|Thursday, September 5
Updated: September 6, 6:07 PM ET
UM-UF rivalry was once the biggest in the state
By Bob Harig
Special to ESPN.com
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Don Bailey remembers the oranges flying from the stands. Howard Schnellenberger said it was worse than that. Ice and manure reigned down on the Miami bench, too.
Ah, nothing like a good old college football rivalry. What's a little animosity between enemies?
Only this one has been dormant for some time now, even if the emotions still simmer. Florida and Miami play on Saturday at Florida Field in Gainesville. The last time the game was played there, the place was not yet known as The Swamp and Emmitt Smith was still in high school.
It's been 15 years since these longtime antagonists have met in a regular season game. (They did play in the 2001 Sugar Bowl, with Miami winning 37-20). And the brief two-game renewal is bringing back all sorts of memories.
For Bailey, an offensive lineman for the Hurricanes from 1979-82 and now a color commentator on UM radio broadcasts, it still rankles that there is not an annual game anymore.
"I don't see how it was ever allowed to stop, to be honest with you,'' he said.
Bailey was on the sideline during the last regular season game of 1980, celebrating a rout. Then the Florida fans got into it.
"They were pelting us with oranges,'' Bailey said. "How are you supposed to like somebody when they're sitting in the stands and you're on the field and they're chucking oranges at you. The crowd was beyond anything that I had ever seen.''
Their behavior so incensed Schnellenberger, then in his second year at UM, that he called a time out to tack on a meaningless 25-yard field goal on the game's final play in a 31-7 victory. "I did that because I wanted the press to come and ask me why I kicked the field goal then,'' Schnellenberger said.
That story is just one of several in a rivalry that dates to 1938, a 19-7 Hurricanes victory. For years, it was THE rivalry in Florida. In fact, the game began 10 years before the state's other powerhouse, Florida State, first fielded a team.
Steve Spurrier, the former Gator coach, played against Miami, losing to the 'Canes in his Heisman Trophy season of 1966. There were other memorable moments, such as Miami native Carlos Alvarez returning home with the Gators to catch 15 catches in 1969, Gators splashing in Flipper's Orange Bowl pool in 1971.
That was also the year of the infamous Gator Flop. Florida's defensive players allowed Miami to score a touchdown late in the fourth quarter so that UF quarterback John Reaves could get the ball back and set an NCAA career passing record. UM coach Fran Curci refused to shake hands with Florida coach Doug Dickey after the game, a 45-16 UF victory.
"I lost all respect for him as a coach and as a man,'' Curci said.
To today's players, however, it is nothing but ancient history. They're about as in tune with the Gator Flop as they are the Beatles. None of them were even born when it occurred. Their only brush with the rivalry came in New Orleans, when a brawl ensued on Bourbon Street a few days before the Sugar Bowl. That game wasn't even a sellout, a neural site far away from the Florida friction.
"When I was at Miami, we played Penn State a few times, we played Notre Dame, we played the big-name people almost every single year,'' Bailey said. "But nothing was to the magnitude of that Miami-Florida game. Nothing. A lot of people had family going to both schools. During that ball game, there was no respect, no friendship, no kindness. It was a pure hate game.
"I always wanted to beat Florida State, but I wanted to kick the Gators' ass. It has to do really with the time after the game, to have to live with the conversation. That state is saturated with Florida fans. It's not like you could go duck.''
The schools played for 49 seasons between 1938 and 1987, skipping just once, in 1943, when the Gators did not field a team due to World War II.
Then, suddenly, the series was off.
In 1987, then-UF athletic director Bill Arnsparger told then-UM athletic director Sam Jankovich that the Gators were no longer interested in playing the Hurricanes. He cited the Southeastern Conference's expansion to a seven-game schedule from six. The Gators insisted there was no longer any room for the Hurricanes. Jankovich was not happy.
"We had quite a donnybrook over it,'' he recalled. "But there was no way we could talk them out of it. They were going to do it that way and that was all there was to it.''
Later, home-and-home games were scheduled for 1992-93 and 1996-97. But during the 1990 season, UF again announced it would not be playing Miami. The SEC was expanding to 12 teams and eight games. That left just three non-conference games for the Gators. And with an annual SEC game against Georgia each year in Jacksonville and the annual home-and-home series with Florida State, Florida could not keep Miami on the schedule.
"We need six home games to run our program,'' said UF athletic director Jeremy Foley. "To finance our program, if you don't have six home games, you can't balance your budget.''
Florida's financial consideration is sound, but it still didn't sit well with UM fans, who started referring to their rivals as ""Chicken Gators.'' Before the series was canceled, UM had won seven of the previous 10 games. In the late 1980s, Miami was on a run of winning the national championship three times in seven years. Florida was on probation.
For that reason, many UM followers today still don't buy the reasoning.
"That sounds good on paper,'' Bailey said. "But look at (Florida State coach) Bobby Bowden, who supposedly neither team likes. He's got conference responsibilities, too. He plays Florida every single year and Miami every single year. I don't think you could talk him out of playing both teams, no matter what conference he's in.
"You can rationalize anything, but you can't convince me that for the state, the two cities, the exposure it brings both programs. . . you can't convince me we shouldn't be playing that game. I don't buy into that.''
Bowden, for one, is glad to see the two teams playing again. Since taking the Florida State job in 1976, he has played both Florida and Miami every year.
"Welcome to the dadgum club,'' he said. "We've been doing it all our lives, playing both of them. You look at the national championships we might have won had we not played Miami. One-point losses. Look at the number of times we lost to Florida. Nobody else in the country is playing both of them. This year, Tennessee is. But I'm glad to see them start playing each other again.''
Unfortunately, it is just a two-year deal. The Gators will return the favor and head to Miami next year. Then the game will vanish again.
"I'll tell you how you know the game should be played. Try and get a ticket,'' Bailey said. "If that isn't proof, what else is? You can't get a ticket for that ball game. You just can't find it. I had people calling me a month ago for tickets.
"It'll be the same thing when it's at the Orange Bowl down here. That is as good a reason as any. That tells you the interest in that game.''
Bob Harig covers college football for the St. Petersburg Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.