by Ken Rosenberg
Hundreds of miles away from home, two Telecom grad students revel in nostalgic rivalry with each other. Dan Levy and Mona Malacane are fans of a team in the Southeastern Conference (SEC)—but not the same team. Dan, a first year M.S. (design & production) student from University of Florida (UF), loves his Gators. Mona, a first year M.A. student from University of Georgia (UGA), is still a member of the Bulldog Nation. These football teams are cornerstones of their universities’ identities and, by extension, the students that graduate from there. Mona and Dan proudly wear their colors here at IU.
“Football is huge. Football is king in the south,” Mona said. “It’s a thing, it’s a culture.” The SEC is a Division 1 conference of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and both UF and UGA are part of the east half of the conference.
“Arguably, it’s the best conference in football,” Dan said. “We’re the most competitive. SEC schools consistently have the most championships, year after year. It makes the rivalries really big. It makes people go all out.” In their respective home states, everything – from doormats, to flags, to indoor decorations – is either orange and blue, or red and black.
A couple of weeks ago, in a piece on our grads from Georgia, Mona that a true Bulldog bleeds red and black. Even Teresa Lynch, a fellow Georgian and Telecom M.A. student, roots for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, despite the fact that she did not go to UGA. They’re not just acculturated as freshmen – “you know it before you get there,” Mona said.
Dan, too, was well aware of the fandom surrounding his team. “The Gators won the national title my senior year of high school,” Dan said, “and that’s the year I applied to the school. That’s when it took hold.” In a show of devotion to his undergrad alma mater, Dan flew home three weeks ago to see a game against Kentucky State. (Mona will be visiting a friend to see the Bulldogs take on Kentucky State, as well.)
“It’s not like here,” Dan said, “where there are fields for tailgating and the rest of the city is quiet. At Florida, they don’t really have that space. I woke up on game day and walked outside my dorm, and every square inch of green space was covered. They have tables and people grilling, drinking and playing games. It’s just a sea of people. It’s like nothing I’d ever seen. The entire city is gridlocked – you don’t drive. You can’t escape it on game day.”
They’re culturally and geographically close, but Florida and Georgia fans have a century-strong rivalry between them, to the point that neither team will venture onto the home field of the other. When they play against each other, they meet in Jacksonville, Florida – “neutral territory,” as they both put it.
“They suspend open container laws that weekend, they send out cops on horses,” Dan said. “It runs the whole city.” Dan says that people call it “the largest outdoor cocktail party.”
“You make a weekend out of it,” Mona said. “At UGA, you have that Friday off and call it a ‘Fall Break,’ because people really want to go to that game. It’s a big deal.”
Just talking about the game can reveal one’s allegiance. Dan says “Florida-Georgia;” Mona says “Georgia-Florida.” At these games, it is common to hear terms like “Dog food” and “Gator bait.”
“It’s scary how far people can take it,” Mona said. An ardent Bulldogs fan, she still urges anyone who is tied up in the rivalry to “take it all with a grain of salt.”
Georgia has won the game these past two years but, before that, Florida had won several more in a row. “You take wins when they come,” Dan said, “but, when we lose, it’s always ‘we’ll win tomorrow.’” Mona is staunchly against fair-weather fandom and, despite a few seasons of sub-optimal performance, she’s still excited to follow her beloved Bulldogs.
Both agree that the game will be very close. It will take place on October 27 at 3:30pm.