By MARK LONG
The Associated Press
Thursday, October 26, 2006; 12:27 AM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida tight end Tate Casey grew up in Texas, far away from the Florida-Georgia rivalry. He was much more familiar with the Red River Shootout, the annual showdown between Oklahoma and Texas.
What did he know about Gators-Dawgs?
"I always knew the nickname," Casey said. "A lot of things change, but The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will always stay the same."
The moniker might be lost if school officials have their way. They believe the famed nickname conjures up images of drunkenness _ not what they want to promote, especially after the deaths of two Florida students the past two years.
And beginning Saturday _ when the ninth-ranked Gators (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) and the Bulldogs (6-2, 3-2) meet for the 74th time in Jacksonville _ television networks will try to avoid using The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party altogether.
Will it change anything?
"I've been down there one year (as a fan) and I don't think it will change the way it's been with students for years now," Georgia fullback Brannan Southerland said. "Not just with students, but with adults and other fans."
City and school officials have been upset with the nickname for years. In 1984, fans rushed the field, tore down goal posts and threatened to throw pieces off the top of the Gator Bowl. Police arrested 65 people, and school officials started talking about moving the game to campus facilities to avoid similar problems.
Two years later, the city started cracking down on alcohol abuse and chose to stop calling the game The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
But few others followed Jacksonville's lead.
Georgia's Michael Adams and Florida's Bernie Machen, school presidents fighting to deter alcohol abuse and binge drinking on their campuses, decided to campaign against the nickname following the deaths of David Robert Ferguson and Thomas Oliver Brown.
Ferguson, 19, was reported missing the morning after the 2004 game. His body was found five days later between two buildings; police believe he fell off a parking garage. Brown, 23, was detained and beaten to death last October not too far from the same spot.
A week after Brown's death, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley wrote a letter to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive asking him to get involved.
"I understand fully that this game has carried this moniker for a number of years and that the networks had nothing to do with creating this phrase," Foley wrote. "However, the two institutions and the City of Jacksonville have worked very hard to curb the alcohol abuse that is associated with this game and by labeling this game in this manner an inconsistent message is being sent to all fans, especially our respective students."
In late January, Slive sent a letter to executives at CBS, ESPN and the league's other television partners, requesting they steer clear of alcohol references.
"We're just trying to raise the consciousness on this issue," Slive said. "This is just a small part of a much larger problem, which is the excessive use of alcohol on campus, not just at the game."
The networks have obliged.
But will it matter?
"Whether they take the name out of it or not, I don't know what that will do to how fans act during the game," Georgia tight end Tripp Chandler said.
Bill Kastelz, a former sports editor at The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, gave the game its nickname in the 1950s. Kastelz was walking near the stadium and saw a drunken fan stumble up to a uniformed police officer and offer him a drink.
Kastelz described the scene by using the phrase.
It stuck and became an integral part of the rivalry's history.
Now, it could just become history.
"I don't know," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I just think there's going to be a lot of excitement and electricity, period. ... Whoever has the ball, the other team's fan base should be getting loud and should be getting crazy, and that's what I think is going to happen, regardless of whether you call it the Cocktail Party or not.
"It's not the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. It's a football game."
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Athens, Ga., contributed to this report.