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Florida's annual trip to Jacksonville to face division rival Georgia has special meaning to every Gator player, but for Chris Rainey it means a little bit more.
As a fifth-year senior, Rainey is one of the only current Gators who were also part of the 2007 team. The Lakeland running back did not play against Georgia as a true freshman, but it's the game he wanted to talk about at Monday's press conference.
"All I can remember of this team (Georgia) is when they were dancing on us," Rainey said.
He refers to the Bulldogs' infamous touchdown celebration in which all the UGA players ran into the end zone after the game's opening score. Florida regained the lead in that game before giving it back up in the 42-30 loss, but the celebration remains a source of motivation for Gator players even in 2011.
Maybe it was rivalry week getting to him, or maybe he has a bad memory, but Rainey noticeably left out the fact he had some fun of his own the following year. After the Bulldogs lone touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 49-10 blowout, Rainey received the kickoff at the 13-yard-line and acted as if he was going to take a knee. When the Georgia kick coverage converged on Rainey, he took off running and made it to midfield.
Rainey certainly enjoys the spirit of the rivalry, but the game is significant in another respect. One year ago in Jacksonville, Rainey rejoined the team on the field after a five-game suspension. The UF running game received a huge boost as Rainey danced his way to 84 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries, leading the Gators to a 34-31 win over the Bulldogs.
On Monday, Rainey kept his reflection on the 2010 game short and sweet.
"I was just happy that I was back," he said.
It was never guaranteed that Rainey would be back. Then-coach Urban Meyer was already under a media microscope for his disciplinary handling of off-the-field issues at the time of the Rainey incident. Meyer's stance on violence against women and the circumstance of Rainey's suspension (a threatening text to an ex-girlfriend), led to a high volume of criticism in the national press when the running back was reinstated.
This year, Rainey has his critics, but they are concerned with his production on the field.
He has gone from a one-man highlight reel and potential Heisman candidate to a statistical disappointment.
Against UAB, Tennessee and Kentucky, Rainey was virtually unstoppable in three 100-yard games. In the Gators' last three games, against Alabama, LSU and Auburn, Rainey has been held to a total of 89 yards spread out over 40 carries. When Florida was rolling, Rainey averaged more than 6.5 yards per carry. In the month of October, he is averaging only 2.2 yards per rush.
Saturday is the senior class' last game against Georgia. Rainey has the chance to silence his critics if the Rainey of last year, and of this September, decides to show up in Jacksonville. With the Gators needing a win over the Bulldogs to continue toward their goal of winning the SEC East, it's a chance to make the most of a senior season that almost didn't happen.