When Georgia and Florida took the field on Nov. 7, 2020, things looked a bit out of the ordinary. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, an unofficial name of the rivalry game, is usually a half-red, half-blue sea of over 67,000 fans. However, due to the pandemic, last year’s matchup only hosted a crowd of 19,210.
Leading up to the 2020 clash between the SEC East juggernauts, it was obvious that things would be different. The city of Jacksonville banned tailgating in the parking lots of TIAA Bank Field, mandated masks throughout the stadium and lowered capacity to 20%, all to protect fans from COVID-19.
The safety measures taken for the game were not new to players last season, as both the Bulldogs and Gators had similar mandates in their own stadiums.
Georgia offensive lineman Warren Ericson said not having fans in the stands changes the game, but the players still had to manage without the crowd.
“You know how loud it gets with 93,000 of our screaming fans. When we’re playing in there now, you can hear more from both sides of the ball and sideline. It’s different,” Ericson said in 2020. “But every time we go out there, we bring our own juice. The fans that are there are going to give us their all and we’re going to give them ours.”
This comes from Ericson, who was a sophomore at the time, who had seen action for the Bulldogs in six games during the 2019 season, before the pandemic limited crowds. Any freshman or sophomore on Georgia’s roster today has yet to experience the Georgia-Florida rivalry game in full force.
Throughout the 2020 season as a whole, Georgia only hosted three home games, all of them at limited capacity. Offensive stars like JT Daniels, Brock Bowers and Jermaine Burton, alongside defensive mainstays including Jalen Carter, Kelee Ringo and Derion Kendrick, are all among the Bulldogs that will see a full crowd in TIAA Bank Field for the first time this year.
Fans have been an important part of Georgia’s season so far. Most notably, Bulldog fans came through in Georgia’s 37-0 win over No. 8 Arkansas after head coach Kirby Smart called for fans to be “elite” leading up the matchup. Later, in a press conference, Smart emphasized the importance of supporters to the team’s success.
“First, I want to thank the fans again for an incredible job. I noticed a lot of stuff on social media. They did an awesome job last weekend,” Smart said. “I can’t thank them enough (and I) wouldn’t expect anything less from our fan base.”
For some players, things will look different in Jacksonville this year, but in the case of the Bulldogs, the more the merrier.