ATHENS — It is forever known as the “Gator Stomp,” at least in the Georgia Bulldogs’ annals. Florida, one can be sure, calls it something else. Regardless of allegiances, the 2007 Georgia-Florida game was unforgettable.
Thursday represents the 15th anniversary of that contest, a 42-30 drought-busting win by the Bulldogs.
While much transpired in that game, there is a singular moment that truly makes it memorable. It’s what happened at the 6:00 mark of the first quarter. Or, to be specific, it’s what happened after what happened at the 6-minute mark that lives in infamy.
The box score records it only as a 1-yard touchdown run by Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno. But it was the mighty leap followed by a stampede of wild-dancing humanity that makes it one of the craziest plays in the colorful history of this rivalry.
Georgia players rushed the field after Moreno’s diving score over right guard on third-and-goal from the 1 ½-yard line. And by players, we mean every Bulldog dressed in uniform that day. All, except one, that is. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, assuming he was already deep in coach Mark Richt’s doghouse, remained on the sideline with the coaches, managers and trainers.
But 58 other UGA players not only ended up dancing on the field with the 11 offensive players who belonged there, they remained there for an uncomfortably long time, jumping, yelling, hugging and rejoicing in a way that indicated the game would end right there.
With 54 minutes still to play, the touchdown first was subjected to video review to see if Moreno crossed the goal line. He did, by less than an inch. Then, thanks to penalty flags thrown by every referee officiating the game, Georgia was called for double personal-foul penalties – excessive celebration and taunting. The 30-yard penalty would be assessed on the kickoff, meaning the Bulldogs would kick off from their 7 ½-yard line.
It actually remained a tight game until late, but Georgia would hold on and prevail. The Bulldogs’ first victory over Florida in three years and second in a decade set off more wild celebrations in Jacksonville and throughout the Golden Isles that would last through the night.
Retrospectively, it was worth it. The win catapulted the Bulldogs. They’d roll through the last six opponents and finish the season as No. 2-ranked Sugar Bowl champions.
Richt, retired and living in Athens, sat down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday to reminisce about that game and separate facts from myths. Other participants also shared their memories:
RICHT: The whole team rushing the field wasn’t quite planned. It’s the way it ended up. There was a plan, but it didn’t go as planned. You lose some things in the translation every once in a while.
RENNIE CURRAN, Georgia linebacker: There really wasn’t a plan to do a ‘Gator Stomp’ at all. It was really one of those organic things that came from a combination of where we were in our season and where we were trying to get to as a team. The biggest thing we were talking about going into that game was getting our swagger back. Like, getting to a place mentally where we weren’t fearful but having fun and playing with confidence.
RICHT: We barely beat Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt the game before. I felt like we had no heartbeat that game, we had no energy, no juice, so to speak. I felt like we had to get some juice. ‘I’ve got to figure out to get these guys fired up.’ Right? I had the same issue at Florida State when I was offensive coordinator. We were beating teams big, and we’d score a touchdown and everybody would act like it was no big deal. We’d win the game, and there’d be no celebration in the locker room. We had to change that. ... It worked at Florida State, and I remembered that. So, I thought, ‘We’ve got to do it at Georgia.’
CURRAN: We had had a pretty up-and-down season to that point. We had chemistry, we had camaraderie, we had the love for each other and senior leadership and all those components you have to have to be successful. But we were just simmering; we weren’t quite boiling yet, if that makes sense. Coach Richt telling us we needed to get loose for the Florida game, that really was the moment we knew we needed to do something special and really get on fire.
RICHT: So, I told the boys early in the off week that I wanted to see them score the first touchdown and for everybody to celebrate hard to get everybody fired up. As we’re prepping for that game, somebody would score in practice and they might spin the ball or a guy might spike it or jump and dunk it over the goal post. I’m seeing all these individual celebrations going on all week. I started to think about that. So, the night before the game, talking to the team after our team dinner like I always did, I said, ‘Look, I talked about celebrating after the first touchdown, but here’s the parameters because I want to make sure you guys understand: Number one, if we don’t score in the first quarter, we’re not going to celebrate. If our first touchdown is in the fourth quarter and we’re down 40, we’re not celebrating. Don’t even think about it.’ Second of all, I said, ‘You guys have been celebrating individually. I don’t want an individual celebration; I want a team celebration.’ Now I’m thinking in my head of a team celebration as the 11 guys on the field, not the whole team. But I said, ‘and if we don’t get a celebration penalty thrown on us, then I’m running all you guys.’ So, that’s what I’m thinking going into the game.
RICHT: They get the ball first and they fumbled it (with Georgia’s Asher Allen recovering and returning it several yards). We get the ball and start driving it. I think we ran the ball on every down. It was like the Knowshon Moreno drive. So it’s third-and-goal at the 1 and Knowshon dives and reaches the ball over, and I’m expecting a celebration on the field. All of the sudden, I feel this big, giant breeze going by me, and it’s the whole team running onto the field. I was truly in shock for a moment. By the time the camera turns on me, I’m over my bewilderment, and I got excited because everybody else was excited.
CURRAN: Everything about that game was intense, even driving over the bridge in the buses. Then Knowshon scores and all the guys start running on the field. It was like an out-of-body experience for me. I’m the young freshman on the team just trying not to mess up. I’m standing there, like, ‘What’s happening?’ One of the upperclassmen says, ‘Come on, let’s go!’ So I went, just like any freshman would. It was the biggest rush and one of the most exciting and scary moments I’ve ever had.
PAT DOOLEY, columnist for the Gainesville Sun: When that happened, we’re literally just watching to see what Florida player retaliates and how serious is it going to be? I’m thinking ‘This is going to be an all-out brawl and the rest of this game might not be played.’ I was expecting them all to just start swinging their helmets at each other.
RICHT: One thing people don’t remember is that play went to review. If he had been an inch shorter, it would’ve been third-and-31 because of the two penalties. So, I’m sitting there thinking, ‘What in the world am I going to call on third-and-30?’ There aren’t many good plays for that. We probably wouldn’t have scored a touchdown, and that probably would’ve been my last game as Georgia’s coach.
CURRAN: Psychologically, it worked. After that, we didn’t have any cares or worries. It was like slapping a bully in the face and getting away with it. It was still intense. Every single play mattered. Obviously, SEC play is always like that. But the biggest thing for us was our mentality. We were ready to run through a brick wall for each other and for coach Richt. He put that belief and confidence in us. We were playing at a whole different level after that.
DOOLEY: I never felt like it was the reason Georgia won that game. I understand their motivation and why they did it. But Florida went right back out there and scored. It’s still a close game right up to halftime. I’m sitting there at the half thinking, ‘What is that I just saw?’ It was a weird game.
RICHT: It turned the tide that day. It could have gone from genius to idiotic real quick; we all know how the coaching business works. Knowshon saved my career that day.
CURRAN, who’s now a motivational speaker and executive coach for Game Changer Coaching: That was the turning point of the whole season. You look at great teams and there’s always something that creates a spark. That moment just kind of broke us loose psychologically. We just decided we didn’t have anything to lose and we were playing for each other. We were transformed at that moment.
RICHT: Yeah, I heard from the conference about it. I explained to Commissioner (Mike) Slive what happened and he halfway bought it, I think. Everybody was saying ‘that’s a no-no’ and I promised we’d never do it again and all that kind of stuff. It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission sometimes. But the ramifications of it truly were the next year, as we all know. They beat us down pretty good (49-10) and called three timeouts in a row to let their fans celebrate just a little longer.
DOOLEY: Oh, they took it personally. That was a really good Florida team, obviously, in ‘08. But that game against Georgia was as hard as I saw them play all year.
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