Know Your Foe: The Florida-Miami Rivalry

Over the last several weeks we've covered the Gators rivalries with Georgia, Florida State, Tennessee and LSU.

Almost a month before Neville Chamberlain gave us "peace for our time," while Florida State was still an all-women's college, the University of Florida and the University of Miami met for the first time on the football field. They would play every year until the SEC expanded the conference season to seven (and later eight) games in 1987. It was the premier rivalry in a football-crazed state. It even had a trophy, the Seminole War Canoe, donated by the city of Hollywood, Florida and awarded to the victorious school beginning with the 1950 contest.

When the annual series concluded, Florida had a one game advantage, but Miami has gone 4-1 in the five meetings since then. Ironically, both teams own losing records on their home fields (UM 13-14 at the Orange Bowl, UF 9-12 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, with the teams splitting 6 neutral site meetings). After two and a half decades off, this once proud rivalry has deteriorated to sporadic taunting, and faded from the memories of all but the most die-hard of the fanbases.

 

Chartered in 1925 to offer "unique opportunities to develop inter-American studies, to further creative work in the arts and letters, and to conduct teaching and research programs in tropical studies," the University of Miami is located on 260 acres, just south of Miami in the tony city of Coral Gables. Miami was a co-educational institution from the beginning, even at a time when the state's university system was segregated by both race and gender. US News & World Report annually ranks the university among the top tier (47th in 2011), and there are outstanding programs for medicine, earth sciences, clinical psychology, and fine arts.

 

From 1937 through 2007, the Hurricanes played their home games at the Orange Bowl, which was demolished after the Hurricanes announced their move to Sun Life Stadium. While the Orange Bowl was rich in history, by the time the 'Canes moved out, its better days (Ed.'s note: I do not believe the Orange Bowl ever had good days.) were behind it, as first the Dolphins, then the eponymous bowl game had already left for the greener pastures of Miami Gardens.

 

Sebastian the Ibis became the Hurricanes mascot in 1957, replacing a brown and white boxer named Hurricane I. The ibis was chosen because, according to folklore, it was the last bird to leave before a hurricane, and the first to return afterward. "Sebastian" was named after the San Sebastian building, a dormitory on campus.

 

From the Florida end of the rivalry, most of the antipathy is derived from the non-stop droning of Hurricane fans about the Gators "ducking" them. Miami won the last two games of the annual series, and the next four meetings after that, but after Florida's win in 2008, Miami refused to return the Seminole War Canoe, claiming that it was only intended to be awarded to an annual rivalry. Older Gators will remember Miami Coach Howard Schnellenberger calling timeout to kick a meaningless field goal as time expired in a Hurricane blowout in 1980, or the last-second Miami win in 1984 that cost the Gators a national championship (...that would likely have been vacated later, but still), in the first college football game ever broadcast on ESPN. Younger Gators will remember how Ron Zook blew a 23-point lead in 22 minutes of football.

 

Any analysis of the Hurricane hatred of Florida must (by law, probably) begin with the Gator Flop. In 1971, Florida quarterback John Reaves needed 14 passing yards to break Jim Plunkett's all-time NCAA passing record. Late in the game,with Miami slowly driving, and attempting to run out the clock, the Gator defense allowed the Hurricanes to score, with most of the defenders flopping to the ground at the snap. Miami scored, and Reaves connected with Carlos Alvarez on the ensuing possession to break the record. This began a seven-year Gator win streak in the rivalry.

 

There are other games that raise the ire of the Miami faithful. In 1983, Florida routed eventual national champion Miami 28-3. Two years later, the Gators would do it again, beating a heavily favored Hurricane squad in the Orange Bowl that would be the last home loss for Miami until 1994. The Gators' late field goal in 2008 probably didn't help either.

 

Another focus of the Miami rage is the end of the annual rivalry. As noted above, in 1987 the SEC expanded the conference schedule from six to seven games. In order to keep at least six home games on the schedule every year, Florida had to choose between keeping their rivalry with Florida State or their rivalry with Miami. When the SEC expanded to 12 teams, the conference schedule expanded to eight games, further decreasing the opportunities for the two schools to meet. Due to a quirk in the NCAA's scheduling rules allowing a 12th game, Florida and Miami scheduled two games in 2002 and 2003, and three more in future years when a 12th game was possible. When the NCAA allowed the schedule to permanently expand to 12, however, Jeremy Foley opted not to commit to any further meetings.

 

In some ways, it's disappointing that this great rivalry is not contested more often, but, unfortunately, the financial realities of intercollegiate athletics make it difficult to balance tradition and profitability. In its heyday, this was one of the greatest rivalries in college football, but, with the success that these two schools have enjoyed in the quarter century since their annual meetings ended (six combined national championships), it has faded in the minds of younger fans, and been supplanted in the national consciousness by their respective rivalries with Florida State. Barring a possible meeting in a bowl game, we will have to wait until 2013 for this rivalry to renew.

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