My three best friends in the world from my college days are Carl Brantley, Tom McMillen, and Robbie Chester.
Geographically, we are pretty spread out. Carl is in Colorado Springs, Co. Tom is in Ringgold, Ga., near the Tennessee line. Robbie lives in the South Georgia town of Albany. I am in Atlanta.
We have a Zoom call about once a month to catch up on children and grandchildren and to talk about the latest news in college football.
But every year, without fail, we know we’ll gather together in person at the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville.
Carl started the streak when he went to the famous 1980 game of Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott. Tom joined him the following year and I joined them in 1984, my first year at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Robbie came on board a little later.
Over the years the trip has evolved into a week-long celebration where we eat at our favorite restaurants, like the Palm Valley Fish Camp in Ponte Vedra, and raise a toast (or two or more) to our 50-year friendship.
When the game was moved to campus in 1994 and 1995 for renovations to the Gator Bowl, we gathered in Gainesville and Athens. It just wasn't the same.
Our accommodations in Jacksonville have gone from the LaQuinta Inn in Orange Park to a condo overlooking the seventh green at the Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra.
College brought us together but the Georgia-Florida game (or Florida-Georgia for my Gator friends) has kept us together. We have promised each other that as long as we are physically able, we will gather in Jacksonville in late October to celebrate the fact that the Good Lord has given us one more year to be together.
Simply put: Georgia-Florida in Jacksonville is way bigger than a college football game. For me and my boys, it is one of the cornerstones of our lives.
So, you can imagine how they reacted when Georgia head coach Kirby Smart told Tim Tebow last week that he wants to move the game to campus when Georgia is the home team.
His argument is completely logical. Florida is Georgia’s biggest rival. And you want recruits to visit your campus for your biggest game. Recruits cannot visit the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville because it is a neutral site.
Smart knows that he has to recruit at the national championship level to keep pace with Alabama and Nick Saban. To Smart’s credit, he has certainly done that. He won the national championship last season and lost in overtime in 2017—to Alabama.
To be fair, I have to admit that if I was Kirby Smart, I would feel exactly the same away.
But I’m not Kirby Smart. I am just an old guy who cares about college football and is seeing tradition—the foundation on which college football is built--starting to fade away.
In a couple of years USC and UCLA are going to be in the Big Ten, for crying out loud.
Greg McGarity helped administer the Georgia-Florida game for 44 years as the assistant athletics director at Florida and the athletics director at Georgia. Today he is the President and CEO of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. His office does not manage the Georgia-Florida game. That’s done by the city of Jacksonville.
But as a Georgia graduate McGarity makes it clear he wants Georgia-Florida to stay in Jacksonville.
“It has always been a week-long celebration for the Georgia fans,” said McGarity. “It is one of the few traditions that is still left. It is part of the fabric of both institutions.”
I talked to Florida AD Scott Stricklin about this during the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin back in May.
“You can say that it is Florida’s desire to keep the game in Jacksonville,” he said.
Buck Belue is torn. He had the defining moment of his playing career in Jacksonville in 1980 when his 93-yard touchdown to Lindsay Scott launched Georgia to the national championship.
Belue has a new book “Inside the Hedges” where he writes about that game and his journey to becoming a national championship quarterback. If not for that historic moment in Jacksonville, that journey might have been different.
“I’ve always liked the game (in Jacksonville) because I thought it broke up the monotony of the season,” said Belue, a native of Valdosta, which is only 120 miles from Jacksonville. “It was always a breath of fresh air.”
But as a former player, he understands the realities of the game.
“I’m sensitive to the fact that Kirby has put an emphasis on recruiting,” said Belue. “I want what is best for Georgia. And if Kirby thinks that (moving the game) is best for Georgia, then I will support him.”
Understand that technically, Kirby Smart won’t make this decision. It will be made by UGA President Jere Morehead and athletics director Josh Brooks.
But Kirby Smart was hired to take the Georgia football program to the national championship level and he has done that. If I’m the president or the AD, I’m going to take the position of my head coach very seriously. With a national championship on his resume, Smart is dealing from a position of strength.
The current contract to play the game in Jacksonville runs through the 2023 season with an option to keep it there in 2024 and 2025. So, this decision won’t be made tomorrow.
I would only ask that those who do make the decision remember the folks who travel to Jacksonville, St. Simons, and Jekyll Island every year where, as the great Larry Munson said in 1980 “these Dawg people have these condominiums for four days.”
Click on the link to get Munson's historic call:
In the final analysis it is the University of Georgia’s game to do with as it pleases. But the game also belongs to the fans like Carl Brantley, Tom McMillen, and Robbie Chester.
Please keep them in mind.
Do to agree or disagree with his story? Go to my Twitter account @MrCFB and let me know what you think.