Back Superstars Goldberg, O’Neil Still Loud and Proud

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Superstars Goldberg, O’Neil Still Loud and Proud

By BJ Bennett
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Though opportunity has taken Bill Goldberg and Titus O'Neil all over the world, the Florida-Georgia rivalry keeps them close to home.

College football rivalries like Florida-Georgia have a powerful emotional pull. Memories made and relationships formed only strengthen with time, bonds that stay even as life goes on. Passion and pride, with or without the bright lights, never leave. For ex-players, part of the person always stays in uniform.  

Competition for football-players-turned-global-icons Bill Goldberg and Titus O'Neil has shifted from the playing field to the global arena. Wrestling superstars, Goldberg, from WWE and WCW, and O'Neil of WWE have maintained firm ties to their respective alma matters: the University of Georgia and the University of Florida. Albeit with careers built in contention, late October, every year, brings out the best in both men, ardent supporters of the programs they suited up for years ago.  

Goldberg, who has also starred as an actor and commentator, was a team captain for the Bulldogs and ranks in the top ten in school history in total tackles. He remains one of the program's most productive defensive linemen ever. The first time student-athletes attended SEC Media Days, Goldberg represented Georgia. He was later selected in the 1990 NFL Draft by the L.A. Rams, also playing with the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers before his career was cut short by injury. 

Then known by his given name, Thaddeus Bullard, O'Neil was a defensive end for Florida, redshirting on the Gators' 1996 national championship team. He played in 44 career games, earning three starts. While at Florida, O'Neil was elected Student Body Vice-President and was instrumental in various campus engagements. After college, he played five seasons in the Arena Football League.  

Though opportunity has taken Goldberg and O'Neil all over the world, the Florida-Georgia rivalry keeps them close to home.

"The pure hatred comes to a boiling point for these two programs. It's a dog-eat-dog game, any mistakes are capitalized on. You can throw the records out the window, it's who wants it more," Goldberg explained. "It's one you circle on your calendar every year."

Jacksonville has tested the mettle of the best, including the now-showmen. Goldberg once ran out to the wrong sidelines; O'Neil still gets nervous. Florida-Georgia, in some capacity, gets to everyone. The participants are no exception.   

"My first experience with the Georgia-Florida game, I was a centimeter away from passing out in warm-ups because I was so hyped for the game," Goldberg acknowledged. 

Alumni to fans, family to media, these are the matchups that bring all of the storylines to the national forefront. In this series, you leave it all on the mat. On the big stage, there is nowhere to hide. In addition to the immense personal pressure, there has often been an unrelenting focus that starts at the very top.

"We always knew that it was a very important game, obviously. I played for coach Spurrier and, for some reason, he just had a big disdain for Georgia and I think a lot of it had to do from when he was playing against Georgia in his playing days," O'Neil nodded. "It's a big game in the SEC East."

Legacies are shaped when Florida and Georgia do battle. History doesn't forget and neither do the players.        

"The Florida fans aren't going to like this too much, but I remember, distinctly, Mr. Emmitt Smith shedding a tear or two as we were crushing him for those two years," Goldberg smiled. "You always try to remember the good things, I also remember the bad things."

Until the final bell, tensions will be at an all-time high. Regardless of positions in the polls or potential big-picture ramifications, each Florida-Georgia bout is an entity all its own. "What" takes a back-seat to "who", with a "why" that simply doesn't change. Here, four 15-minute quarters can add up to a lifetime.

The Gators and Bulldogs put all else in perspective, annually moving the last Saturday in October to center stage.   

"I can't watch it and not be on edge, either via social media or on a plane or getting ready for a show, I follow a lot of games that way," O'Neil shared. "I'm always anxious to see them win, hopefully, especially on a week like Florida-Georgia."

Accomplished professionals, Goldberg and O'Neil look back on their experiences and, to this day, see straight to their core.

"When I go talk to the team, the one thing that I stress is that you may look at Goldberg and see that he is able to do everything he wants, that he has wrestled in front of millions and played a little pro football, but the one thing no amount of money can get me is to go back and put the red and black on. That was the best part of my life. It molded me," Goldberg shared. "Those days are the most cherished in my life, other than the birth of my son and the marriage of my wife. I will be a Dawg until the day I die. It's ingrained in me and I will always be that guy."

It's a love that never leaves.

"It means a lot. Once you're a Gator, always a Gator," O'Neil nodded. "I'm still very active in university initiatives, both academically and athletically. I get just as hyped about the game as the players do, I just don't have the opportunity to determine part of the outcome. I can cheer from the side, text a few guys and coaches here and there with words of encouragement and hopefully be the difference that way."

This Saturday's clash, one where Goldberg feels confident and one O'Neil believes could be a season-changer, is fascinating. Georgia enters as this fall's clear favorite, undefeated and ranked in the national top three, while Florida has won three in a row in the series and a 21 of the last 27 overall. What happens between these two can help shape a season. Bragging rights can't be taken away.      

A multi-day event, the rivalry is a testament to a bigger brand, a special camaraderie that Goldberg and O'Neil will always share.

"The SEC, still, to me, is the biggest and baddest place to play if you are a real man in college football," Goldberg concluded. "It's a really tough conference, it's smashmouth football, it's Goldberg-style."

Sometimes, the opponent makes the match. With Florida and Georgia, the contest continues.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports