Random confession: I don't like the Utah Utes. It's not because of their football team, except to the extent that they're partially responsible for foisting Urban Meyer on the world. It's not because of the state of Utah, which I've only been to one time, for about 20 minutes, while I was changing planes on a trip to Seattle. Sen. Orrin Hatch rubs me the wrong way on a frequent basis, but it's not him, either.
I don't like Utah because a Utah graduate stood me up on a date 11 years ago, and I've never gotten an apology.
You might be saying, "Wow . . . that's, uh, kind of petty, actually." I won't waste your time denying that, but I will say this: That kind of pettiness -- hating teams for long-ago slights that their team or their fans visited upon you -- is at the heart of college football, or at least within a reasonable distance of the heart, maybe near the pancreas. If you've ever said, "Oooh, a [insert team here] fan cursed for four full quarters when they played us in college, and he finished it off by spilling 32 ounces of bourbon-spiked RC Cola down the back of my polo shirt," you know what I'm talking about, whether you realize it or not.
So with that in mind, this week's Georgia rivalry question is: Which Bulldog rival has the most obnoxious fans?
A truly immature, grating fan base can take a team you might otherwise like, or at least respect, and transform them into a target of your white-hot hatred on an annual basis. It doesn't have to be something that they actually physically did to you, either: In our Internet-connected age, a message-board poster who can't spell to save his life and continually treats Engish grammar the way Ike Turner treated Tina can be just as obnoxious as a non-virtual fan.
So who's the worst of the worst? Here are our candidates:
Florida. These guys seem to be showing up on every single list, and it's not an accident. Even before Steve Spurrier returned to Gainesville in 1990, they were pretty bad, but once the Gators started punking Georgia on a near-annual basis, their obnoxiousness entered the stratosphere. Combine a natural lack of social propriety (jorts, cheap beer, a bizarre predilection for blaze orange and peacock blue) with nouveau-riche football superiority and you've got a section of fandom that's truly unbearable in anything more than minuscule doses.
Tennessee. They're loud, they wear a shade of orange rarely found outside of traffic cones or city maintenance workers' vests, they dip, there's a good chance many of them only got indoor plumbing a few years ago. And they're 42-34 over the last six seasons, so it's not even like their football team's that good.
South Carolina. The annual preseason SEC champions, at least in their own mind. Every July their message boards burst with talk about how this is finally the Gamecocks' year, and when the teams finally match up on the field, they'll scream in your face all day about how Georgia's about to get their asses whupped. And when that doesn't happen -- as it hasn't for 13 out of 19 times they've played since South Carolina joined the SEC -- they retreat back to those same message board and whine about what classless, horrible people Georgia fans are.
Georgia Tech. See South Carolina, only with the added annoyance of constantly claiming unearned academic superiority over UGA in addition to unearned gridiron superiority. (Right, because Joe Hamilton and Reggie Ball were geniuses in the classroom.) Florida fans gloat about beating Georgia, but at least they usually earn it; Techies lose to Georgia as regularly as Lyndon LaRouche loses elections, and they whine about it. Only now they've got an old-school curmudgeon for a head coach, which has prompted them to think their whining somehow comes with an element of swagger.
Auburn. Georgia-Auburn is one of the friendlier (or at least more respectful) rivalries in the SEC, so the Plainsmen wouldn't have made this list were it not for the 2010 season. If any other team (particularly Georgia or Alabama) had fielded a Heisman-winning QB whose dad openly admitted shaking down other teams for six figures in exchange for the right to recruit his son, they'd be screaming bloody murder. But because they're the ones who got to watch as Cam Newton led them to the national title last season, Cammy Cam is suddenly as pure as the driven snow, and any suggestion otherwise elicits spittle-flecked indignation worthy of the finest Victorian-era fainting couches.
This might be the toughest category of them all, because quite frankly, any team that plays football in the Southeast probably has a fan base with a substantial number of people you wouldn't want to entertain for a nice dinner at your home.
But Florida gets my vote in a very close race. I'll be the first one to declare that redneck-baiting between most SEC fan bases is a silly exercise in hair-splitting -- seriously, turn the lights off and you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between Georgia fans and those of Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss, et cetera -- but north Florida occupies its own rarefied stratum of social unacceptability.
And bestowing a bit of actual gridiron success among these folks (did you know college football wasn't invented until 1990? It's true!) was kind of like giving a winning lottery ticket to a single-wide trailer dweller from Panama City -- you'd think it'd inspire them to refine their tastes and grow up a little, but instead it's given them the means to just amplify their obnoxiousness more than ever.