Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Florida Battle to Be No. 1 When Florida and Florida State Clash, More Than a US Championship Is at Stake

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Florida Battle to Be No. 1 When Florida and Florida State Clash, More Than a US Championship Is at Stake

Article excerpt

Bob Woodruff would have been aghast. As head football coach and athletics director of the University of Florida in the 1950s, the late Mr. Woodruff never wanted to play Florida State. He didn't think the former women's school in Tallahassee, which took up football in 1947, was a suitable match for his proud and ancient (1906) program. Even when threat of action by the state legislature forced him to begin the series in 1958, Woodruff kept a hole card: He scheduled the first six games in Gainesville.

"So how did it come to this?" he would have asked today: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 FSU. This Saturday. In Tallahassee. Winner becomes the favorite for the national championship.

"You couldn't ask for it to be any better," says FSU's down-home head coach Bobby Bowden. This is the most momentous game in a series that has grown from an annual family squabble into a clash of perennial college football titans. Under head coach Steve Spurrier, Florida has captured five Southeastern Conference championships in the 1990s - the only SEC championships the orange-and-blue Gators have earned in 64 years. Last year, they fought for the national championship right down to the final losing game with Nebraska. Under Bowden, FSU has finished in the nation's top five teams for an NCAA record nine consecutive years - and won a national championship in 1993. Yet, this is the first time both teams have been 10-0 - much less Nos. 1 and 2 - for their season-ending match. All 80,000 tickets in FSU's expanded stadium have been sold. ABC televises the game at high noon. Since its inception, this match has always been more important to FSU and its fans, who resented Florida's traditional dominance in the battles for legislative money, media attention, and athletic superiority. And to Seminoles, the Gators' arrogance always showed when they met on the football field: In 1962, Gator quarterback Tommy Shannon said, "{FSU} gets all the Florida rejects." In 1964, Gator players wore practice jerseys emblazoned "Never FSU Never." In 1982, Gator fans tore down the goalposts after a win over FSU - in Tallahassee. Only in the past decade, as the garnet-and-gold clad Seminoles became TV darlings and won 10 games a year for 10 consecutive seasons, has the relationship begun to even up. Florida still leads the series 24-13-2. But a new generation of Florida fans claims FSU is the one with the superiority complex. "{FSU} has the worst fans," says Gator booster Marj Hazouri. "I know they think we're the worst. But out of all the stadiums I've been in, that's where I've been treated the worst." If there remains an inequality between the two programs, it may be in the warmth engendered by their two coaches. Spurrier is Florida's prodigal son, and least-liked personality. Son of a demanding Presbyterian minister from East Tennessee, he won the Heisman Trophy as a Florida quarterback in 1966, then became a journeyman pro player and coach. …

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