Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Georgia fans already bashing FSU Sugar Bowl opponents

Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Let the bashing begin. Their teams haven't played each other in 18 years, but it hasn't taken Georgia and Florida State supporters long to refuel a rivalry with plenty of angry hyperbole.

If it's any indication, it should add some more Cajun spice to the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl meeting in New Orleans. Kickoff is 8:30 p.m. EST and the game will be nationally televised on ABC-TV.

Various message boards on the internet already are filled with taunts, accusations and assorted trash-talk.

One common theme is Georgia fans' dismay over the Bullogs playing a four-loss Florida State team. In a front-page story in Monday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, several Georgia fans seemed to sum up the mood.

"After 20 years of misery, playing a team with four losses doesn't seem like much of a reward," said Chris Spivey, a 1996 Georgia graduate, in reference to the Bulldogs' last Southeastern Conference title. "We've got nothing to gain.

"If we beat Florida State, they'll say we were supposed to win. If we lose, we're terrible."

Georgia (11-1) was established as a 3-point favorite Monday by Las Vegas oddsmakers. The Bulldogs earned their first Sugar Bowl trip since Herschel Walker was their tailback by beating Arkansas 30-3 in last Saturday's SEC title game.

Their fans are expected to pack the French Quarter and fill New Orleans hotel rooms during the New Year's holiday week. The Seminoles are making their fifth Sugar Bowl trip in eight years.

The issue of Florida State playing the Bulldogs has caused Georgia coach Mark Richt to defend his former team.

"I think everybody would say Miami is the best team in the country and Florida State handled them," said Richt, in reference to the Seminoles' 28-27 loss on Oct. 12. "Florida State beat a Florida team that we didn't handle very well."

The Bulldogs' 20-13 loss on Nov. 2 to Florida separates them from possibly facing Miami in the national title game.

The Sugar Bowl matchup has been a much-debated topic, after the Orange Bowl passed on Florida State with both of its selections and opted to bring Iowa and Southern California across the country to its game. USC was the Sugar Bowl's choice to play Georgia, but the Orange Bowl used its selection priority and a one-time option as a higher-paying bowl to muscle the Trojans and Hawkeyes away from the Sugar and Rose Bowl games.

The Orange Bowl really didn't want Florida State under any matchup scenario. Orange Bowl officials and Florida State have a lukewarm relationship, at best. Many FSU supporters and athletic officials admitted a preference for the Sugar Bowl over the home-state game.


The only other team to play in the Sugar Bowl with four losses was the 1945 Alabama team. Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was 14 years old.

"I can nearly repeat that game play-by-play," he said. "I was the biggest Alabama fan in the world. The star of the Alabama team graduated from the same high school I did.

"Gee, that makes me feel good (that Alabama once played with four losses). They lost by three or four points in that game. I don't know if that's a good sign or not ... that I remember that game."

The Duke Blue Devils, yes, Duke, beat Alabama 29-26 in that Sugar Bowl game.

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