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How the Florida State vs. Miami football rivalry came about
This profile of the Florida State and Miami college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon’s 1992 Big Ten Football annual. As the rivalry is renewed this week, I thought it was relevant to take a look back at the history of this epic showdown.
Bill Peterson, former Florida State coach, may have put it best with one of his malaprops.
“These are the kind of football games,” he said before a Florida State-Miami game, “that coaches strive on.”
It is a series that Miami certainly has thrived on lately. But then, the Hurricanes have thrived on just about every team that has gotten in their way while winning four national championships in the past nine seasons.
Florida State has strived better than any during that span. The Seminoles have beaten Miami twice in those nine years. But three times they have lost by a point, falling 17-16 in 1983 and 1991, and 26-25 in a memorable 1987 shootout.
“It’s funny–well, it’s not funny,” says Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. “Miami was the team of the ’80s. With about two more points a game (against Miami), Florida State would have been the team of the ’80s.”
Incredibly, in a 35-game series that Miami leads 21 to 14, there have been six one-point decisions. Florida State has lost all of them.
The others: 7-6 in 1959 and 1962, and 10-9 in 1980.
Bowden has been the victim of four of the one-point defeats. Two may have cost him national titles.
In a talk at Miami earlier this year, Bowden jested about his national-championship frustration as he waved a hand.
“I solved that business,” he said, “I got me one of them rings.”
Bowden moved his hand to eye level and read what he said was the inscription: “National champions 1991, ’92, ’93, ’94. Love, Mother.”
Bowden has been more involved in this series than any other coach on either side. His record against the Hurricanes is a frustrating 6-12, including 1-1 during his time at West Virginia.
During Bowden’s 16 seasons at Florida State, Miami has had five head coaches. He lost to the first two (Carl Selmer and Lou Saban) as well as the last three (Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson).
When Bowden took over at Florida State in 1976, he inherited a team that had gone 4-29 in the previous three seasons. In his second game, Miami blew out the Seminoles 47-0.
“I was thinking we were finally going to win a game,” says Bowden, noting that Miami had gone 2-8 the previous year. “They kick off. We fumble. They score. They kick off again. We throw a pass. They intercept. They score again. It wss 27-0 in the first quarter. At the end, it was 47-0. It could have been 100-0.”
Bowden’s teams got better. But Miami was usually a little better.
Twice in the last four years, Florida State has been a consensus preseason choice to win it all. Each time Miami got in the way.
Last year the Hurricanes dealt the Seminoles their first loss after 16 straight victories, including 10 straight that season. Bowden believes his team was so devesstated by disappointment of a game it lost when a last-minute field goal sailed wide right by inches that it precipitated the 14-9 defeat by Florida in the last regular season game.
A difference of inches mught summarize most of the unusal games between these two. But more than inches mark this relationship.
“This series with Miami,” says Bowden, “differs from others in the fact that it has gained as much national prestige as any collegiate game in the country. The implications in the last five years have been greater than, say, Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama, Southern Cal-UCLA, Notre Dame-Southern Cal–or any others you can name.”
With such national impact, Bowden wonders if the series with Florida, Florida State’s historic blood rival, is as big as it once was.
“To me, I don’t know,” he says. “To me, Miami is now our No. 1 rival instead of Florida. From my standpoint, developments have shifted the center of gravity to Miami, not Gainesville.”
Miami seems ot have had the fates on its side. Strange things happen when these two play–bad thigns for Bowden’s Seminoles.
“Wide right” last season was a notable example.
Bowden’s first one-point loss tot he Hurricanes, in 1980, came whent he Seminoles suddenly found themselves without a center. In the previous game, the top two centers were lost to injury.
“We started a guard at center,” Bowden recalls. “He couldn’t snap. We had 10 center-quarterback fumbles. Miami got five of ‘em.”
Florida State lost when Miami nose tackle Jim Burt managed to get his helmet int he way of a late two-point pass following a touchdown. The receiver was open.
The Seminoles also had the acute trouble with inexperience at center when Miami romped 31-0 int he 1988 opener. Misfortune at that position seems to be a common thread in defeats by the Hurricanes.
“I guess I’ve lost as much sleep over losses in ’87 and ’91 as any games in my 38 years of coaching,” Bowden says. “You look back at such weird things, One time I had a center snap the ball over the kicker’s head before the holder was ready.”
Instead od an early field goal that may have made a difference, the ball sailed 51 yards downfield. And Miami was the team that got a field goal and a 3-0 lead (this was in 1987.)
“In the same game, we were threatening to score when we had a fumbled exchange,” Bowden remembers. “One of our guys inadvertently kicked the ball right to their safety, who fell on top of it.”
Florida State built a 19-3 lead int he third quarter, but Steve Walsh threw three late touchdown passes and completed 2-point passes after the first two.
“I cannot explain it,” says Bowden, referring mainly to the losses in ’87 and ’91, “except there was magnificent play by Miami. Still, we were playing in Tallahassee and got a good lead both ti mes. I think we had better ball clubs. And yet we still got beat.
The home field has often seemed a disadvantage in this biarre series.
There was a time when Florida State seemed to own the Orange Bowl, a time when the Seminoles won eight straight over ther Hurricanes.
From 1963 through 1972 the two played seven times. During a period when the Seminoles were not drawing particularly well at home, they agreed to play every year at Miami in quest of a bigger payday.
Peterson, who coached Florida State for 11 seasons, won those first five games in the Orange Bowl, sometimes flying his team down the morning of a night game and returning home immediately after.
Florida State’s odd Orange Bowl dominance continued under two coaches who followed Peterson. Larry Jones won there in ’71 and ’72. But in 1973 te Seminoles were beset by the hardest of times, going 0-11 under Jones, who was fired. Under a new coach, Darrell Mudra, the losing streak climbed to 20. Naturally, Florida State halted its losing run in the Orange Bowl, winning 21-14 in ’74. The Seminoles’ lead in Orange Bowl vicotries has dwindled in the wake of recent Miami dominance, but they are still ahead, 12 to 11, in games played there.
By 1973 the rivalry had become a genuine home and home series. Only two of the first 6 games, in 1957 and 1959, had been played in Tallahassee, and Miami won both.
And Miami continued to win in Tallahassee. Not until Bowden prevailed 4023 in 1979 did Florida State beat Miami in Tallahassee’s Doak Campbell Stadium. That was the year Howard Schnellenberger came aboard as Miami’s coach.
Miami has won 10 of 12 in Tallahassee.
“I don’t think Tallhassee is an easy place to play,” Schnellenberger says. “In fact, it is very tough there. First of all, you are playing a great football team every time you go to Doak Campbell Stadium. And the fans are loud. Not a whole lot of other people there, you know, have won going in there.”
Nor does Bowden consider the Orange Bowl a piece of cake, though he’s three of his five Miami victories there.
“It may be as tough a place to play as there is,” he says, “now that they’ve got bigger crowds that are really into it.”
Not many realize that football was in serious trouble at Florida State and Miami in the years immediately preceding the arrivals of Bowden and Schnellenberger.
J. Stanley Marshall, then Florida State president, had spoken of the possibility of the school giving up football unless supporters came up with quick money following the disastrous season of ’73. Miami, its Orange Bowl crowds down alarmingly, seemed in even greater danger of giving up football, just as it did basketball for 14 years.
“I remember both programs were about to sink,” Bowden says.
Suddenly, things changed.
One year Schnellenberger asked Bowden to fly to Miami to help hype the Orange Bowl turnout, possibly an unprecedented request to a visiting coach during the week of the game. Bowden did fly down the Monday before the teams met Saturday.
“Obviously we were trying to generate interest in Miami,” Schnellenberger says. “We had a joint press conference. We had a weigh-in, kind of like boxers before a main event. I guess I weighed in a lot more than he did. But it worked out real well.”
The next year Schnellenberger flew to Tallahassee on the Monday before the game. In a boxing ring, the two squared off with gloves on. The scene got lots of media exposure.
On another occasion the two posed as poker players, with an overhead camera showing each had a royal flush.
The two constitute a mutual-admiration society that has hardly diminished in strength through changing times.
“Howard is close to being the best coach in the country,” Bowden sayus, “Back then, I mean, as well as now.”
Schnellenberger, who has been coacing at the University of Louisville for the last seven seasons, says he patterned much of what Miami was doing when he was there after what Bowden already had begun at Florida State.
“I was impressed with the way they handled their marketing, how they selectively enlarged their stadium, never to exceed known demands, never making it too big,” Schnellenberger says.
“And I had the greatest respect for Bobby, personally. A guy you’ve got to like–non-pretentious, never gives the appearance of being self-serving or egotistical. He exemplifies for me what a college coach should be. Probably it never has veen calculated, the impact he has had not only on the athletic department but the university itself.”
Notably because of Bowden and Schnellenberger, perhaps partially because the two schools are nearly 500 miles apart, Miami vs Florida State evolved into an uncommonly friendly rivalry. Florida State seems always to have appreciated the fact that it was Miami that stuck its neck out and gave the Seminoles their first shot at a major college opponent.
An all-female school for several decades, Florida State enrolled men for the first time in 1946. A year later it fielded its first football team.
In 1951, the year after the Seminoles had gone 8-0 against opponents that included Troy State and a Howard (now Samford University) team on which Bowden played quarterback, Miami met Florida State int he Orange Bowl, winning 35-13.
Florida State has played Miami most years since and more times than any other opponent. Florida did not consent to play the Seminoles until 1958, and then onlyafter the threat of legislative action to force them to do so.
In his five years at Miami, Schnellenberger beat Bowden three times, including twice by a single point. His 17-16 victory in late 1983 provded the springboard to a national-championship victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
“More times than not the winner of the htis game has gone on to spectacular things,” Schnellenberger says. “I don’t know that any series has had more direct impact ont he national championship. And I don’t know of any decided so many times by one point. But maybe this series is especially outstanding because of the great respect the teams and fans have for each other, because of the great sportsmanship after the fact.”
Johnson, who replaced Schnellenberger at Miami, began inauspiciously against Florida State. In 1984, Bowden won the first challenge by a startling 38-3. In the Orange Bowl, of course. Whereupon Jonson won the next four games.
“I guarantee you on thing,” Bowden slyly told alumni clubs int he spring following the 1988 game, “I’ll never lose to him again.”
Johnson had just accepted an offer to coach the Dallas Cowboys.
Miami’s present coach, Dennis Erickson, thinks Bowden reminds him a bit fo Schnellenberger with his all-around strength as a coach.
There’s a thought that many a coach might have won national titles with the talen Miami has fielded in the past decade.
“Not in my opinion,” Bowden says. “Miami’s had extraordinary talent. But the coaches they’ve had have been amazing, too.”