ATHENS — Kirby Smart bowed up like the fearless safety he once was at Georgia when Tim Tebow figuratively lowered his shoulder into the Bulldogs’ head coach on the SEC Network last week.
It was a moment Georgia football fans watching the event live won’t ever forget. Smart’s stand was the stuff of legends, harkening memories of how Pat Dye stood up for Auburn in bringing the Iron Bowl to the Tigers’ campus some 30 years ago.
Tradition can be tough to take on and topple, even when it makes sense for changes to be made.
Dye, who was an All-American player at Georgia, angered many Alabama fans with the historic move, much like the Florida faithful are fighting to keep the Georgia game 70 miles from their campus.
Tebow has been among the most vocal Gators, and he did not hesitate to call out Smart during the national television segment at the College Football Hall of Fame last Wednesday.
“I’ve got a bone to pick with you,” said Tebow, who makes no secret of his passion for Jacksonville, a city desperate to keep Georgia pinned to its NFL venue 340 miles from Athens.
“I’ve heard you no longer want the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville,” Tebow said. “It’s literally one of the best environments …. "
Smart has said the location comes at too great of a cost, and now, in what amounted to an open field, one-on-one showdown with Tebow on this debate, he was not about to get run over.
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“Why is it one of the best environments?” Smart shot back at Tebow. “How many times have you played in Athens, Tim?”
“None,” the popular SEC legend replied.
“How many times did we get to play in Gainesville? I think that’s special, I think that’s special.”
The rivalry game is contracted to be played in Jacksonville through 2023 and is up for renegotiation of a possible extension through 2025.
Smart was also pressed on Jacksonville radio station 1010XL about the game, and once again, the 1998 All-SEC safety did not back down.
“It would be like me saying in June there are four weekends you can have prospects on campus, but at Georgia you can only have three,” Smart said.
“That’s what it’s like, I’m self-sanctioning myself an opportunity to have the best prospect in the country, fly into Atlanta and drive over every other year to see Georgia play Florida.”
Some UGA fans — and even media — like the idea of a vacation weekend each year close to the Atlantic Ocean, putting their wants and needs ahead of Smart’s judgment and program needs.
“I don’t know that people understand the value of that, they don’t respect it,” Smart said of the recruiting implications, “especially people in Jacksonville.”
Smart said he grew up in South Georgia and has friends who live in the area that want the Bulldogs to continue to play their designated home game with Florida 340 miles from Athens.
This, even if it means asking Smart and his staff to give up what would be the biggest recruiting weekend of the season.