Wars have been waged over lesser arguments than the annual border battle that pits the University of Georgia Bulldogs against the University of Georgia Gators. This year’s edition of what is still called, much to the chagrin of both university’s, “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” is scheduled for Nov. 2 in Jacksonville. But before then, fans of both schools, from far and wide, will descend on the Golden Isles like long-lost relatives making their way home for the annual Thanksgiving holiday.
In the Golden Isles, most of the people will be clad in the red and black of Georgia, but, rest assured, there are Gators amongst us.
Caroline and Chip Champion are University of Georgia graduates who live and work in the Golden Isles. They’ve raised their children – Max, 18, and Mary Wallace 14 – here, and these days they enjoy attending the games as a family.
Both of the Champions graduated from the Terry School of Business at UGA, Chip in 1992, and Caroline in 1994.
They’ve been attending the Georgia-Florida matchup for nearly as long as they can remember.
“In our college days, and as young adults, we would take one of the several Spanky’s (now Marshside) buses down,” said Caroline. “It was a huge tailgate with a band that always kept us fired up, as Marc Mercer wore his Elvis outfit, leading us in the stadium (and) agitating all “lizards” within our path.”
The couple continued attending games after they were married, and included old college friends who came to stay with them for the weekend. Once the children came along, Caroline said one of the most important tasks was to hire a babysitter as they began taking buses provided by Sea Island.
“Today, we are now enjoying taking our young adults on the youth-friendly buses,” she said.
“Afterwards, we always return to our beloved St. Simons Island, singing ‘Glory, Glory to Old Georgia.”
One of the most important traditions surrounding the game, according to the Champions is keeping the game in Jacksonville.
“It is paramount to this rivalry, and to the enjoyment of all Bulldog fans all over the state,” she said. “After all, it is all about all of Bulldog Nation all over the state having a good time uniting against the former ‘Evil Genius/Empire of Gator Nation.’ Joking aside, it is one of the greatest rivalries in college football, and belongs on the coast of our states.”
Caroline admitted that one of her family’s weekend traditions is to join other alumni for the Gator Eats Boogers golf tournament. She says just the title of the tournament adds to the positive momentum for the weekend.
The Champions always attend the game, but they recommend a couple of local spots for folks not making the trek south on I-95.
“The old-school Bulldogs love watching the games at Brogen’s at the pier on St. Simons Island, and Marshside, in Brunswick,” she said. “True fun fact … we have both danced on tables after many a Dawg victory post-Georgia/Florida game in both establishments. Of course, we were a lot younger then, and not encouraged these days.”
Visitors to St. Simons Island for game weekend will have time to eat, drink, shop and possibly sightsee, and the Champions have some recommendations for them.
“You must start with Southern Soul BBQ and Brogen’s. Great food, staff and atmosphere,” she said. “At night, we love Crabdaddy’s, Halyards, Tramici, Delaney’s and Nazzaro’s. All incredible places and great local dinner spots. Getting a little old on the bar scene, but the village at the pier and Redfern Village is always hopping.”
Asa High is the head greenskeeper at Frederica Golf Club, on St. Simons Island. He, and his wife Molly, are both graduates of the University of Florida. Asa graduated in 2004 with a B.S. in agricultural operations management and in 2006 with an M.S. in environmental horticulture and turfgrass science. Molly graduated in 2006 with a B.A. in elementary education, and in 2007 with a Master of Education.
Asa High says he has many fond memories of attending the annual brawl during his college years. The Highs, however, prefer to focus on more recent memories.
“I think our favorite recent memory was the 2014 game,” Molly said. “We had recently moved back to Florida from Augusta. It had been unseasonably warm, and the night before the game a cold front passed through, dropping the temperature nearly 30 degrees on the way to the game.”
This surprise cold front necessitated the couple stopping to purchase extra cold-weather gear, including hats, gloves and an extra layer of clothing.
Once there, they joined their friends, including some of Molly’s sorority sisters, and classmates. Despite the cold weather, they enjoyed having a day date in their old stomping grounds, and were determined to root the struggling Gators to victory.
“Our Gators were 3-3 that year, and were coming in to play No. 9 Georgia,” she said. “Our hopes weren’t high, but we walked away that night with a little bit of frostbite and a 38-20 upset over the Georgia Bulldogs. I remember asking Asa during game, ‘Is this really happening?”
Asa High moved to St. Simons in Sept. 2018.
“Molly and our boys, Parker and Hudson, joined me in June of this year,” Asa said. “We are hoping to start new Florida-Georgia traditions now that we are living on the island.”
The Highs will begin some of those new traditions this season.
“This year, we plan to have some of our Florida family, also UF alums, join us for the weekend,” Molly said. “We hope to grill out, visit the pier and Redfern Village with the kids, and, if we don’t have a repeat of winter weather like 2014, we might even visit the beach and pool.”
Some of the High’s guests will be making the trip to Jacksonville for the game.
“We will tailgate and enjoy pregame festivities before heading into the stadium for what looks like to be another fantastic matchup this year,” said Asa.
The couple is also looking forward to showing off the local cuisine while their guests are in town.
“It is hard to go wrong with restaurants on the island during that weekend, or anytime, for that matter,” said Asa. “I guess the first thing to do is get your order in for Southern Soul carry-out for tailgating. Gnat’s (Landing) and the deck at Mellow Mushroom are great places to watch the game, especially with younger kids.”
Other restaurants that we are sure to always take our Florida family to are Crabdaddy’s, Sal’s Pizzeria, Bubba Garcia’s, Coastal Kitchen, Catch 228 and Half Shell, at the pier. It’s hard to go wrong on the island when it comes to food.”
Asa High said there are plenty of activities to keep people busy for the weekend.
“With so many courses in the area, golf is a must,” he said. “I’m partial to Frederica Golf Club, so if you know a member and can get on, don’t miss that opportunity. If golf is not your thing, then the village and East Beach are definitely sites to see during Florida-Georgia weekend. The lighthouse and some of the island’s nature trails would also be great spots to visit with friends and family.”
Of course, there’s always shopping.
“For any ladies not interested in football (what?) and need some retail therapy to get through the football frenzy weekend, you can’t go wrong with the beautiful shops and boutiques around Redfern Village,” said Molly.