One of the things that makes College Football great is the traditions that come with different universities and matchups. These experiences are almost like a College Football bucket list. It could be seeing the sunset over the mountains at the Rose Bowl or walking through the Texas State Fair to the Cotton bowl. It could be seeing Touchdown Jesus in South Bend or watching a sousaphone player dot the i in script Ohio. These gameday experiences can be appreciated by any College Football fan regardless of whether they root for the team playing or not. One that might be overlooked by fans outside the southeastern part of the United States is the annual meeting between Georgia and Florida in Jacksonville on the last Saturday in October.
The annual meeting between these two storied SEC universities is commonly referred to by fans as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. It’s an endearing term for the rivalry matchup that has been played in Jacksonville since 1933. Each year thousands upon thousands of fans flock to places like RV city and the docks on the St. John’s River to enjoy a week long celebration that culminates with the 3:30 kickoff on Saturday. Fans want to make sure that they are in that stadium by that then in order to avoid the post tailgate environment that looks like every fan for both universities was a member of Delta Tau Chi house at Faber College. Even Bluto would be impressed with the tailgating activities by the Gators and the Bulldogs.
The Party before the Game
Until a person visits Jacksonville for the Georgia Florida game, they don’t truly understand the true scope of the tailgate scene. Starting on Monday, the city opens up what is referred to as RV city. Hundreds of RVs make pilgrimage from different parts of the United States to start the party. Each day the amount of people increases exponentially and the only true comparison is the RV scene at the Daytona 500. During the party week, things between the two fan bases is fairly cordial. There is some smack talking based on the previous year’s outcome but all in all everyone there is having a good time.
In addition to RV city, the local marina starts to fill up with what can only be described as yachts that has the docks rocking throughout the night. But the real fun starts Saturday morning. The parking lots around the stadium open up and the hoards of rabid fans descend onto the banks of the St. John’s. Grills are lit, cornhole is started and drinks are following early in the morning. It is a spectacle as fans trade chants of “Gatorbait” or “Go Dawgs! Sic’ em!”. Full bars are set up and at least five or six flat screen tvs are set up in each row to stream College Gameday as the party begins to hit a full crescendo. College drinking games from present day and yesteryear are in full effect. Fans truly take full advantage of the great October weather in Florida and the 3:30 kickoff. The tailgate scene is a sight that every fan needs to experience once in their life. Just make sure that you add in a bottle of water every once in a while.
Once the game starts
Back in the day when the Georgia/Florida game was a dry game, fans would sneak in additional liquid through a variety of methods and try to stay out in the tailgate till the very last moment. Now, fans don’t play it as close but some many still sneak in extra help to continue the party in the stadium. Outside the stadium, the last remnants of a once great hoopla remain. The remaining people outside the stadium have either settled in a location by an RV or bar to watch the game or they are enjoying a nap on the ground. The cheers from the game will echo throughout the downtown air as fans live on the edge of their seat for every play. And by the third quarter, there maybe start to become a steady stream of fans who figure they would rather rejoin the tailgate festivities instead of watching their favorite team lose inside the stadium.
Experiencing the Georgia Florida game is something that every college football fan does once in their lifetime. Attending as just a spectator and not a fan of either team, I didn’t understand the true scope of the tailgate until I saw it for myself. Wearing an Ohio St. jacket, I heard multiple fans shout O-H! I watched two men in their mid 40s playing cornhole completely annihilate all comers. Seriously, they won each game within four to five turns. The comradery of the fan bases knows no bounds and it is a beautiful sight to see the setting sun dip just below the upper deck of TIAA Bank Stadium as the sky fades to fall twilight. An experience that could never be dampened even as someone chums the water to the laughter of his own father as they ride back on the boat in the darkness. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is just that, a 100,000 person party that also includes a rivalry football game.