Was there ever any doubt? Did you even question this? The No. 1 rival for Florida being anyone but this team? Some say it’s Auburn-Alabama, some claim Ohio State-Michigan, and others say Army-Navy, but to me the best rivalry in all of college athletics is the Florida-Florida State rivalry.
We conclude the Florida Gators Top Rivals series with the Florida State Seminoles. It doesn’t ever matter what the records are, and it doesn’t matter what is or what isn’t on the line: the Saturday after Thanksgiving brings nearly the entire state of Florida to a standstill in order to enjoy one of the most bitter rivalries in all of college sports.
And it’s not just limited to football, either. Basketball, baseball, and women’s tennis bring out even the casual fan just to curse, jinx, hex, or jeer the hated garnet and gold rivals to the north. Whenever these two meet each other, it seems the #BeatFSU and #BeatFlorida hashtags are unleashed, and the blood boils.
However, since this is a football series, we’ll just stick to the gridiron.
Firstly, as much as Florida State fans will like to remind you that they won the 2014 BCS National Championship (which, hats off to them for accomplishing), they still trail the Florida Gators on the football field 34-22-2. That’s a fact, folks. Though, considering the teams have split their meetings 12-12-1 over the past quarter century, this is not only a heated matchup, but an even one as well.
What other game gets stuck in a Gator’s craw more than this one? Consider this: from 1990 to 2000, every meeting featured both Florida and Florida State being ranked in the AP top 10 of the AP – with the winner competing in the National Championship during six of those seasons (1993, 1995, 1996 with both teams, 1998, 1999, 2000). That is unprecedented, unheard of, and speaks volumes about both the schools and the nature of this rivalry.
This game, growing up, was THE game. Your season rode on beating the hated rival. And as FSU fans will gleefully remind you, even the great Steve Spurrier never conquered FSU in Tallahassee. Though I should also point out that Bobby Bowden left Florida State after an illustrious and storied career with a 17-19-1 record against Florida – the only team against whom he posted a sub .500 record.
If you notice, I keep presenting facts here because that’s just what they are: facts. Whether it be in a bar, on social media, or even commentators on TV, this rivalry exists on trash talk and facts … and it always will. That is the pure, unadulterated beauty of it. There’s nothing better for me than going tit for tat with an FSU fan in a bar, comparing our programs, and pointing out the Gators’ superiority (last year’s debacle not included), and then laughing about it when we’re done (or they accept that they’ve been beaten).
This contest even bears the distinction of having five games of lore tagged with nicknames.
Be it 1993′s “Choke at Doak,” where the Seminoles scored 28 unanswered points in the final fifteen minutes of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 31–31.
Or “The Greatest Game Ever Played In The Swamp” (*still gives me goosebumps*), highlighted by receiver Jacquez Green catching a Doug Johnson pass and running 62 yards – all to set up a Fred Taylor touchdown that would crash FSU’s hopes for a national championship game appearance.
Or the 2003 “Swindle in the Swamp,” when controversial calls by the ACC officiating crew on several fumble/no-fumble plays all went against Florida and resulted in a controversial FSU win (as well as FSU stomping of the Florida “F” logo at midfield).
Or my personal favorite: the 2004 “Ron Zook Field at Doak Campbell Stadium” game when lame-duck coach Ron Zook was carried off the field in victory. It was the first in a string of six Gator victories in the series, and happened on a night where the field was being dedicated to Bowden no less.
Or my very close second favorite: the 2012 affair where Florida defender Lerentee McCray brought the house against FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, en route to a convincing 37-26 victory in Tallahassee.
Needless to say, with a stepmother who went to FSU, and a brother and step-brother who went to Florida, there was (and is) no finer, no more heated, and no more passionate affair than Florida-Florida State in my house.
Last year, the Gators were overmatched, outplayed, and thoroughly embarrassed at The Swamp. They were a steppingstone on No. 1 ranked FSU’s march to a BCS National Championship. Jameis Winston completed 19-of-31 passes with three touchdowns on the day, effectively locking up the Heisman Trophy. Senior wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin had a monster day as well, finding the end zone three times. After all the season-ending injuries, after all the heart-breaking finishes against other bitter rivals, and after the game that shall not be mentioned, the heart and fight were long gone from these players.
I’m not endorsing it; I’m not saying it was right; and I’m not even saying that they were coached well enough, but the fight had long left the Gator locker room by the time a hungry FSU rolled into town. Again, this is not taking away from the FSU players’ and coaches’ efforts – they won that game fair and square, and were clearly the better team on the field. However, last year is last year and it’s time to look forward (as FSU fans are always reticent to remind the Gator Nation).
The Seminoles return Winston at quarterback, and have a loaded cupboard of talent heading into 2014. From 2011-13, recruiting website Rivals.com rated FSU’s recruiting hauls second, sixth and 10th, respectively – ensuring talent will continue to run over the competion for years to come. In addition, running back Karlos Williams, tight end Nick O’Leary and left guard Josue Mathias (all starters from last season) all return in 2014. Williams rushed for 730 yards and a staggering 11 touchdowns last season, while O’Leary clocked an impressive 557 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. Barring any slip ups (that are oh so incredibly awesome to enjoy when they happen), FSU is primed for a run straight to the college football playoff this coming season. Even though Florida has won four of the past five games in Tallahassee, Doak Campbell Stadium is always a hostile arena.
So there you have it. Nothing even comes close to the hatred from both sides. It’s there in every sport, but most especially in football.
FSU fans have the “we beat you last year.” Florida fans have the “we have beaten you more often.”
Florida fans prod with, “Hey, what happened in New Orleans in 1997?” FSU fans cling to the “It’s about the here and now!”
This rivalry will live on for the ages. There’s too much that’s too different for it to fade away. There’s too much animosity from the days of the rivalry’s past to “just let it go.”
Hell, even with my living in Georgia, there’s something inherently joyful about not letting someone into my lane of traffic who has FSU stuff on their car. It’s even more gleeful when I eyeball them – my car sporting Florida gear – with that “Yep, I just did that” grin on my face. And you know what, I love it that way. To be privileged to have a rival like the Florida State Seminoles, makes it ALWAYS greater to be a GATOR.