What is college football’s best neutral-site rivalry game? Is it Army-Navy, Florida-Georgia, Oklahoma-Texas, or another? The Campus Insiders team discusses in this roundtable.
Whenever the Red River Rivalry/Red River Shootout/Red River Showdown comes up on the schedule, you know that the college football season has really arrived. It often has conference championship ramifications for either Texas or Oklahoma – or both – and it involves two schools with rich football histories. I have an appreciation for the Cotton Bowl that goes back to the Joe Montana “chicken soup” game (while I was not born at the time, I heard the story from my oldest brother and loved the venue ever since), and I have always wanted to visit the State Fair of Texas in Dallas. Who could forget the picture in 1984 of Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer wearing a ballcap featuring the words “Beat Texas” in a showdown against the top-ranked Longhorns? Whether it was the SWC, Big Eight or Big 12, this has been a game I always circled on my calendar.
With all due respect to the other great rivalries that could be mentioned here, it’s Florida-Georgia (or Georgia-Florida per Bulldog fans). When hundreds of thousands of fans congregate in Jacksonville, Florida every year to end October it’s one of sport’s greatest spectacles. This isn’t just one day we’re talking about, this is a week-long event folks plan their entire year around. From RV City, which fills up nearly a week in advance with fans celebrating the annual tradition, to Georgia fans flocking to Amelia Island and St. Simons, and Florida fans taking over Jacksonville Beach and Ponte Vedra, there’s nothing like it in college football. It truly is The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party – even if the schools refuse to call it such, on account of an irrational thought that a name change may actually reduce the amount of partying if alcohol is disassociated with the event. News flash, presidents: it won’t. The scene pulling over the bridges early Saturday morning is breathtaking – miles upon miles of tailgaters canvassing every single piece of land available. It’s the single greatest tailgating event in all of football.
Short backstory that explains the extensive lengths fans go to to make The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party what it is: My entire dad’s side of the family are Gators, save for my grandma who chose the other dark side (aka Florida State, which was an all-girls school known as the Florida State College for Women at the time, so we don’t fault her too much). Every year when he was younger he would load up a houseboat with booze and friends in the Central Florida area and set course north all the way up the St. Johns River to Jacksonville for the game. A multi-day booze cruise ending at the mecca of all tailgating events.
If we’re talking on-field, the rivalry has that too. The Gators and Bulldogs are responsible for some of the greatest moments in college football history, like “Run, Lindsay, Run!” and Mark Richt’s instructed “Gator Stomp” in the end zone. There’s also the fact that both teams refuse to agree on a record in the all-time series. Due to the 1904 game being disputed, Florida and Georgia list different records.
The answer is Army-Navy, and it’s not even close. From the processionals before the game, to the singing of the alma maters afterward, Army-Navy is not just the best neutral-site rivalry game, it’s the best rivalry game period. Maybe it’s the 12 Old Styles still filtering out of my system and playing with my brain, but it might just be the perfect football game. Far away from the politics and big-money commercialization of today’s game, Army-Navy is a throwback to the sport’s purity – a reminder of why we love football.
I too have a few beers flowing out of my system this morning (Go Cubs Go!), so I’m going outside of the FBS and saying it is the Bayou Classic between Grambling State and Southern. The football game matters, of course, but the real show begins at halftime. Those marching bands are amazing and worth the price of admission. The drumline battles make me want to go buy a snare drum.
A lot of my relatives served in the Navy, so it’s always a big deal when the Midshipmen take on Army. But my answer has to be Florida-Georgia. As much as Gators and Bulldogs hate each other, they somehow find a way to come together once a year for The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The stadium split 50/50 between fans wearing orange/blue and red/black is poetry. I mean, Florida-Georgia is so spectacular, there’s a band named after it. Okay, I have no idea if that’s where the name came from, but it’s still the best neutral-site rivalry game in college football.