ATHENS, Ga. --- We have come to think of football as a man's sport, but really it's a child's game.
That was made crystal clear by the tantrums that have been thrown by all of the spoiled Florida Gators fans, players and coaches since last year's undressing by the Georgia Bulldogs. They have been whining ever since about the authorized dog pile in the end zone after Georgia's opening score that produced an avalanche of bitterness (not to mention points).
A picture of the first-quarter celebration scrum has reportedly graced the Florida locker room since the off-season. Florida coach Urban Meyer -- the same coach who last week authorized not one but two fourth-down runs inside the Kentucky red-zone to score a touchdown when his Gators were nursing a narrow 49-3 lead late in the third quarter -- has been fuming about the unsportsmanlike nature of it despite getting an unnecessary apology phone call from Georgia coach Mark Richt the day after the game.
Meyer issued a gag order on his players regarding the topic he was so disturbed by that he wrote about it in his off-season autobiography.
"It 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," he wrote, referring to himself in the third person in case anyone reading was confused who Urban's Way was about. "So we'll handle it. And it's going to be a big deal."
Get over yourself already. And get over it.
Georgia beat the snot out of Florida last year, something the Gators had made a habit of doing for most of the 17 previous seasons. It happens. It's a game. It's played with emotion. The Bulldogs coaxed it last year with a team celebration that cost them 30 yards on the next kickoff. Penalty assessed. Sentence served. If Florida didn't like it, the Gators shouldn't have let the Bulldogs score 35 more points that afternoon.
Now it's a year later and as the clock counts down to the latest installment of one of the Southeastern Conference's greatest rivalries, it's all anyone can talk about. Everyone except the Gators, who are loosely adhering to the coach's mandate of silence.
Even the mighty Tim Tebow can't seem to summon forgiveness for the "hurt feelings" of that humbling loss.
"It was a tough one," the reigning Heisman Trophy winner said this week.
Meyer isn't trying to sell books this week, so he is now saying that the so-called "Gator stomp" was no big deal.
The game, however, is a very big deal. He's right about that. It might be the biggest deal in the history of this series. Certainly the most important regular-season game these two national-title contenders face this season. No. 6 in the BCS vs. No. 8 -- both with designs on rising to No. 1. Winner likely goes to the SEC Championship Game and gets to play for a potential spot in the BCS title game. Loser gets to fume about it for the next 12 months.
That's what Georgia hoped to accomplish last season -- showing Florida that this rivalry isn't one-sided anymore.
"It definitely sent a statement last year if anything," Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said.
A statement is all Richt wants to relive about the game a year ago. Tired of explaining himself over and over, Richt asked his sports information office to re-release the transcript of his account of the incident from the SEC preseason media days when talk about this week already started. He was trying to inject life into his sagging team. He was trying to emphasize a team concept of enthusiasm. He intended for only the 11 players on the field to celebrate. He didn't expect his entire bench to take his "team" mandate so literally. He was relieved it didn't turn into a melee among thin-skinned children. He is glad it turned out the way it did but won't do it again.
Florida, however, still takes it as a sign of "disrespect." Whatever. Do the Bulldogs have any regrets?
"Nope," said Knowshon Moreno, whose touchdown sparked the stomp and romp. "That was last year and that's what we came up with. It's just a game this year."
Just a big, huge, colossal game among two great teams that don't like each other in any circumstances. If Florida wins this year -- and judging from the roll it's on there is every reason to think it might -- it will have nothing to do with what happened last year. The Gators don't want this game any more than Georgia does. The same thing is at stake for each of them. They are as comparable as two rivals can be.
Whatever bulletin board revenge factor exists will be gone once the ball gets kicked off. If any artificial motivation beyond the stakes is necessary, something is wrong. Georgia needed that boost last year. Not this time.
"Emotion creates energy," Richt said. "When the emotion wears off, you should function well because of habit."
Those habits have changed. Georgia and Florida are top-echelon peers again. Florida doesn't like that. It hurt their feelings. Wah!
You know what would really hurt? Channeling all that year-long energy and bitterness on one game only to lose again. That should be motivation enough for both of them.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.