Originally created 11/27/05

Rivalry still worth fighting over



ATLANTA -- Upon further review... the rivalry stands.

There was some sentiment this week (expressed by a few Georgia players) that the 100th installment of "good, clean hate" had somehow been downgraded to a Category 2 rivalry.

Saturday's Georgia-Georgia Tech W restlemania matchup restored order to the madness.

"Tonight made this rivalry just a little more meaningful to me," said Georgia linebacker Danny Verdun Wheeler after the Bulldogs' narrow 14-7 victory. "A lot of emotion flying. I'm looking forward to next year."

If Wheeler can't wait until next year, Jackets fans are forced to. Moral victories don't count for the next 365 days at the water cooler. The bottom line: Georgia's D.J. Shockley stepped up to brilliance when it counted, and Georgia Tech's Reggie Ball did not.

That said, this was enough to squelch the silly notion that this in-state bitterness isn't the most intense for each of these two institutions.

Some Bulldogs claim that Florida has become Georgia's biggest rival and that Georgia Tech is nothing but a regular season-ending diversion that means more to Techsters and old folks than this new breed of Bulldogs.

There are two problems with that line of thinking.

First, current players don't hold the market on who is or isn't the "biggest" rival. Alumni get the final say here.

Second, rivalries are reciprocal entities. Florida fans still overwhelmingly consider Florida State to be the Gators' biggest rival (possibly because Florida State actually beats them more often than once every 15 or so years).

Since none of these current Georgia players have ever lost to Georgia Tech and had to live with that reality for a year , it's easy to understand their on-field superiority complex. Nothing brings out the hate like a little hurt.

Saturday night, however, was a matchup of two relative equals. Unfortunately for Georgia Tech, that comparison does not include the quarterback position.

Shockley delivered the victory for Georgia, Ball delivered the indigestion and another year's worth of suffering for Georgia Tech.

But up until Ball's ugly interception in the red zone to Tim Jennings with

1:11 left, it was beautiful theater and exactly the kind of battle this rivalry needed.

You had to expect this kind of game after last Saturday, when Georgia Tech's victory over Miami caught the attention of people in Athens. The Jackets have been closing the competitive gap the last couple of years; Saturday night brought them together on equal footing.

The trash talking Saturday began hours before the 8:09 p.m. kickoff and inside the Georgia broadcast booth. Wasting no time in tweaking their in-state neighbors for the

NCAA hammer that forced Georgia Tech to vacate its three victories over Georgia from 1998-2000, the Bulldog radio network personnel repeatedly referenced Georgia trying to win its "12th in a row" over the Jackets.

Ouch! That stings. Of course, Georgia stills claims this was only the 98th meeting, selectively not counting two losses during World War II citing Jackets using military "ringers." Now have they played only 95 times?

Rivalries always come with bulletin board banter. The best material for the week came from an unaffiliated source, however.

Former Hurricane loudmouth Warren Sapp sounded very much like a Bulldog in quotes that appeared in several Florida newspapers after the Jackets' Orange Bowl upset last week.

"It was disgusting, a disgrace to the whole university and everybody that ever played there," Sapp said. "Unbelievable. Are you kidding me? Georgia Tech? That's like the sisters of the blind."

Those "sisters" came out with blinding efficiency on an opening scoring drive that sent a message immediately to the Bulldogs and their half of the record Bobby Dodd Stadium crowd - we can play with you.

For nearly 60 minutes Saturday night, these rivals were about as evenly matched as they could get. Tied 7-7 with a missed field goal each, there was no indication that one team was any better than the other.

In the end, Shockley picked the right time to loft a perfect pass to Bryan McClendon with 3:12 remaining, breaking the deadlock and sending the Bulldogs to their fifth (or 12th?) straight victory. Ball couldn't match his counterparts heroics.

Some might claim that the 14-7 Georgia win merely extends the increasingly one-sidedness of the series, but that would be a shallow interpretation.

What Saturday night proved was that Georgia Tech still has a lot to say about this rivalry, even in defeat.

"How can you say that this is not our biggest rivalry?" said Georgia senior corner DeMario Minter.

Saturday night was just the right dosage of good, clean hate that will certainly last another 100 years.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.