ATHENS ― Kirby Smart grew up with the Georgia-Florida rivalry, and played in the game when it was still officially called the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Now as Georgia’s coach, he isn’t concerning himself with whether it should still be called that.
“I’ll be honest with you. I don’t get into that part of it. That’s not really for me to concern ourselves with,” Smart said Wednesday when asked about it on the SEC coaches media teleconference. “Our No. 1 objective is to play our best game, our best football. It’s a very unique setting. And I think that’s awesome.
“But as far as what they call it, it’s the Georgia-Florida game to me.”
Smart gave a similar answer last year when he was asked about it.
While many fans and media members still refer to the five-word phrase for the game, or at least shorten it to the Cocktail Party, the schools, the SEC and their broadcast partner have sought to distance themselves from it for more than a decade.
According to legend, the name was coined by the sports editor of the Florida Times-Union, Bill Kastelz, after he saw an inebriated fan offer a drink to a policeman outside the stadium. The city of Jacksonville embraced the name for decades, but officially dropped it in 1988. Sixteen years later, both schools and the SEC actively sought to downplay the name after the death of a Florida student post-game. Students also died in game-related scenarios the following two years.
Florida coach Jim McElwain also declined to address the issue, chuckling when asked if ditching the Cocktail Party name was political correctness or had an impact on curtailing pregame and postgame behavior by fans.
“That’s a lot over my head,” McElwain said. “I just know it’s a great rivalry and a lot of fun to participate in.”
McElwain hadn’t taken part in the rivalry until 2015, his first season at Florida. It hit him how special the game was when the Florida team bus went over the Hart Bridge near the stadium and he saw the number of fans there.
“I just know it’s a great game,” McElwain said. “It’s one that doesn’t matter where you’re from. It’s one that they know the Gators are going to play the Dawgs in Jacksonville. That’s what makes it so unique.”
Smart, who grew up in Bainbridge, Ga., and played in four Georgia-Florida games, spoke Wednesday about the sight you see when you come out of the tunnel for the game, the sea of half-red and half-black half-orange and half-blue.
“You know it’s going to be that way coming over on the river on the buses coming over to the stadium,” Smart said. “It’s really unique. It’s a really nice facility. The pro stadium is really nice. So I think that part makes it special.”