Murray Poole hasn’t openly cheered the Georgia Bulldogs during the annual Georgia-Florida game since 1965, even though he is a UGA graduate and an unabashed fan.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to jump out of his chair and yell and cheer when the Bulldogs make a big play. He watched the game from the student section, starting in 1962, before moving to the press box in 1966 as a sports reporter, where members of the press are required to maintain a professional demeanor and internalize their emotions during the game.
“There’s no cheering in the press box,” he said. “You can’t be a fan or you will be escorted from the press box.”
Still, there have been many moments over the past 56 years when Poole said it was difficult to act detached.
Poole, retired sports editor for The News who served in the post 40 years, was in the press box in 1980 when an undefeated No. 2-ranked Georgia team, down 21-20, was deep in its own territory with the clock running out. Quarterback Buck Belue scrambled near his end zone before tossing a 93-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Lindsay Scott, who caught the ball on the 25-yard line and scored the biggest touchdown of his life with a minute remaining. The Bulldogs held on for a 26-21 victory, and completed an undefeated season with a national championship.
Ironically, Poole said he nearly missed the now legendary touchdown because he was on his way to the elevator to take him down to the field for post-game interviews. Luckily, he said the elevator was slow, enabling him to witness perhaps the greatest play in Bulldogs football history.
He was a rookie sports reporter in the stands in 1966, when the Gators lost 27-10 to the Bulldogs, the year Florida quarterback Steve Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy.
“I don’t think he liked Georgia from that moment on,” he said of Spurrier.
It wasn't the only upset he witnessed in the rivalry.
He saw Georgia beat a No. 1-ranked Florida team 24-3 in 1985. And he was in the press box in 2002 when the Gators handed the Bulldogs their only loss of the season.
There have been many other highs and lows over the years, Poole said. The 25-year Vince Dooley era, when the Bulldogs went 17-7-1 against the Gators, was his favorite time to cover the team, Poole said.
But since 1990, the Gators have dominated the Bulldogs, winning 21 of the past 27 games.
Poole said he attends most home games and some away games such as this year’s Bulldogs’ win at Notre Dame. But the Georgia-Florida game remains his favorite of the year.
“It’s one of the greatest games in college football,” he said.
The neutral site in Jacksonville is a terrific venue for the game, Poole said. He didn’t like it when the teams hosted the game in a home and home series in the mid 1990s as the stadium was undergoing renovations in preparation for the arrival of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“That was terrible for Georgia fans,” he said, pointing to the Bulldogs' one-sided losses to Spurrier-coached teams.
There is reason to be optimistic about Saturday’s matchup, Poole said.
“If there was ever a Georgia team to handle Florida, this is the year,” he said. “This is the first time a Georgia team has won five consecutive games by 25 points or more since way back in the 1920 season.”
The challenging SEC and non-conference schedule will help the Bulldogs in their quest to be in the mix for a national championship if they can remain undefeated.
“It looms bigger and bigger,” he said. “Georgia’s strength of schedule is looking better and better.”
Despite his love for the annual game, Poole said he is dismayed over the vitriol fans on both sides have toward each other.
“Forty or fifty years ago it was a rivalry,” he said. “Now it’s antagonistic.”
Poole, who was inducted in the Glynn County Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, has continued to work since he retired from The News. He has spent the last 15 years writing for Bulldawg Illustrated, which covers Georgia football exclusively.
After 56 consecutive years of covering the Georgia-Florida game, Poole said he still gets excited about the annual matchup and plans to keep covering the game as long as possible.
“The Lord has blessed me with good health,” he said. “I am a game writer, not what you would call a 'beat writer' since I live so far from Athens and can't attend practice each day."