The odds are very much against the Georgia Southern Eagles pulling off the upset this weekend in Athens, but it's still likely the best shot the Eagles have had at the feat since the series was first played in 1992. The two teams didn't play again until 2000, and have renewed the series every four years since then until this season, which is only a three-year gap from the last game.
You have to wonder if that will continue now that Georgia Southern is an FBS school. This game was initially scheduled back when Georgia Southern was FCS, and there are no future dates with the Bulldogs planned. In the end, this may be the Eagles' last shot along with their best shot.
This particular in-state series is interesting, because Georgia Southern's football program is still relatively new in the grand scheme of things. It's been around in its current incarnation for just over 30 years. In the 40 years before that, generations of Georgia Southern students had no football team to cheer for. It's only natural that they would latch on to another school close by. For many that was The University of Georgia.
Since Erk Russell left UGA after the 1980 season to resurrect football in Statesboro, Georgia Southern has been fighting an uphill battle to gain primacy in the hearts of a number of people who still leaned a little more toward the red and black rather than the blue and white. That fight has gotten a bit easier since the move up to the FBS level, but it's still there.
There are always going to be those who support UGA because it's what their families have always done. But where has a lot of the frustration come from among Georgia Southern fans who don't have any allegiance to UGA whatsoever?
What have the biggest issues been?
1) For too long, there was too much red in Statesboro.
This one is finally starting to turn towards the good side, but in years past its definitely been an issue. I recall the 2007 Georgia Southern vs Furman game when the Eagles were in the midst of attempting to make the playoffs in Chris Hatcher's first season at the helm and Jayson Foster was mounting an ultimately successful Walter Peyton Award campaign. Furman, as one of Georgia Southern's oldest and biggest rivals, should have commanded the attention of the Eagle Faithful.
While I did see plenty of blue and white, I also saw quite a bit of red and black as I walked through the tailgate areas prior to that game. It also happened to be the day of the Auburn vs. UGA game, and there were plenty of people who seemed more focused on that game than the game in Statesboro. Not a majority, certainly, but it was an annoyingly visible minority.
There are always going to be fans of UGA that are in Statesboro. There will always be students at Georgia Southern that want to be at Georgia or elsewhere. Thankfully the amount of red I've seen on my last few trips has greatly diminished, though. However, it's still there, and it's still annoying.* That leads me to #2...
2) Attendance used to suffer if UGA was playing at the same time.
How many times have you been in Paulson Stadium and seen the students (and even plenty of older fans) either leave early or not show up at all because UGA was on TV at the same time Georgia Southern was playing? That's another one of the sports culture wars that was being fought between the two schools.
Thankfully, this is also something that is seeing a shift. This year's Citadel game — hardly a marquee opponent even as an old SOCON foe — saw the second-highest attendance in school history. It also happened to be at the exact same time as the UGA / South Carolina game. The program's history and last season's success in the Sun Belt is starting to excite a lot of people who otherwise might have devoted more attention to the school up north because they're FBS. With the Eagles on the same level, the tables are turning a bit.
3) Little respect in the State.
Even when Georgia Southern was winning FCS championships, the Eagles got little coverage in the media in Atlanta. Granted, the Atlanta media caters to Atlanta and Statesboro is 2.5-3 hours away (depending on how fast you drive), so it's not too surprising that they're not covered extensively. There were often times where it seemed like the Eagles were given token treatment as a passing thought or they were just outright ignored.
In the days before the Internet, that was very frustrating for someone like me who searched for anything I could find on Georgia Southern the day after games. That was all I could hope for was a short recap. When messages boards became a thing, it got better. One of the reasons I jumped at the opportunity to write for Underdog Dynasty about Georgia Southern is because I remembered being starved for information and coverage on a national scale. This offered the chance to help change that.
*Yes, I realize the irony in someone whose Twitter handle references Auburn and who runs the SB Nation Auburn site writing something like that. I very rarely wore Auburn stuff when I was in school at Georgia Southern, though, I also had a degree on my wall from Auburn already, so it was a bit more justified. You can bet when it came to game days in Paulson Stadium I was all in Georgia Southern gear.
Frustration Isn't Hate
Those are all reasons to be frustrated with a situation, but not to hate Georgia. Hate has to come from elsewhere. I could go into the trolling stereotypes of UGA and its fans, but I have a serious aversion to smack talk. The usual jokes are out there, though.
Grown men shouldn't bark, much less bark at other grown men. There's the constant arrogance about how great they're going to be at the beginning of every season. I like to joke that they have all the arrogance of Alabama fans but without the record of championships to back it up.
There's how dirty their campus often looks after a home game because apparently Dawgs don't do a great job of cleaning up after themselves. I'm not here to talk about how "classy" a fan base is, though I could give stories on that from personal experience. Plus, Georgia Southern has its share of bad eggs, too.
So, instead, I'll just go back to one big issue from the past. You see...
Georgia Did Call
That's a chapter title in Erk Russell's autobiography. Many of you may remember the days late in the 1988 football season when Vince Dooley was retiring as the head coach at Georgia and Georgia Southern fans were terrified that Erk was going to leave and take the job at Georgia.
Erk was called by the search committee. He was called by his good friend and UGA Athletic Director Vince Dooley. He was offered the job. In a press conference after deciding he would stay at Georgia Southern, he was asked about the Georgia job. He publicly stated that he was not going to take the job. The President of the University of Georgia responded that you couldn't turn down something you were never offered in the first place.
Erk was adamant that the offer was made.
I get that there are two sides to the story. I get that the President of the school may have had to put his stamp on the final offer. But do you really think that, had Erk said yes, that final official offer wasn't going to come? Was UGA's president really going to get THAT involved in the business of the Athletic Department?** Especially since he was new to the University, himself.
Former Georgia Southern President Bruce Grube famously (at least to us Eagles) said he didn't hire and fire coaches, he hired and fired Athletic Directors. After all his long years at Georgia, do you REALLY believe Vince Dooley's recommendation of hiring Erk wasn't going to go through?
In the parlance of an NFL preview show, c'mon, man.
If Erk wanted the job, the job would have been his. The way UGA handled it was more in line with someone who was beneath them rather than treating him with the respect he deserved. It hurt Erk. It upset a lot of Georgia Southern fans (and even rubbed some UGA people wrong) that the President said that.
I know any hard feelings were patched up, as Erk was still seen around Georgia games, but it still just sits wrong with me that they treated a man revered by their fanbase as well as Georgia Southern's in that manner.
In there is the mindset that we're lesser than they are. I've known plenty of UGA grads who act like Georgia Southern isn't even a real school, in spite of its accomplishments as an academic institution. You see it in message board posts by people who say Georgia Southern players really wanted to play for UGA but weren't good enough or the same for the students. There's always this smug feeling around them. And wouldn't you just love to knock that smugness out of them with a win? I know I would.
I don't have any illusions that Georgia Southern will surpass Georgia in national prestige. UGA is much too old, distinguished, and established, but the treatment as an inferior, even for something like a coach from little Georgia Southern not wanting to take your head job, is the type of thing that irks me to no end.
**According to one message board post I've seen recently, there is a claim that this is, in fact, the case. I had never heard that information before and in parts it directly contradicts what Erk said in his book and President Knapp said publicly, as well. I find it hard to believe Erk would include false information.
Just One More Time
Now is the best time ever to make them pay for that. This is one of the weaker UGA teams in recent memory. This is a strong Georgia Southern team, though not the strongest that the Eagles have put together.
It's time to show them that we GATA harder than they do. It may be the last shot, since there are no future games scheduled. Dig down in there deep and pull out that hatred for them Just One More Time. Now go give 'em hell, boys. And remember Erk's final words as head football coach of the Eagles.
I'm gonna say it one more time. We are Georgia Southern. Our colors are blue and white. We call ourselves the Bald Eagles. We call our offense the Georgia Power Company, and that's a terrific name for an offense. Our snap count is "rate, hike". We practice on the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek and that's in Statesboro, Georgia--the gnat capital of America. Our weekends begin on Thursday. The co-eds outnumber the men 3 to 2, they're all good looking and they're all rich. And folks, you just can't beat that, and you just can't beat Georgia Southern. And you ain't seen nothin yet!
Hail Southern. And no place else.