Watch out #CanesFam, “The Gator” is coming to town. I know, some of you youngens think I forgot the “S” on the end of Gator. Nope, the “S” is purposely not there. It all goes back to one of the great Miami Hurricanes of all time, and the man they called the Gator Hater, Walt Kichefski. Kichefski famously referred to that team from “Hog Town” as “The Gator.” The term resonated with the players he coached and mentored over his more than 40-year tenure at The U. Yeah, I know, some of you are young, and your memories of the Canes vs The Gator rivalry go back to Carl Moore’s non-catch in the swamp or Brock Berlin’s throat slash in the OB on that hot night back in 2003, 10 years and a day before this year’s clash. In reality, the series goes back to 1939. The Canes and UF played every year from 1944 thru 1987. Then, just like that, the chickens, err Gator decided to drop Miami from their schedule. Since then, Miami has won four of the last five.
In 2000, Miami should have played in the national championship game. Instead, FSU, a team Miami beat, took on Oklahoma, and looked like they left their play books on South Beach. Meanwhile, the Canes had to settle for a trip to the Big Easy and a matchup against their old foes the Gator. This Gator team was still under the guidance of The Visor, aka The Ole Ball Coach. Miami was a more talented team. Despite Florida’s tough defense and high profile players on offense like Jesse Palmer, the Canes whooped up on that Gator. There was even that 50-plus yard extra point Todd Sievers had to kick after Sebastian the Ibis got a penalty. Man was Butch pissed when “The Bird” got flagged. Didn’t matter. Sievers mad the extra point and the Canes went on the to win, the game, and the brawl on bourbon street.
I have a few memories from that game in the Superdome:
1. I witnessed the precursory argument that led to the Brawl on Bourbon Street. It actually almost got me fired. To make a long story short, I didn’t realize there was an actual fight, just an argument, so I didn’t bother reporting back to my radio station what I saw. The next morning, The First Team, the morning show at the time, called me out of the blue and just put me on the air to report on the fight. I said there was no fight. Later on it was determined there was a fight and what I saw was the beginning of it. I even made the AP Wire that day. Fun times.
2. At the time I was the executive producer of the ‘Canes broadcasts and watched the game from the broadcast booth. I remember looking over and seeing Steve Walsh on a headset in the coach’s box. He was trying out the role of QB coach, as Miami had an extra coaching spot after Greg Schiano bolted for Piscataway. Walsh ended up deciding there was just too much time to put in and he decided to not take the gig at the time. Of course, shortly after that game, Butch bolted for the Browns and things got crazy.
3. DJ Williams played offense in that game and even scored. Man he was an amazing athlete.
4. I remember looking down at the Gator sideline while Miami was on offense. Spurrier was behind the Gator bench with his QBs and was literally drawing plays on the turf on the sideline. I have an undeniable hatred for the Gator (sorry honey…yes my wife went to that school), but man SOS’ offense was fun to watch.
After that win for Miami, came a short two-game home and home series with Florida. Ron Zook was the coach for the Gators now and they had no chance. In 2002, Miami went up to the Swamp and wiped the smile off of thousands of Gator students that were attending their first Gator football game. I remember three things from that game:
1. As the team charter was set to land in Gainesville (back then we flew every where on a wide body with filet mignon and dove bars and the whole shebang. In 2008 the team bussed to G-Ville), I stared out of my window, trying to get a feel for this “great college town” I heard so much about. As the wheels were set to touchdown, there were some airport workers waving a Gator flag from atop one of the antennae on the air field. They were also doing the Gator chomp. It was very intimidating to see Bo, Luke, and Skeeter welcoming us in their own way to G-Ville. The players were laughing as they got off the plane. This team hadn’t lost a game in almost a year. There could have been an actual 13-ft alligator on that runway and this Canes team wasn’t going to bat an eye.
2. By this time I was sideline reporter on the broadcasts, so I had a great spot for the game. Standing next to me for most of the game was former ‘Cane and G-Ville native, Lamar Thomas. Lamar, as we all know, is not short of words, confidence, or swagger. Florida got some calls early. Lamar took out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, from his wallet, walked up to some blonde Gator sorority girl in the front row and just started yelling in her face. “HOW MUCH DID YOU NECKS PLAY THESE BLEEPING REFS? HOW MUCH?” I’m sure there was a lot more colorful speech than that but the result was this girl starting to sob. I don’t mean like a tear drop or two. I mean like full out, end of Beaches sobbing. I’ll never forget her blonde hair drenched from sweat and tears, and her face looking like someone had just kidnapped her cat.
3. The Gator was driving towards the end zone on my left. While normally I liked to be at the end of the field where the action was, sometimes, I’d have an easier time seeing if I was at the opposite end of the field, because I’m short, and there would be less people at the far end of the field. So as the Gator was driving, I stood near the medical staff and state troopers at the far end of the ‘Canes bench. I saw a pass being thrown, and then Mo Sikes streaking up the field. He had made that key interception that had sealed the game. He ran right by me and if you look closely at the video, you can see me jumping up and down, and raising my arms up at the :25 :26 second mark. One of the highlights of my time being around this program. To this day Mo Sikes is one of my favorite ‘Canes of all time. He’s also a Coral Gables police officer and can often be found at an on-campus sporting event keeping watching over these current Canes.
The next year, the rivalry came to the Orange Bowl for the first time since Miami won 20-10 in 1987. The game started off with an explosion they call Devin Hester. Even with my radio headset on, I was made deaf by the roar of the crowd. I thought the rout was on. Yeah…not so much. The Gator then went on a 33-3 run and looked like they were going to give payback to the ‘Canes for the year before. Then Brock Berlin, the former Gator, started throwing bullets. Kevin Beard. Ryan Moore. Kyle Cobia. Frank Gore. Alphonso Marshall with the game concluding pick, and the game became one of the best wins in recent Miami history.
Actually, of all the games in that series, that one is a blur. Really my only odd memory from that game was the bet I had made with my old bud Zach Krantz, who you might know as the producer of the Joe Rose Show. Zach went to UF and had bet me dinner on the game. At first I was texting trash after Hester’s kickoff. Then, as the game got out of control in favor of the Gator, I started texting him that I was ready to buy him dinner. Of course, that would all changed and I ended up winning, although I’m not sure I ever collected on the bet. I do remember going to Denny’s after the game and ordering a Moons Over My Hammy, because what else do you do after you beat The Gator?
The next year came another match up in a bowl game. This time it was in Atlanta for the Peach Bowl on New Year’s eve. It was Brock Berlin’s final game as a Cane. The game was odd in that the Canes got out to a commanding lead, but it was all due to special teams. Devin Hester returned a short field goal for a score. Roscoe Parrish returned a punt for a score. In the second half, Ryan Moore actually contributed with a TD. Miami went on to win 27-10. After the game, my wife, the Gator came with me back up to the broadcast booth, where I had to host the post game show. Next to us was Mick Hubert, Mr. OHH MYYY and the voice of the Gator was busy packing up next door. My wife loves Mick Hubert so I had Joe Zagacki take her over and introduce her. It was as if she was a teeny bopper (such a dated term) meeting Justin Bieber. I don’t think she washed her hand for about a month. Hey, if that’s what made her happy, more power to her. After the broadcast was done, we all gathered into my rental car and tried to make our way out to Buckhead where we were staying. Yeah, trying to drive on the streets of Atlanta on New Year’s Eve, right around midnight is a bad idea. Let’s just say I ran many a red light trying to avoid firecrackers and people throwing beer bottles in the air. Don’t get me wrong. Atlanta is one of my favorite towns, but New Year’s is not the time to be trying to avoid the masses. Oh, also on that trip, we were doing a talk show from the team hotel the day before the game. I had gone to the Varsity, an Atlanta fast food icon, to get food for everyone. About two hours later some very cold fries were sitting on the front of our broadcast table. In came President Shalala and she walked up to our broadcast booth to see what was going on. She saw the fries in the Varsity container and went to town. They were cold and damp and awful, but she chowed down. My wife and I still bring that up late at night when we are lying in bed, looking for a laugh.
It’d be four years before the Canes and Gator would play again. This time it was back at the Swamp in the first game of this two game set we are about to finish up on Saturday. This was the 2008 Canes led by both Jacory Harris and Robert Marve. Again I was on the sideline for what was really a boring defensive battle for most of the game. This was a Gator team that went on to win the national title, and I’m pretty sure that if the refs hadn’t completely mis-called a Carl Moore catch on the sideline, Miami would have won the game. At the end of the game, the Gator could have taken a knee, but Tebow kept throwing. They kicked a meaningless field goal late that prompted Randy Shannon to not shake Urban Myer’s hand after the game. That was the maddest I ever saw Randy, who was normally someone that showed no emotion. After the game I looked around the Swamp, wondering if I’d ever be back. I hoped that Miami would get a chance to avenge the loss in G-Ville with a return engagement in the future. But if the teams went 13 years without playing once, it can happen again.
It’s really a travesty that Miami and the Gator doesn’t play every year or every other year. UF AD Jeremy Foley says the only way a matchup would happen after Saturday’s game would be at a neutral site. Mr. Foley, I admire your accomplishments as AD at UF, but that’s fricken fracken stupid. There’s no place north of Palm Beach where Miami and Florida could play where it would be a neutral site. I mean I guess if the two teams faced off in New Jersey or Bangladesh it could be a neutral site, but not in the state of Florida. This series has brought so many memories to the fan bases on both sides, both good and bad. But when I hear the word “can’t,” I think “won’t.” My son is five. I hope the next time he sees Miami play Florida it’s before he’s 18. By then maybe he’ll be a freshman at The U (if my wife doesn’t brain wash him), developing his own memories of this series. I’ll have to tell him to be careful around those blondes in the Swamp. They can get very emotional.