Even after agreement, a divide still remains on whether Georgia-Florida should remain in Jacksonville
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Georgia football opinion still split on playing Florida in Jacksonville
On Friday, the city of Jacksonville, Fla., announced that it had extended its contract with Georgia and Florida to keep the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville through at least 2023.
The new deal gets Georgia and Florida more money starting in the 2020 season. And there is a new recruiting proposal that would allow for some recruiting flexibility at the neutral site venue if it were to pass.
And, despite the misconception that he wants the Georgia-Florida game to become a home-and-home, Kirby Smart is on board with the decision to keep the game in Jacksonville. He said some of his best memories as a Georgia player came in Jacksonville and added that he understands the financial benefits. He made it clear he’s a team player when it comes to the future home of this game.
But he’s also gotten pretty good at pitching why this game might not benefit the Georgia football program.
“I think as you look across the board, you see more and more kids committing on these official visit weekends when they go to a home game, and they’re really important weekends,” Smart said. “We just have one less shot at those. That’s the toughest thing.”
Smart pretty clearly wants an extra home game given the added recruiting benefit it provides. In the past, he’s compared the Georgia-Florida game to LSU-Alabama from a recruiting perspective. Georgia loses that every year with the game being played in Jacksonville.
Even with the new legislation, Smart isn’t positive that other SEC teams would be so willing to help Georgia and Florida out from a recruiting perspective.
“If you’re Alabama and you’re Tennessee, are you going to help Florida and Georgia out? I don’t think they’re going to go for that,” Smart said. “I mean I’m all for it. You know what I mean, if it can help us. But I just don’t know how realistic that is.”
As for how some of the players feel, Georgia offensive lineman Solomon Kindley was thrilled about the extension. This makes sense when you factor in that he’s from Jacksonville, growing up just minutes from the stadium.
Kindley recounted some of his memories about the game growing up, such as the big neighborhood tailgates he’d attend before the start of the game.
“The type of scene it is and the type of environment I grew up in, it shows kids around the neighborhood, kids that came up from the same high school that came up in, they can do it no matter what,” Kindley said. “They can do it no matter what anybody tells them. Just stay focused and keep moving, you never know what you’ve got in your future. I really like to go back home and show the kids back home that I did it, so can you.”
From a recruiting perspective, Georgia has done well in the Jacksonville area in recent years. Former Georgia starter John Theus comes from the area in addition to Kindley, a multi-year starter on Georgia’s offensive line. The Bulldogs’ 2020 quarterback commit — 4-star prospect Carson Beck — is also from Jacksonville.
Georgia safety J.R. Reed — who added that he loves the fact that the game is in Jacksonville — acknowledged the history of the rivalry, which has been played in Jacksonville every year since 1933 with the exception of when the stadium was getting renovated in 1994 and ’95.
But Reed also recognizes the game is so special, no matter where the game is played. It’s always going to matter, so long as Georgia and Florida continue to decide the SEC East.
“We could play all the way in the Bahamas and I wouldn’t care. It’s not a big deal for me,” Reed said.
Georgia running back D’Andre Swift shared a similar sentiment to that of his head coach. He likes that the game is in Jacksonville and does see the value in playing the rivalry game there. But when asked by reporters on Monday, the junior running back said he’s looking forward to the day when the Gators come visit Sanford Stadium.
“I would like to play them here and go over there some times,” Swift said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes when they play in Georgia and when they play at Florida.”
Swift’s sentiment feels like where this rivalry is headed. For right now, the game will remain in Jacksonville. But the longer Smart is at Georgia — which figures to be for a while given the Bulldogs have spent much of the past three seasons ranked in the top-10 — the more and more it feels like this game will one day be played in Athens and Gainesville on an annual basis.
Because even to a south Georgia native like Smart, the Georgia-Florida game is always going to be Georgia’s fiercest rivalry, even if Smart wouldn’t outright call it that.
“It’s important to all Georgia fans. It’s important to all Florida fans. It’s one of the biggest rivalries in college football,” Smart said. “So for me it’s special because of where it’s located, where the game is played and usually what the outcome determines.”
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart speaks on importance of Florida game
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