe give linebacker Brandon Spikes a white mask and do Phantom of the Cocktail Party. I'm pretty open to suggestions here.

After committing the letter to memory and running it through the shredder, I heard a knock at the door. A shadowy figure handed me an envelope. The envelope bore no postmark or return address, but it did bear a few smudges. Upon further inspection, the smudges turned out to be the remnants of Dreamland Barbecue sauce. This envelope also contained a single sheet of paper with a Post-It note attached. I read the Post-It first.

Andy,

Somebody gave me this a few weeks ago in Athens. You'd be amazed what kind of information people will spill when you're up 31-0 at halftime. If this helps mess with Georgia, I'm all for it. Something tells me it won't be so easy if we bump into those guys in Atlanta.

N.S.

The note reminded me that I'd probably made a mistake when, in a column, I held a funeral for Georgia's national title hopes. Here we are a month later, and, lo and behold, the Bulldogs will be very much in the thick of the title race if they can beat the Gators. To do that, they may need an emotional burst similar to the one they got from last year's celebration. It appears Richt has a few ideas about how to top last year's stomp.

FROM THE DESK OF MARK RICHT

To: My fellow Bulldogs

Re: Jubilation

Gentlemen,

Last year's celebration could have gotten ugly. If just one of those Gators had gotten spooked, we could have had another Miami-Florida International brawl on our hands. So we've got to class up this year's celebration. I have a few thoughts, but my door is always open if any of you has a better idea.

1) If our first touchdown is a Matthew Stafford sneak, Stafford should take the ball and throw it out of the stadium and clear across the state line. This would let all the folks in Georgia know that we're thinking about them. Let's make sure we have some security in the joint before we do this, though. I'm a little worried Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden may see that throw and drive to Jacksonville so he can kidnap Stafford and start him at Kansas City the next day.

2) We send UGA VII out to get himself some Gator. We know UGA V had a taste for Auburn Tiger, but we're trying to train the young pup to attack only SEC East rivals. He really tore up that visor we put in his cage last week, so I'm pretty confident the training will take.

3) We offer to settle things like the ancient Greeks. They pick a champion, and we pick a champion. But since I'm an enlightened despot, I'll let Meyer spin the Wheel of Tasks to decide how our champions will compete. Of course, 11 of the 12 spaces on the Wheel of Tasks will read "Soulja Boy dance contest." Note to the walk-ons who must construct the Wheel of Tasks: Do not, under any circumstances, make the 12th space a fastest circumcision contest. If Meyer picks Tebow as his champion and the wheel lands there, we're sunk.

Those are all fine ideas, but I can't help but think they got leaked to only confuse us further. Maybe Meyer and Richt don't care about a grand gesture. Maybe, to them, the grandest gesture would be beating the other team, acquiring a stranglehold on the SEC East race and staying alive in the hunt for the national title. Maybe that's all that really matters.

Nah. Miami coach Randy Shannon snapped me right out of that delusion.

"Something's going to happen in that game, I'll guarantee you that," Shannon said Sunday during his weekly interview session. "If you go to that game, you'll get a great story. Don't come to ours. I'm serious. Something's going to happen after what happened last year. You can book that."

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