ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida State legend Bobby Bowden recalled with a chuckle the other day his famously funny quote about the epitaph he would like to see written on his tombstone:
“At least, he played Miami.”
Decades ago, this was Bobby’s way of humorously lamenting how many national championships his Seminoles might have lost because of their annual Sunshine State showdown with the bombastic, dynastic Hurricanes. More important, it was Bobby’s way of poking fun at the Gators, who chicken-heartedly dropped UM from their schedule when the ’Canes transformed into a national power in the mid-1980s.
“Back then, I always thought we all three should be playing each other every year,” Bowden says now of Florida, Florida State and Miami, “but college football has changed a lot over the years.”
The reason we bring this up is because the Gators and ’Canes will play one of their rare games on Saturday when they open the college football season with a mega-matchup at Camping World Stadium. As you might expect, the game has awakened those bygone cries from yesteryear that UF and UM should rekindle their annual rivalry.
“Hopefully, resuming the series Saturday in Orlando will lead to the schools renewing this series every year like it once was,” Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union wrote earlier this week.
With all due respect to Frenette, it’ll never be like it once was because, as Bowden points out, college football isn’t the same as it was back then when Miami and FSU were both independents and the Gators only played a minimal six-game Southeastern Conference schedule (now they play eight SEC games, and it soon may be nine).
Nostalgia be damned; I personally don’t want to see Florida and Miami play every year. This Saturday’s neutral-site game between the Gators and the ’Canes feels bigger and more special because the two teams rarely play. That’s how it should remain. Florida-Miami should be akin to going out to a fancy restaurant on a special occasion, not stopping by McDonald’s on your way home from work.
Yes, the two teams should play more often than they do now — this will be only the fifth regular-season game between the two former rivals since 1988 — but not every year. The ’Canes and Gators officially announced on Tuesday that they have signed an agreement to play a home-and-home series in 2024 and ‘25, which is perfect. Speaking strictly from a UF perspective, playing a series with Miami every five or six years is ideal — as long as Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin continues efforts to make Florida’s schedule more nationally appealing.
I know, I know, all of you old-timers out there are rolling your eyes and remembering the original “stated” reason the Gators dropped powerhouse Miami from the schedule after getting thumped 31-4 in 1987. Back then, UF administrators also claimed they wanted to play a more enticing national schedule. Laughably, Florida ended up playing Division I-AA patsy Montana State the season after dropping Miami, winning the game 73-0 and the rest is history. UF has been scheduling humpty-dumpy nonconference opponents ever since.
The truth is, Miami — under coach Howard Schnellenberger and then Jimmy Johnson — was building a budding dynasty back then and the Gators didn’t want to contribute to the cause. At the time, Florida AD Bill Carr and other UF administrators believed Florida’s rabid fan base filling up the Orange Bowl every other season for UM home games was a financial boon for the ’Canes and was subsidizing UM’s on-field success.
In fairness, when Steve Spurrier became the Gators’ coach in 1990, he was adamant that UF couldn’t “run, duck or hide from Miami” any longer. That’s when Florida and Miami actually came to an agreement to play six games in an eight-year span starting in 1992. The Gators also were starting to nationalize their schedule with slated home-and-home series with Washington and Michigan State.
But the Southeastern Conference was expanding at the time and quickly went from a six-game league schedule to an eight-game schedule. The Gators, citing the need to play seven home games every year to meet their budgetary requirements, subsequently scrapped plans to play Miami and other national opponents and filled their nonconference schedule with an array of cupcakes, cream puffs and moon pies.
Now, with the landscape in college football changing drastically, the College Football Playoff selection committee paying attention to strength of schedule and more and more fans unwilling to buy tickets to watch three meaningless home games against outmanned opponents every year, Stricklin seems serious about finally upgrading Florida’s future home schedule. And hallelujah for that! Seriously, is any Gators fan really fired up about a home schedule next season that includes Eastern Washington, South Alabama and New Mexico State? Get your season tickets right away!
Florida-Miami — whether at a neutral site like Camping World Stadium or home-and-home at The Swamp and Hard Rock Stadium — is obviously a welcome change from UF’s archaic scheduling philosophy of the past. Still, rather than schedule Miami every year, I’d prefer to see Stricklin truly spice up and diversify Florida’s future schedule.
The Gators don’t need another “annual” regional rival like UM. They already have enough of those in Florida State, Georgia, Tennessee and LSU. I believe UF fans would be more excited about scheduling home-and-home series with high-profile, out-of-state teams like Texas (a series announced a couple of months ago), Notre Dame, Penn State, USC and Ohio State.
Hard to believe that three decades and seven head coaches after Florida dropped Miami, the Gators finally are getting serious about playing the national schedule they were supposed to play back then.
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