Fla.-Ga. crowds may be larger this year
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 9:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 9:36 p.m.
By Joey Flechas
Things to do
17th Annual Ruth's Chris Steak House Georgia-Florida Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, noon, Touchdown Showdown Tent in Pepsi Plaza
University of Florida inductees: Doug Dickey and John L. Williams. University of Georgia inductees: David Greene and Charles Whittmore. General admission is free and open to the public.
Florida-Georgia BBQ Competition Block Party, 4 p.m., outside the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The BBQ contest will feature two dozen teams competing for trophies. Winners will be announced at the Block Party at 5pm.
Zac Brown Band Concert, 7 p.m., Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. For tickets and information, call 904-630-3900.
Touchdown Showdown, 10 a.m.-end of the game, free, outside EverBank Field's south end zone near Adams Street. Activities include jumbo screens to watch the game, live radio broadcasts, interactive games and challenges and team merchandise.
Riverside Arts Market, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Northbank Riverwalk's Artists Square
Evergreen Pumpkin Run, 8 a.m., Evergreen Cemetery, For more information, call (904) 731-1900 or visit www.1stplacesports.com FL-GA Weekend Specials
SOURCE: Office of Special Events, City of Jacksonville
JACKSONVILLE — A dune buggy painted orange and blue rolls by a red and black golf cart.
With beers in hand, passengers exchange friendly smiles and waves, like old neighbors.
Many of them are, if only for about a week every fall.
The wind picks up as it blows under the overpass that looms over RV City, a temporary home to Gator and Bulldog diehards who come days ahead of the Florida-Georgia game to party.
Thursday afternoon, the lot outside EverBank Field is about 10 vehicles short of capacity, an increase from last year. In fact, businesses and observers expect larger crowds this weekend than in recent years, thanks in part to an steadier economy and also thanks to the two teams battling for a trip to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on Dec. 1.
Dan Damato, 52, has come with his family for 12 years to RV City, where he sets up a display outside his RV that boasts a Frankenstein with an alligator on his head, a skeleton wearing a University of Georgia shirt and a pen of plush alligators chomping on bulldogs.
For several years in a row, the Air Force veteran and Jacksonville native who never attended the University of Florida has won the spirit award in RV City.
"Go Gators," he smiles.
Shirley Renfroe, 70, remembers when the pavement she's standing on was grass that flooded easily in the rain.
Her husband, Buddy, is glued to ESPN on the TV outside their home as their Shih Tzu-Yorkie mix Pandy plays in his lap.
Pandy doesn't have her jersey on because it's too hot, says Shirley.
The three await many more family members who arrive today to get the real party started.
"We'll really turn it on then," says 74-year-old Buddy.
Hurricane Sandy spun out in the Atlantic on Thursday and the city is under a tropical storm watch, but few worry about wind and rain at RV City.
"I'm a native Floridian," says Arthur Kowitz, 63. "I don't worry about squalls … If it force me to have a hurricane party inside the camper, oh, well."
With the Gators undefeated and the Bulldogs with but one loss, tailgaters generally feel the game is going to be bruiser.
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At the Jacksonville Landing, a complex of bars, restaurants and shops along the St. John's River a mile or so from the stadium, business owners hope this high-stakes Florida-Georgia game will translate into high revenues.
Mark Chambliss, director of marketing for the Landing, says the game gives the complex "one of the largest weekends of the entire year."
Benny Yousefzadeh, owner of Benny's Steak and Seafood, says the teams' success will likely bring in more business.
"It all depends on the team's records," he says.
Yousefzadeh says he's ordered 60 percent more than his usual inventory of alcohol to keep up with thirsty fans.
With large crowds and booze flowing, safety concerns have arisen in the past. After the deaths of two UF students in 2004 and 2005, officials set up Sideline Student Safety Zones to provide first aid, taxis, cellphone chargers and city maps.
The City of Jacksonville runs the Safety Zones. One is located at the Landing, another is across the street and more are set up outside the stadium.
Across the courtyard at Vito's Italian Cafe, cases of beer and liquor stacked high line the wall along the entryway.
Josie Sakoo, a manager at Vito's who's experienced the Florida-Georgia rivalry for 12 years, says the weekend helps to mostly make up for a slower summer season.
"Not completely," she says, "but it will be helpful."
She notes that the past four years have been less crowded for Florida-Georgia weekend, perhaps a result of the down economy.
Despite the thick crowds and long hours, she says she enjoys the rush.
"It is fun, and it has its own headaches," she says.
Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.