Last week we began the discussion about Georgia's biggest rival by asking which team Georgia fans most enjoy beating. (The overwhelming favorite, not surprisingly, was Florida.) But there's a flip side to that coin, and it is this: Which rival do Georgia fans most hate losing to?
Because let's face it, there are losses and then there are losses. Some of them are disappointing but prompt you only to shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, that was tough, but we'll just have to get 'em next year." Other losses keep you up at night and cause an acid stomach that lingers for days.
Of all the losses Georgia could potentially incur in a given season, which one would sting the most? Which one would you have to hear about the most from rival fans? Which one would be most likely to have you wide awake and staring at the ceiling at three in the morning, wondering what the people at work were saying about the Dawgs behind your back? (Oooh, especially that smarmy douchebag Steve in accounting -- his team wins one SEC championship and he thinks he runs the place.)
Last week's question was about joy and bragging rights that last 364 days; this question is all about shame. The candidates:
Florida. Hey, nothing says they can't be both the team you most love to beat and the team you most hate to lose to. Not even 18 losses in the last 21 tries, as each new loss only ratchets the hate level up that much more. Personally, I don't think I've ever lost as much sleep over a single sporting event as I did the 2002 Georgia-Florida game -- I could write a doctoral dissertation about how that loss laid the spiritual groundwork for every misfortune the Dawgs have incurred in the nine years since, but I'll spare you for now.
Georgia Tech. If this has become a game the Dawgs expect to win, it's for good reason -- since the Jackets made their ill-advised departure from the SEC in 1964, they're 12-35 against UGA. But in the rare event that they manage to notch even one victory against the Dawgs, they act like they've permanently turned the tables in one fell swoop. To carry out the "little brother" analogy from last week, losing to Georgia Tech is like that one time your brother beat you in Scrabble -- and then never let you hear the end of it.
Auburn. Their fan base and Georgia's commingle in so many different places in Georgia and Alabama that it's impossible not to hear about it when the Dawgs cough one up to the Tigers. Even if you're not one of those vindictive souls who's convinced Auburn is one of the dirtiest programs in college football, a loss to Auburn can be tough to take.
South Carolina. I could basically cut-and-paste everything I just said about Georgia Tech above. The Dawgs are 46-15-2 against the Gamecocks all-time and 13-6 as SEC rivals, yet one win by the 'Cocks and all of a sudden the pecking order in the SEC East has been completely and irrevocably subverted. Only they actually did manage to do the unthinkable and win a division title last year, so they've become that much more insufferable. And a loss to Carolina happens early enough in the season that it can cast a pall over the entire campaign.
Tennessee. The bad blood built up over years of Phil Fulmer (and Lane Kiffin) isn't going to be erased right away. It's not just the losses to the Vols but the way the Dawgs have lost to the Vols in recent years (ugh, those blowouts in Knoxville in 2007 and '09) that really sting.
My vote: Georgia Tech. Maybe I've just become numb to Georgia's struggles in the Cocktail Party, and maybe I'm still too sentimental about the Georgia-Auburn rivalry to get too depressed over it, but a loss to Georgia Tech results in long-term frustration and gnashing of teeth.
Look at it this way: Georgia lost to Florida in 2002 and 2005, yet after going on to earn SEC championships and top-10 final rankings both times, those seasons still felt like triumphs. In 2008, though, Georgia won 10 games, played in a New Year's Day bowl and finished in the top 10 of the coaches' poll -- and the season still felt like a failure because we'd collapsed against Tech in the final contest of the regular season. You couldn't swing a dead cat in Atlanta without hitting a Tech fan who was convinced Paul Johnson was on the verge of a decade-long winning streak against Georgia.
Thankfully, the Dawgs managed to kill a lot of that talk by beating the Jackets the following two years. But should Tech pull off the win in Atlanta this year, it'll start right back up again. That's just how Techies roll, and why they're the team I most hate losing to.
Fortunately, I haven't had to experience it much.