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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Tim Tebow, Frank Sinkwich IV and Jacksonville NAS: The story of Florida-Georgia as top-ranked teams

The last time either team entered Jacksonville ranked No. 1 was 2009

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and the 2009 Gators are the last team to carry a No. 1 ranking into Jacksonville on either side of the rivalry, but 2021 Georgia will finally break the streak.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and the 2009 Gators are the last team to carry a No. 1 ranking into Jacksonville on either side of the rivalry, but 2021 Georgia will finally break the streak.

The No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs have been downright dominant so far this season. Their suffocating defense has allowed just 6.6 points and 207.1 yards per game. Georgia outscored its last three opponents — Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky — 101-23. It has clearly lived up to its top-ranked billing entering Jacksonville.

It’s been a long time since either team entered “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” on top of the college football world. In fact, you have to go back to 2009 to find the last time either team was No. 1: The 2009 Florida Gators, led by Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer, claimed the top spot in the Bowl Championship Series rankings on Oct. 31, 2009.

So, what happened in that game? Well, long story short, Florida steamrolled its rival in the 87th meeting between the two teams. The Gators thrashed the Bulldogs, 41-17 on Halloween in what was then called Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. 

Tebow, unsurprisingly, led the way: The Heisman-winning quarterback completed 15 of his 21 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 18 rushing attempts for 85 yards and two more touchdowns. Tebow leapfrogged former Georgia running back Herschel Walker on the SEC career rushing touchdown list, setting the record with his 50th rushing score. 

Tebow’s record, which eventually settled at 57, has yet to be beaten. His touchdowns record remains tied for the most combined rushing and receiving touchdowns in SEC history — former Alabama running back Najee Harris equaled Tebow’s total last season.

The rest of the offense played a supplementary role but still outclassed the Bulldogs. Wide receiver Riley Cooper led the way receiving, tallying four catches for 78 yards and two scores, while running back Mike Gillislee ripped off a 49-yard run — the longest play of the game.

The offense’s 41 points were impressive, but the defense refused to be overshadowed. The unit, led by future NFL stars Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins, Brandon Spikes and Carlos Dunlap, allowed just 286 yards and 5.6 yards per play. Spikes registered one of the team’s four interceptions on the afternoon and led the Gators with 10 tackles. Cornerback A.J. Jones embraced his inner Freddie Kreguer and lived rent free in UGA quarterback Joe Cox’s head all Halloween, tallying two interceptions of his own. 

The Bulldogs had NFL talent on their sidelines as well: Wide receiver A.J. Green totaled 50 yards on three catches, while kicker Blair Walsh knocked in a 49-yard field goal.

You have to go a bit further back in the history books to find the last time Georgia was No. 1 in Jacksonville — 79 years to be exact. 

In 1942, the top-ranked Bulldogs slaughtered the Gators, 75-0. The Bulldogs finished the season 11-1 and defeated UCLA in the Rose Bowl, and halfback Frank Sinkwich IV became the first player from the SEC to win the Heisman. 

Florida, meanwhile, finished the season 3-7 and featured losses to Villanova, Georgia Tech and Jacksonville Naval Air Station. No, seriously: Florida lost its opening game of the 1942 season to Chicago Bears legend George McAfee and the Jacksonville NAS Flyers, 20-7. During World War II, service teams consisting of collegiate and professional players preparing for deployment popped up on bases all over the country

“George McAfee and company of the Jacksonville Naval Air Station let loose a blast of football power in the third quarter to crush a stubborn but outclassed Florida team, 20 to 7, before 8,500 fans here yesterday,” Wayne Oliver of the Tallahassee Democrat wrote after the Florida loss.

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Flash forward to 2021: Jacksonville NAS is the third-largest Naval base in the country, and neither Tebow nor Sinkwich IV are walking out of the TIAA Bank tunnel. Florida may not have fared well the last time it was an underdog to the No. 1 Georgia, but times have certainly changed since 1942. 

Contact Michael Hull at mhull@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33.

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Michael Hull

Michael Hull is a third-year journalism major with a specialization in sports & media. He has a minor in business and leadership and is a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars fan.


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