The rivalry started in 1958, but in all fairness, it began way before that.
In 1961, the fourth game of the series ended in a tie. Florida State treated it as a win (not the last time). FSU fans tore down the north side metal goal posts at Florida Field. A brawl between fans ensued that raged for ten minutes before the police could break it up. It would not be the last time something like this happened. Florida’s head coach added fuel to the fire: “It’s like a death in the family. If we had tied the Baltimore Colts, I certainly would have been satisfied,’’ Graves said. ‘‘But I’m certainly not satisfied with a tie with FSU.’’
This year, for the first time in way too long, this game has significance for both teams, outside of bragging rights. The college football world, nay, the entire world is a better place when this game matters. Florida and Florida State will meet in Tallahassee on Saturday. Both teams are 10-1, ranked in the top 10, and looking to get into a BCS bowl. But both teams have the opportunity to sky rocket their season from great to legendary by beating their arch nemesis. To the victor go the spoils. The winner is immediately heralded and their season validated.
The loser, well, things for the loser become frustrating…
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Why does this game matter so very much? Because these two schools disliked each other from the start, long before they were even able to set up meetings between the football teams. UF and FSU competed for limited state funds, with UF receiving the lion’s share. FSU was an all women’s college until after WWII. When FSU integrated UF still fought to be the flagship state university and got most of the funding. So when FSU wanted to be seen as an equal AND play UF in football, the Gator’s response was simple…
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You see, back then teams could only play ten games. UF played six in-conference games and their “natural” intrastate rival Miami at the end of the season. UF decided that playing FSU with a contract saying they would play every year without taking the majority of the money was not in their best interest. FSU called them cowards. It almost came to fisticuffs.
Eventually, the Legislature stepped in and passed a law requiring the 2 schools to play each other, proving that despite what they say, our politicians really have nothing better to do. The intent was to promote friendly competition between the schools, like Auburn and Alabama (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up). Being forced to play by law didn’t help to ease the mutual distaste any; in fact, the game eventually became Thunderdome for the state of Florida. But the annual game is a staple of college football and even though it hasn’t always been civil, it has always been entertaining. Here is my list of the best of these contentious and memorable contests:
Florida State 2003 FSU fans remember the 4th and forever conversion in the final quarter followed by the 52 yard, game winning TD catch with under a minute to go clinching the win in the Swamp. UF fans remember the six game altering calls that went against them, dubbing the game the “Swindle in the Swamp”. This game did not lack for entertainment: fumbles returned for scores, trick plays, controversy, and a postgame brawl broken up by the police and pepper spray. The end is still the same though, 38-34 Noles…
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Florida 2004 Ron Zook was coaching in Tallahassee after having been fired a couple of weeks earlier. Florida State was ranked #8 and on their way to a BCS bowl. UF was 7-4 and unranked. FSU chose that night to dedicate their field “Bobby Bowden Field”. The Gators hadn’t won in Tallahassee since 1986, heralded coach Steve Spurrier was 0-5-1 there. None of that mattered as Florida took a 20-13 victory on the newly christened turf and crushed the Noles’s BCS hopes
Florida State 1994 The reason everyone knows what “FSU” stands for. Spurrier let Bowden and the Noles know exactly how he felt about their late night shopping spree funded by agents and never backed off his criticism. Adding: ‘‘We’ve always heard rumors about them, we’ve always suspected. They’ve beaten us four out of five years in recruiting. Heck, maybe they’re the greatest recruiters in the world. But maybe there are other reasons that those guys go there. Those guys always say they feel ‘more comfortable’ going to FSU. Well, maybe we’re starting to realize what that ‘more comfortable’ means.’‘ Before the game he was asked again: ‘Let’s get this straight. We are playing Free Shoes U. this week and you can quote me on that. I’m not one who will say something, then back off it now.’‘ The Game was even crazier, the Gators jumped out to an incredible 31-3 lead in Doak that they held entering the 4th quarter. But the Noles came storming back to tie the game (yes children, ties used to be allowed. It was gross). And that’s how it ended, 31-31 after Bowden overruled 9 assistant coaches that wanted to go for 2 and the win. The game would become renowned as the Choke at the Doak and Spurrier lost his best chance to win in Tally.