July 24, 2008

Richt regrets celebration, could stoke rivalry

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. Georgia coach Mark Richt reiterated Thursday that he didn't expect the Bulldogs' controversial celebration against Florida last season to turn out quite the way it did.

"In hindsight, I shouldn't have done it," Richt said at SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel. "I won't do anything like that again. It could have easily turned into a big, stupid brawl and everything else."

The celebration took place nine months ago, but it has remained a hot topic of conversation this week as SEC teams prepare to kick off the 2008 season. Florida coach Urban Meyer reportedly criticizes the move in an upcoming book, and players from both teams have said it could stoke the Georgia-Florida rivalry to unprecedented heights.

Richt admitted he told the Bulldogs before the game that he'd be angry if they weren't penalized for an excessive celebration after scoring their first touchdown against Florida, assuming that score came before halftime. The Bulldogs responded by performing all sorts of individual celebrations at practice in the two weeks leading up to that game.

"I got guys scoring a touchdown against a scout team, spiking the ball," Richt said. "I got a guy scoring against the scout team and dunking it over the goal post. I have a guy scoring against the scout team and pretending he's throwing the ball in the stands. I'm watching this thing as it's going on thinking, 'That's not the way it's going to happen.' ''

That's when Richt said he wanted the celebration to become more of a team-oriented thing. Little did he know his players would interpret that to mean they should all leave the sideline when the Bulldogs reached the end zone.

"I'm still thinking 11 guys celebrating," Richt said. "Well, somebody in the crowd thought I meant everybody."

The celebration sparked Georgia to a 42-30 victory.

"That wasn't right," Meyer wrote in his book "Urban's Way," according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report. "It was a bad deal. And it will forever be in the mind of Urban Meyer and in the mind of our football team."

Richt said he called Meyer after the game to explain himself and indicated that he was a coach desperate to spark some enthusiasm into his team even if it resulted in a 15-yard penalty.

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow said Wednesday that the celebration didn't bother him.

"That did nothing for me but just fire me up," Tebow said. "I'm not upset or bitter about it or anything like that. I think it was a good call by Coach Richt because it changed their season. That gave their players a spark. It gave them energy. It gave them something to be passionate about. Whether it was right or wrong, it's not for me to say."

Players and coaches agreed that the events should raise the stakes in the Nov. 1 Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville, but Richt said the final score may have had more of an impact in that regard than the actual celebration.

"I don't think there's any doubt it's intensified the rivalry," Richt said. "But what intensified the rivalry is that we won. I mean, that's the reality."

Richt's feelings about the rivalry were obvious when he made an unprompted comment about Florida's recent domination of the series.

"People want to talk about streaks in that game," he said. "The way I see it, we won last year. We won two of the last four. And if you start going back in history, you might as well go back to the beginning of the history of the series and see where Georgia is there."

Georgia leads the all-time series 47-37-2, though Florida has won 15 of the past 18 meetings.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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