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Monday December 31, 2012Sugar Bowl Lookback Part 7: Gators and Hurricanes Renew Rivalry in Big Easy

Gainesville, Fla.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The longest Southeastern Conference championship drought of the Steve Spurrier era lasted four years.

After the Gators won their fourth straight league crown in 1996 (along with the national title), they failed to win another one until the 2000 season. That year, UF shook off an early season loss to an SEC West Division foe, a road rout at Mississippi State, and rumbled to Atlanta mostly behind the Rex Grossman-Jesse Palmer two-headed quarterback monster.

Inevitably, it was Grossman who seized command of the position.

A week after both players struggled in an ugly 30-7 loss at Florida State, Spurrier tabbed Grossman as his quarterback for the SEC title game against Auburn and the redshirt freshman delivered a four-touchdown performance in a 28-6 win that gave Spurrier and the Gators a sixth conference championship.

Then things went retro.

The Sugar Bowl paired seventh-ranked UF (10-2) against cross-state foe and former hated rival Miami (10-1), which at No. 2 had a legitimate claim to a piece of the national title if third-ranked FSU -- which the Hurricanes defeated earlier in the year -- could upend unbeaten and top-ranked Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

Those implications took a back seat to the sex appeal of the 67th Sugar Bowl.

The Gators-Hurricanes rivalry had once been an annual event, with the two teams alternating home games from 1938 (with a one-year break during World War II) until UF officials halted the series following the 1987 game, smack in the middle of UM’s ascension to national dominance.

Florida held a 25-24 edge in the series heading into the bowl game, but in the first game between the two in 13 years UM brought what amounted to a future NFL Pro Bowl roster to the game, including Clinton Portis, Bryant McKinnie, Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, William Joseph, Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma, Jeremy Shockey ... well ... you get the idea.

To the time machine we go.


FOR HISTORICAL CONTEXT (ELSEWHERE ON JAN. 2, 2001)

• Bill Clinton had not said exactly what he’d do when he walks out of the White House on Jan. 20 with no nation to lead. He was too young to retire and at 54 was poised to become the youngest ex-president since Theodore Roosevelt.

• The incoming Bush administration concluded that it faced insurmountable opposition in Congress to its private school voucher plan and had decided to focus instead on two other key education goals: regular testing of students and increased education flexibility of states.

• Ray Walston, who played the lovable extraterrestrial Uncle Martin on the 1960s sitcom “My Favorite Martian” and the devil in the Broadway smash “Damn Yankees,” died at age 86. The slim icy-voiced actor passed away of apparent natural causes at his home in Beverly Hills.

• New Year’s Eve on Gainesville’s downtown plaza was a night of music, shivering, dancing to stop shivering, drinking hot chocolate to stop shivering and huddling under portable heaters to stop shivering. Temperatures dipped into the low-30s and were expected to fall into the low-20s overnight.

• Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, the ninth overall pick in the previous April draft from New Mexico, was named 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.


THE SETUP

The Gators-Hurricanes rivalry had once been an annual event, with the two teams alternating home games from 1938 (with a one-year break during World War II) until UF officials halted the series following the 1987 game, smack in the middle of UM’s ascension to national dominance.

Florida held a 25-24 edge in the series heading into the bowl game, but in the first game between the two in 13 years UM brought what amounted to a future NFL Pro Bowl roster to the game, including Clinton Portis, Bryant McKinnie, Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, William Joseph, Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma, Jeremy Shockey ... well ... you get the idea.

In many instances, players from both teams had faced each in high school -- even been friends in their prep years and through the recruiting process -- so the familiarity element was pronounced, despite the fact the rivalry had been dormant for years.

There was a lot of pre-game trash talking in the press, even some late-night taunting and back-and-forth on Bourbon Street involving players from both teams -- “From what I understand, it was pretty much an overblown deal,” UM coach Butch Davis said -- which made for great headlines and hype.

UF wide receiver Jabar Gaffney predicted the Gators would settle everything in the Superdome.

“We’ll win the game,” he said.

The Hurricanes weren’t impressed.

“When you talk, you better be ready,” said Moss, the UM wideout. “Anybody can talk.”

THE GAME

Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey passed for 270 yards and three touchdowns while Todd Sievers kicked three field goals in leading the Hurricanes from a second-half deficit to a 37-20 wipeout of the Gators.

The outcome put UM on hold with regard to its national championship hopes, with Oklahoma and FSU squaring off the next night in Miami.

The game was a hard-hitting, flag-marred mess, with the two teams combining for 20 penalties, including a bizarre post-touchdown sequence when -- get this -- the Miami mascot was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct, left Sievers to attempt -- wait for it -- a 50-yard extra point.

He made it.

It was that sort of night for the Hurricanes, who fell behind 17-13 after UF running back Earnest Graham (136 yards, 2 TDs) dashed 36 yards for a score, the biggest play of the night for a UF offense that cranked out 452 yards but undermined its effectiveness with penalties and turnovers.

Dorsey answered Graham’s score with a 19-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Williams on a drive aided by a third-down roughing-the-passer call against Warren. After a UF punt, Dorsey marched the Canes to the end zone again, aided by a 44-yard punt return from Daryl Jones, when fullback Najeh Davenport scored on a short pass.

With Miami up 27-17, Grossman was intercepted by cornerback Philip Buchanon, which moved Spurrier to go with Palmer the rest of the game.

Not that it mattered. The Canes had taken control and finished in control.

Twenty-four hours later, Oklahoma defeated Florida State 13-2 and was voted unanimous national champions, with Miami settling for No. 2.


THE QUOTES

“When they got a penalty, they shrugged it off and took care of it. We didn’t do that. We basically got what we deserved. Miami’s better than we are. Better coached, more disciplined, plays with a purpose. We were embarrassed.” -- Spurrier.

“They had experience. With experience comes discipline.” -- Brown.

''I wish it could have been the national championship game ... but we played like it was.'' UM safety Ed Reed said.

“One of our loan bright spots.” -- Spurrier on Graham.

"He's a winner. He's always making the right decisions. And tonight our guys helped by making some big-time catches." -- Davis on Dorsey.

''We have a very diverse offense with a lot of depth. We had guys who were able to step up.'' -- Dorsey.

“The message that we sent out was, we beat both teams in our state. We finished this year and we fought hard all year.” -- Moss.

"It feels like we are a better team than Miami, but we did not make the plays. Next year, I see us going to the championship. The only team that can beat us is ourselves ... like we just did.” -- Gaffney.

 

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