Archive for Saturday, November 17, 2001

Ho, hum: This Florida-Florida State game little different

November 17, 2001

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— The Florida game already?

My, but time flies when you're not playing for a national championship.

And facing a possible thrashing from your hated archrival.

Yet Florida State fans are not morose as they face today's showdown with Florida in Gainesville.

True, this is the first Florida game in a decade that doesn't have national championship implications for FSU. True, Florida is a 15-point favorite to end FSU's three-year winning streak in this series. True, a young and injury-riddled FSU (6-3) is staring at a nearly incomprehensible fourth loss of the season and the light at the end of the tunnel is no brighter than a Peach Bowl.

But after 14 consecutive seasons of Top 5 finishes and 10-win seasons making FSU college football's greatest dynasty of all time Seminole fans seemed prepared to swallow their medicine. Just this once, anyway.

"Everyone assumes this is just a one-year hiatus from the dynasty," said Charlie Barnes, executive director of the Seminole Boosters.

"Because of that, their attitude is pretty sporty. There is a willingness to cinch up the chin strap and stick our face in the propeller."

In past years, this rivalry elicited a game-week frenzy in Tallahassee.

Fans of both teams jousted on radio shows, store marquee signs boasted colorful exhortations, fans flocked to buy T-shirts with insulting messages about the opponent.

This week, quiet resignation has ruled Tallahassee.

An appearance by the Budweiser "Whassup" guys drew more radio chatter than the game. Ruppshirts produced only three different styles of game-day T-shirts, all with eternal themes such as: "Noles vs. Gators.

It's A Beautiful Thing."

"Everybody got a little nervous (about specific messages), in case they had to use them again," said Ruppshirts art director Danny Johnson.

Marquee signs about the game were few, and confined to such modest sentiments as those posted at Bill's Bookstore on West Tennessee Street: "Good Luck Noles."

"We weren't feeling very enthusiastic but we did want to put up something positive," said store manager Catherine Friends.

To be sure, FSU fans are not abandoning their team as it journeys to the notorious Swamp. FSU sold its entire allotment of 10,000 tickets.

Hundreds of game-watching parties will be held for the 8 p.m., CBS-televised game.

And fans are by nature optimistic.

FSU freshman Tommy Duncan, of Panama City, insisted "I'm not down just because the odds are against us."

"Auburn upset Florida," he said. "No reason we couldn't do it, too."

Even older, more pragmatic fans share that sentiment. FSU graduate Jimmy Ledford hasn't missed a Florida-FSU game since 1982, and will make the every-other-year journey to Gainesville today nursing an unquenchable ray of hope.

"Since the loss (last week) to N.C. State, I've lowered my estimate from a 35 to 40 percent chance of winning to a 15 to 20 percent chance," said Ledford, who works for a local printing company. "But if our defense shows up, we play our best and Florida makes a lot of stupid mistakes, we've got a chance."

Gainesville Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley is among the many who believe that "the pressure is all on Florida." The once-beaten Gators are ranked 5th in the Bowl Championship Standings and remain in the chase for the national championship as long as they beat FSU. That throat-tightening prospect finds the Gators "convinced they can't take FSU lightly," Dooley said.

Gator fans are another matter.

"Florida fans are ridiculously over-confident," Dooley said. "They feel this year can make up for the last three years (losses). I don't think they understand the math."

The math FSU fans fear may be on the scoreboard today.

None expect a harkening back to 1973, when a winless FSU team suffered a 49-0 thrashing that remains the most-lopsided game in this 43-year-old series. But many Seminole fans fear a rout similar to 1983, when Florida posted a 53-14 victory in Gainesville.

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