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Could this be the End of the Florida-Miami Rivalry?

By Carlos Pineda
SouthernPigskin.com
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On Saturday, Miami and Florida will meet for the 55th and perhaps last time in the storied rivalry.

“To give up on this grand ole game, the traditional game of the state of Florida is almost sinful.”
~Former Miami head coach Howard Schnellenberger

It’s the beginning of the end.

On Saturday, Miami and Florida will meet for the 55th and perhaps last time in the storied rivalry. It’s a series that began in 1938 and played annually — except in 1943 — through 1987. To put it in perspective, Florida State fielded a football team for the first time in 1947 and first played the Gators in 1958.

Despite not being as prominent a rivalry as Miami-Florida State and Florida-Florida State, the Miami-Florida series has always been defined by two contrasting views.

To Miami, the Florida game was considered the biggest game of the season when they played annually. For Florida, Miami was just another game on the schedule.

Former Florida coach Steve Spurrier once said, “We can only hate or despise so many teams,” in reference to Miami’s place amongst the Gators’ rivalries, which includes FSU, Georgia and Tennessee.

Tenth-ranked Florida travels to No. 24 Miami for the first time since 2003, when ex-Gator Brock Berlin led the Hurricanes to a miraculous comeback victory after they trailed 33-10 in the third quarter. UM won 38-33 in front of a capacity Orange Bowl stadium crowd and behind Berlin’s flawless second half comeback that began midway through the third quarter.

A capacity crowd is expected on Saturday at Sun Life Stadium for the noon kickoff on ESPN.

Former Florida tight end Ben Troupe was on the receiving end of the losses to Miami in 2002 and 2003. He remembers going up against talented Hurricanes squad.

“It would’ve meant a little more had we won one of those games,” Troupe told the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. “We definitely didn’t fare too well against those guys, but it was good to go up against them. It’s going to be fun to see how we fare against them this weekend.”

The rivalry reached a fever pitch in 1971 in a game simply known as the “Florida Flop.” With the Gators leading 45-8 and 1:20 remaining in the game, quarterback John Reaves needed 14 yards to break the NCAA career passing record. But Miami had the ball and Florida players dropped to the turf as UM quarterback John Hornibrook scored from eight-yards out. Reaves broke the record on the ensuing drive and the Gators celebrated by jumping into a pool behind one of the end zones at the Orange Bowl, embarrassing the Hurricanes along the way.

Nine years later, in 1980, Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger earned the ire of the Gator Nation. UM held a comfortable 21-point lead with one-second left in the game, but Schnellenberger opted to kick a field goal on the final play after the Florida home crowd pelted the team bench with debris throughout the game.

Negotiations to keep playing the game annually after 1987 were ineffective. Florida cited a seven-game SEC conference schedule and playing a “more national schedule” as the reasons to put the rivalry on a hiatus. Home-and-home games scheduled for 1992 and 1993, and 1996 and 1997 were cancelled by UF in 1990, due to an eight-game conference schedule.

“They were always trying to get out of the game,” Schnellenberger told Southern Pigskin. “But we didn’t give a damn. We just wanted to keep the game alive. We kept it alive as long as we could…”

Schnellenberger said the Gators forced Miami to play in Gainesville in consecutive seasons (1982-1983) and a neutral-site game in Tampa in 1984. The Hurricanes won the 2001 Sugar Bowl after a 13-year hiatus.

UM leads the all-time series 28-26, but it is unknown when the rivals will play again.

“I think that’s pathetic that a great rivalry is being voluntarily given up when it’s the soul food for the fans and for the students and for everybody else,” Schnellenberger said. “To give up on this grand ole game, the traditional game of the state of Florida is almost sinful.”

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.