Saturday, October 22, 2005

Gators and Seminoles

Fray friend Hipparchia responded to my last post by recalling a party she gave for the Florida-Florida State game, to which she invited an equal number of fans for each team, and divided them by duct tape on the floor. She says her team won, but is coy about which team that was. She probably told me when I met her at the New York Fray gathering a few weeks ago, but I've forgotten. I'll be bold enough to guess it's FSU, because (1) Hipparchia lives in Pensacola, which is a lot closer to Tallahassee than to Gainesville, and (2) the 'Noles have beaten the Gators more often than not in recent years.

"[I]n recent years": therein hangs a tale I promised to tell in my last post.

First, a bit of history. Until 1947, what is now Florida State University was the Florida State College for Women. In that year, both it and the University of Florida (formerly exclusively male) were made coeducational. Sometime after that Florida State began fielding a football team. (Personal sidebar: The first time I ever saw a college football team on the field was in 1957, when I saw the FSU freshmen team play the Eglin Air Force Base, where my father was then stationed, Eagles. The Eagles won handily, largely on the strength of their running back - old Baltimore Colts fans take note - Lenny Moore.) Anyway, as the story goes, FSU longed to play the Florida Gators, but the Gators, then in what later became known ironically as their "golden era", and fearing embarrassment, refused to schedule them. Finally, the Florida Legislature passed an act, signed by the governor, that compelled the two teams to play each other each season.

For a number of years, despite the fears that kept them from scheduling them, the Gators routinely beat the 'Noles, while Florida fans taunted the FSU contingent by yelling "Girls' school!". If you've read my earlier posts about the Brooklyn Dodgers, you know that I favor underdogs. So, though I rooted for the Gators in every other game, through many years I rooted for FSU to beat them. It finally happened in 1964 (they managed a 3-3 tie in 1961) when I was in college at South Florida (which didn't have a football team in those days). Then, it was back to frustration, particularly in 1966, when a disputed call ('Noles receiver Lane Fenner was called out of bounds on a catch that would have won the game) decided things. So I was still backing State in '67, when I was in law school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and despairing of getting any news of the game on local radio, when, to my amazement, the WRKO Boston late evening DJ said, "I've got to hand it to my old Florida State team. They beat Florida today, 21-16."

But a funny thing happened. FSU got a coach named Bobby Bowden who turned the 'Noles into uberhunden. So, now, when they play each other, I usually root for the Gators, unless the 'Noles have a shot at the national championship and the Gators don't, which, of course, is when the Gators usually beat them. Appropriately, the Gators' only national championship came when their only regular season loss was to FSU, then they turned around and beat the 'Noles in the Sugar Bowl.