Another Florida Football Armageddon as Unbeaten Seminoles, Gators Tangle

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Nobody hosts a football showdown like the Sunshine State. And with today's clash between No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Florida State sure to impact the national championship picture as profoundly as it does regional pride, Florida's capital is polarized in anticipation.

"You'd never know it was Thanksgiving around here," resident Rayford Wilson said yesterday. "Put up the turkey and pull out the tomahawk because it's time to rumble. The Gators haven't won at Doak Campbell [Stadium] since 1986, and that's not about to change."

No state is more accustomed to a pivotal gridiron scrap because no state has ever savored such a successful profusion of programs. Amazingly, the state's primary powers (Florida, Florida State and Miami) have produced three of the top four college football records in the nation since 1990 and a staggering combined mark of 212-36-2.

"I'm not sure any state has a sports tradition that can rival Florida and its football programs," Florida State quarterback Thad Busby said. "People down here are serious about their football, and it seems like a Florida representative plays for the national championship nearly every year."

Actually, a Florida team has played for the national championship on bowl day in eight of the past 10 years. More often than not, that team has been Miami. But while much of Florida's football mystique belongs to the Hurricanes, both Florida State and Florida have better records since 1990 than their South Florida rival. And although Miami has three national championships, Florida (10-0) and Florida State (10-0) have much stronger followings.

"It's a question of bluebloods or blue collars," said Gators fan Larry Larson at a packed Tallahassee bar. "That's a resort school down in Miami, and the people who live in Miami are rarely Floridians from birth. Florida and Florida State are huge public universities. And unlike Miami, Gainesville and Tallahassee aren't resort towns, they're college towns. Then again, Florida State is from the ACC - that's a basketball conference, as anybody knows."

Such posturing was the standard in Tallahassee yesterday as Seminoles and Gators mixed along "the strip" on Tennessee Street passionately debating the strengths and weaknesses of their teams. Almost every vehicle in the city is adorned with some proclamation of support, from garnet and gold Florida State windsocks to menacing full-sized rubber gators. One gas station was offering a discount to customers who had Florida State bumper stickers. …