ATHENS, Ga. - Author Bill Cromartie's book about the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry that goes back 113 years is titled, Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. With all due respect, the title is wrong.
Hate is too strong of a word. No sports rivalry, regardless of how repulsive the opponent might seem, is truly about hate. Wars inspire hatred. Athletic and academic allegiances inspire a different deadly sin.
Yes, that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you see the school colors of that other team isn't hate at all. It's envy. Even if the score falls in your side's favor, it isn't a sense of superiority but relief that motivates the passion in these rivalry games we'll see this weekend in Georgia and South Carolina. The fear of losing and having to live another year as the loser far exceeds the joy of winning.
"You don't care how you win it, you just don't want to lose it," said Georgia senior linebacker Danny Verdun-Wheeler of the in-state bragging rights he's never had to relinquish.
When it comes to college rivalries, everyone is in violation of the 10th Commandment. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor - unless the neighbor has a 6-foot-5, 235-pound freak-show of a wide receiver destined to be a No. 1 draft pick.
Georgia has won five consecutive meetings against Georgia Tech, but there isn't a Bulldogs fan out there who doesn't daydream about how good their team might have been the past three seasons if Georgia Tech's all-world wide receiver Calvin Johnson had chosen red and black instead of old gold and white to be his uniform of choice. That's a natural feeling even the coaching staff experiences whenever they break down films of the opposition.
"We had the ultimate interest in him," Georgia coach Mark Richt said of one of the few blue-chip recruiting battles he's lost to Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey. "We tried to get him as hard as we did anybody."
While Georgia has had a series of quarterbacks (David Greene, D.J. Shockley and Matthew Stafford) that any Yellow Jackets fan would trade Reggie Ball for in a heartbeat, it hasn't had a single wide receiver in the same stratosphere as Johnson. He's the kind of player who might have put the Bulldogs in the realm of national championships, instead of Southeastern Conference championships.
Even with a five-game winning streak and 19-game lifetime edge in this series, Georgia has plenty to be envious of Georgia Tech heading into this 101st installment on Saturday. There's the conference title the Yellow Jackets will be playing for a week later, the BCS berth and the 10-win seasons that have recently been the exclusive domain of the Bulldogs.
And don't forget that Georgia Tech has a defensive coordinator (Jon Tenuta) worth coveting and an offensive coordinator (Patrick Nix) who doesn't include head coaching on his job description.
But in the end, it's Georgia Tech that stares at Saturday's date in Sanford Stadium with greener eyes. For all the Jackets have proven this season, this rivalry game is on the top of everyone's agenda.
"It's a monster we haven't conquered," said senior defensive tackle Joe Anoai.
Georgia Tech folks might feel superior in the classroom to their state school rival, but their inferiority bleeds all over the gridiron. Even with twice as many national football titles (4-2) including the more recent crown in 1990, they feel desperate to prove their relative worth against every other Georgian's adopted home team.
Considering that in spite of the directions both programs have taken this year, Georgia is actually the favored team (by one point), that envy will rise to a boil.
"If you can't get ready for a game like this, there is something wrong with your heart," said Gailey, who is winless in a game that some boosters might define as the most important all year.
That's really the heart of this and every other rivalry from Ohio State-Michigan to North Carolina-Duke. You want to win, but most importantly you don't want the other team to win. There's no true hate involved. In fact, whatever "hate" that exists has to be manufactured artificially.
"Freshman year coming in, I didn't know anything about the rivalry between Georgia and Georgia Tech," said Jackets wide receiver James Johnson. "In training camp, every time I did something wrong I'd hear, 'Remember, you hate Georgia.' Every time. ... So I guess the whole idea grows on you early. Then when you play a game you really know about the rivalry."
And when you lose it, you truly understand that the one color both sides of every rivalry share is the green of clean, old-fashioned envy.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Georgia Tech at Georgia, 3:30 p.m. (CBS-Ch. 12)
- South Carolina at Clemson, Noon (ESPN) Coverage, Page 3C