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The Florida-Miami rivalry renews on Saturday for what could be the last time for a while.

Friday September 6, 2013Gators-Canes Set for Perhaps a Final Showdown

The Florida-Miami rivalry renews on Saturday for what could be the last time for a while.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Since arriving at the University of Florida in 1976 to work in the ticket office, Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley has enjoyed his share of Florida-Miami games.

Some more than others.

As he flipped through a Gators media guide in his office Friday morning prior to departing for Saturday's game in Miami, Foley reeled off some of the memorable games in the rivalry's long history.

James Jones' one-handed catch in 1982; Bernie Kosar's last-minute heroics in 1984; Florida's win over the Hurricanes in Orlando during Foley's first year at Florida.

"The game has generated a lot of buzz because it was a great rivalry,'' Foley said. "I've seen some great, great games."

You may notice Foley said the Florida-Miami game was a great rivalry. There are no current talks between the schools to play following Saturday afternoon's game at Sun Life Stadium, the 55th meeting between the programs.

The schools played every year from 1938 to 1987 except for 1943 when UF did not field a team. In the 26 years since, they have met only five times, two of those in bowl games.

While the end of the rivalry caused an uproar in the late 1980s, Foley's phone line hasn't been ringing off the hook with the prospect of Saturday's game being the final meeting for the foreseeable future.

"I get emails every once in a while,'' Foley said. "But it has not been a huge issue for a long time. It was a bigger issue when the decision was made back in the '80s not to play them on a regular basis. The world has changed. Texas-Texas A&M don't play each other anymore. Notre Dame-Michigan, that rivalry is taking a hiatus for a while."

Foley's goal each year is to schedule seven home games. The Gators have only six this season because they are completing a home-and-home series with the Hurricanes. Miami played at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in 2008.

By losing a home game this season Foley projects the Gators to lose between $2.5 to $3 million they would normally generate. To prepare for this year's revenue deficit, Foley said the University Athletic Association has put away approximately $700,000 per year over the past four years.

With eight SEC games each season and the league contemplating a nine-game conference slate, plus their annual rivalry game against Florida State, giving up a home game to play at Miami every other year is not good business for the Gators -- on or off the field.

The SEC has won seven consecutive national titles and is considered the nation's toughest conference.

"Back then when we were playing them on a regular basis we were playing six conference games,'' Foley said. "That's not trying to take away what the rivalry has been, but the world has changed, and one of the results of that change is that we're not playing Miami on a regular basis."

While much of the talk in the media and among fans leading up to Saturday's game has focused on the rivalry's end, for the players and coaches, the game still has a unique flavor.

Both the Gators and Hurricanes have rosters loaded primarily with in-state players, and many were teammates or played against one another in high school. The two schools recruit against each other in South Florida regularly.

That familiarity breeds a different kind of rivalry for a younger generation of players who have little knowledge of the game's history.

"Ive waited for a long time to play at Miami, said Gators redshirt junior safety Cody Riggs, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale. "Thats kind of sad, two big-time programs in the state that dont play each other. I would hope to play them every year."

Like Foley, Gators head coach Will Muschamp was at Florida Field that day 31 years ago when Jones' catch in the corner of the end zone lifted Florida to a 17-14 win over the Hurricanes.

Muschamp spent part of his childhood in Gainesville and would walk to games with his family from their neighborhood just a few blocks north of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

He appreciates the history of the rivalry but also understands the economic and competitive realities of today compared to a quarter century ago.

"I think our schedule is what it is,'' Muschamp said. "You guys [media] keep wanting to add the Packers and everybody else. Im kind of happy where it is right now. Its been so unsettled just because I know Jeremy and the guys have been dealing with the SEC schedules moving forward. I dont know that all those things have been defined as of yet.

The uncertainty over the rivalry's future has not hurt interest in Saturday's game. Miami officials added an additional 1,300 seats at Sun Life Stadium for the sold-out game.

To give his team a better grasp of what the rivalry has meant to the two programs, Muschamp gathered his team on Thursday afternoon to show them video clips of some of the famous moments in the rivalry's history.

Former Gators quarterback Kerwin Bell made his first career start against Miami in 1984 at Tampa Stadium. His touchdown pass with less than a minute to go had the Gators in position for a victory until Kosar worked his magic in the final seconds.

Now head coach at Jacksonville University, Bell told the Florida Times-Union this week that the Gators-Canes game will always have special meaning to those who grew up when the teams played annually.

"Those were great Miami teams and we had some of our great teams, said Bell, who led the Gators to their last win at Miami, 35-23, in 1985. "Back then, we viewed the rivalry with Miami right up there with Georgia and Florida State.

The current players might not know about Florida fans pelting the Canes with oranges in 1980 or Florida handing the 1983 Miami national championship team its only loss, but they know what it means to fans and to each other, said Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Driskel wasn't born until about a decade after Bell led the Gators to that win 28 years ago at the old Orange Bowl.

"The emotions are going to be high,'' Driskel said. "There's going to be guys that know each other. And you always want to play well in front of your family and friends. About half our team is from South Florida, so they'll be ready to go."

So will Foley, the biggest Gators fan of all.

This is Florida's first game at Miami since 2003. No one knows when the next one will be.

In Foley's world, no single rivalry is greater than the program he runs.

"You can't [give away a home game] on a regular basis,'' he said. "I think people know we don't get any other funding from any other source but what we generate. We are trying to compete at the highest level in 21 sports; we have debt service, so to take a game off campus like we are this year is difficult.

"To leave campus it would have to be something special, a neutral-site situation that would blow us away. I don't necessarily see that, but again, with our budget, with our commitments, with our debt service, we have to play seven home games."

 

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