Sam Burnham, Curator
It happens about this time every year. The Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators, along with their respective faithful, make a pilgrimage to Jacksonville to compete for a year’s worth of bragging rights and often a leg up for the SEC East title. They’ve been doing this since 1933, except for the two years taken off while the historic Gator Bowl stadium was converted into whatever they’re calling it this week.
It’s an old tradition that remains one of college football’s last neutral site rivalry games. The tailgating atmosphere that spills out of the stadium parking lot and spreads all over town has come to be known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party...because that’s what it is. The stories from this cultural event are the stuff of legend. My dad and uncle (Georgia and Florida fans, respectively) went a few times. On one occasion they were driving through town with the windows down on a beautiful Florida fall afternoon. They came to a red light nowhere near the stadium. A car pulls up beside them in the left lane. The driver of the other car looks at my uncle in the passenger seat and says “hey buddy, you want a beer?” And then hands him a cold beer through the car windows.
Welcome to the WLOCP.
But this rivalry goes back further than 1933. The first game was in 1904...or maybe 1915, depending on who you ask. But the Georgia-Florida rivalry is even older than that.
When James Oglethorpe proposed the Colony of Georgia in 1730, it was to be a buffer between the existing British colonies and Spanish Florida. Spain had an important fort, The Castillo de San Marcos, at St. Augustine, south of present day Jacksonville. Oglethorpe led military campaigns to oppose the Spanish. Ft. King George was built at Darien and Ft. Frederica and Ft. St. Simons were built on St. Simons Island to defend against Spanish invasion. Oglethorpe would lay siege to St. Augustine more than once. The War of Jenkins’ Ear was, in part fought in this area. The Battle of Bloody Marsh took place on St. Simons. Georgia and Florida have been fighting around Jacksonville since before Jacksonville was even there.
There are those who would move this rivalry to include Atlanta or even “home and home.” Why would you want to mess up a good thing? It has worked for almost 90 years as a football rivalry and 290 years as a rivalry, period. This should never be changed. It’s both states at their finest. Epic hospitality meets epic animosity and they go so well together. Seeing that clean break behind each goal post where orange and blue turn to red and black and then back again...you can’t beat it. It’s just beautiful.
So here I stand with Jacksonville and the WLOCP. May it continue for another 300 years.
Sam Burnham, Curator
College football is back. Those are just delightful words to string together. The sport of football is ingrained into the culture of Georgia and the South in general. It is hard to imagine life here without football.
But that’s exactly what almost happened.
In 1897 the University of Georgia played the University of Virginia in Atlanta. During the course of the game, a young Georgia player from Rome named Von Gammon was seriously injured. He was transported to an Atlanta hospital where he later died from his injuries.
in the aftermath of such a terrible tragedy the state legislature decided to do what governments so often try to do - legislate away the possibility of tragedy. They passed a bill banning the game from the state.
This would be a huge shift in state history. In retrospect we can see there would have never been Bulldogs, particularly Uga. There would be neither Sanford nor Bobby Dodd stadiums. No teams at Georgia Southern, Ft. Valley State, Morehouse, or Wedt Georgia. No Friday Night Lights. All of that would be wiped out before it even started.
But something unpredictable happened. The legislation had already passed the state house and was headed to the governor for his signature, which he had already pledged. That’s when a Southern woman, Rosalind Gammon, mother of Von Gammon lobbied on behalf of the sport her son loved. In an spirited plea to the governor she laid out her case saying “it would be inexpressibly sad to have the cause [Von] held so dear injured by his sacrifice,” She also added she said football was “the most cherished object of his life.”
Keeping in mind that Rosalind Gammon would not be legally allowed to vote for over 20 years later when the 19th Amendment secured the vote for women. She had no political weight to throw around. The governor could not be voted out of effectively taken down by a woman. But Mrs Gammon laid out her case eloquently and effectively. The love of a mother and the strength it possesses carried more influence than a lot of powerful men who tried to budge the governor and the assembly.
Governor William Yates Atkinson vetoed the bill. The University of Georgia fielded a football team in 1898 and the rest is history. Rosalind Gammon saved football in Georgia. To this day monuments tell her story in Downtown Rome as well as on the 3rd floor of Butts Mehre in Athens.
If you enjoy football, take a moment to remember this amazing woman, the love she had for her son, and her fight for the game he loved.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Back at the beginning on this month, Georgians of a particular age were delighted when iHeart Radio resurrected Atlanta radio station 96 Rock in an all-digital format.
From 1974 to 2006, 96 Rock ruled the airwaves across North Georgia. I’ve heard more than one person opine that it was the best radio station in The South. The only competition for that title I ever encountered was Classic Rock 99.5 in Birmingham and WRUF-FM in Gainesville, Florida. Both of these stations were also gobbled up and destroyed by corporate radio acquisition. This is why modern commercial radio stinks. But that’s another story.
Back to the good aspects. The nostalgia ran deep on this. They say you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. But in this case, we knew exactly what we had. Homesick Georgians were gathered together at Jacksonville State one night when someone suggested going up to Mt Cheaha and listening to 96 Rock. The signal up there was crystal clear under a starlit sky and a pilgrimage was born. That’s just one of many stories. And a lot of Georgians can tell you similar tales.
My take on the reboot is mixed. The music is great even though it’s a bit repetitive at times. Toward the end of the broadcast era, the station had the same problem, only much worse. It is good to hear most of the voices of the old personalities. The iconic “This is 96 Rock” makes me smile every time.
I do not like hearing the reminiscing by “The Regular Guys.” The former morning team whose juvenile antics ultimately killed the entire station are pretty much hailed as heroes at times. There’s no reason for Eric von Haessler’s voice to be on 96 Rock. There’s no reason for Larry Wachs to be heard on radio ever again, period. Like many New York transplants in Georgia, these two self-serving miscreants made a lot of money destroying something we all loved. And that’s all I have to say about that.
I do hope that the station will cultivate more of a presence in the area. Ultimately what we have right now is a playlist. In its heyday, 96 Rock was where we heard about shows, concerts, album releases, and other music news. The very first time I heard Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell was when 96 Rock played the album in it’s entirety. The 96 Rock stage at Music Midtown was always a must. This wasn’t just a radio station. It was part of the community. Correction, it was part of our communities, plural.
So this resurrection is not without negatives, particularly the fact that it is orchestrated by the Walmart of radio, iHeart. It’s a corporate thing and we all get that. But hopefully that floating disembodied heart emoji in the sky will see by that data it’s collecting that we all still love our old station and they’ll put the resources into it to make it what it was, what it could be, what it should be.
Welcome back, 96 Rock!
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire