Going Back To Canesville

Buckle up, Cane fans because the real season begins on September 7th. With all due respect to FAMU, thanks for the warm up fellas. The unofficial preseason game was just what the defending champions needed to kick off the 2002 season with a bang. 63-17 - ‘nuff said. Now bring on Florida. The Canes are ready to feast on some Gator meat.

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Somewhat difficult for Miami fans to remember how to handle the week long wait before an annual UM vs. UF match up as it's been 15 years since this was a yearly tradition.

Sure, there was the 2001 Sugar Bowl romp where No. 2 Miami rolled No. 7 Florida 37-20 in the Superdome and 1-0 in black eyes that were given in the Bourbon Street Brawl. Still, feeling snubbed by the BCS, Miami didn't have time to relish in the uncharacteristic meeting with the Gators. Sights were set on an Orange Bowl match up with No. 1 Oklahoma. When that didn't happen, any other bowl opponent was an afterthought. The fact that it had been 13 years since a Miami vs. Florida contest was virtually ignored.

The list of excuses for the stoppage of this rivalry is long and undistinguished. Gators have their conspiracy theories while Cane fans have a rather cut and dry approach.

Florida wanted no part of a dominant, flourishing Miami program. They bowed out citing a difficult SEC schedule as their excuse for not renewing the contract but Cane fans knew what was really going on.

The final regular season meeting was as lopsided as the final score. It was 1987 in the season opener when the Miami rolled Florida 31-4 and sent the Gators back to Gainesville with their reptile-like tail between their legs. The Canes went on to win the National Championship that season knocking off four top ten teams and finishing with a 12-0 record. Florida finished 6-6.

The Canes followed up the '87 Championship year with back-to-back 11-1 seasons. The "mighty" Gators posted identical 7-5 seasons in 1988 and 1989, which again poses the question who was ducking who Gator Nation?

What the hell did Miami have to run from? Who were the Canes ducking? The late 80s and early 90s brought on such formidable regular season opponents as Florida State, Notre Dame and Michigan. National Championships were secured with wins over Oklahoma, Alabama and Nebraska. A 56-4 record was established in between the 1987 and 1991 National Championships. Why in God's name would Miami duck a Florida bunch that went 39-20 in the same time span - the highlight coming in '91 with UF's first ever 10-win season?

Fact remains that the Gators have run from the Canes for years and September 7th will be a day of redemption for Miami fans young and old.

Vintage Cane fans remember Florida as the ultra rival. Long before there was a Seminole invasion, there were Gators lurking. UF first met the UM in 1938 while FSU didn't appear on the Hurricanes' schedule until 1951. (For what it's worth the "lowly" Canes won both inaugural meetings.)

Younger Canes can barely remember 1987 and sure as hell know nothing about the infamous 1971 "Gator Flop" while just the mention of Doug Dickey's unsportsmanlike actions in that contest have older Canes seething. There was a true hatred that developed between these two programs and while once as heated a rivalry in the sport, it lacks the same intensity in present day.

Former Canes have a different assessment of the Florida vs. Miami contests of past.

"It was as big as it could be," said former Miami center Don Bailey, who played from 1979-82. "It was bigger than anything the Hurricanes are experiencing now. As big as there is. No matter what the records were."

"Respect is the whole word," Bailey said. "They've never given anybody any respect… so there's no respect given back."

A has been Gator has an opinion all his own.

"It's a rivalry that has really faded, particularly for the Florida people," said Trace Armstrong, a former Gators defensive lineman. "From Florida's standpoint, they have so many big games on their schedule every year that it's the kind of rivalry they really don't miss. But it's neat."

A rivalry they don't miss? Referring to it as "neat?" Come on now Trace. What do you even know about this rivalry? A former Arizona State Sun Devil and Pac 10 transfer who did one year at Florida before heading to the NFL? You never even went head to head against Miami! How can you pretend to comprehend this rivalry? Try asking some of your former teammates what it was so "neat" about being on a Gator team that got smoked by the Canes 23-15 in 1986 and 31-4 in 1987? The rivalry faded for Florida people because you chose to ignore it. Your Gators were sick of the beatings -- just ask them. Florida couldn't handle Miami's dominance so they pulled up limp and hid behind a wall of excuses.

Come September 7th there is no place to hide. The Canes are rolling north and ready to pick up where the 2001 Sugar Bowl left off. No "BCS" distractions this time. Sixty hardcore minutes at The Swamp are all that fills the brain. Renewing a rivalry that never should've come to an end. Miami will roll into town to earn your respect and take your pride. Be ready.

September 7th, 2002 has been a long time in the making and became official in February 1999. The Gators had a little bounce in their step after a National Championship in 1996 and back-to back 10-2 season in 1997 and 1998. Suddenly there was "room" on future schedules for a home and away with the Canes. One must wonder if it had something to do with Miami being in the midst of probation and going 9-3, 5-6 and 9-3 from 1996 through 1998. The high and mighty Gators jumped at an opportunity to take on a depleted Miami program that few expected to be a dominant force so soon after the loss of scholarships.

Yet the Canes did the unthinkable the past two seasons. The new millennium brought in a new, yet familiar regime. This new decade has an eerie late 80s early 90s like feel to it. Miami has regained that bounce in their step and are again THE team to beat. Another new season has kicked off where the Canes are defending champs and a preseason No. 1. Fresh off the school's third undefeated season in recent history (no disrespect to Howard Buck's 8-0 squad in 1926) and riding high on a 23-game win streak, Miami is no longer accustomed to losing. A tested bunch that had their backs to the wall and found a way to succeed, the Canes are more than ready for their first trip to The Swamp since 1986.

Contrary to ol' Trace Armstrong, Miami and Florida both need this rivalry. What more would you expect from a pasty, chubby white boy from Bethesda, Maryland? A true Floridian knows the importance of in-state bragging rights. Doesn't matter who else is on the schedule, the three major state powers must battle it out. The National Championship always runs through the state of Florida. Hell, you could almost give the damned trophy to whoever remains unscathed in the Miami, Florida and Florida State match ups.

Both Miami and Florida sport identical 1-0 records going into Saturday's contest. Two patsies were on deck and both the Gators and Hurricanes did away with their foes. The only differences were the efforts taken to get from point A to point B. The Canes treated their game as a scrimmage. Quarterback Ken Dorsey bowed out of the contest with less than 7:00 minutes remaining in the second quarter. Second-string skills players were in before halftime and by game's end it was the Canes' fourth-string quarterback taking snaps.

First year Florida coach Ron Zook took a page out of his predecessor's preseason NFL notebook, leaving in his starters until late in the game. In a cheap attempt to boost quarterback Rex Grossman's stats, No. 8 was still slinging the long ball until the beginning of the fourth quarter. Grossman got his 300+ yards and 2 touchdowns while Dorsey amassed a mere 110 yards with 3 touchdowns.

Regardless, both teams have put last week behind and are focused on the task at hand.

Miami vs. Florida 2002 will be an all out war - make no mistake. Both teams will bring intensity, energy, adrenaline and attitude into this contest. Then the whistle will blow, all the hype goes out the window and the game begins. That is when the Canes will make their presence felt.

The defending National Champions truly have that one game at a time mentality. Complacency never had time to set in. Defending the crown became the battle cry the morning of January 5th at the Century Plaza team hotel hours after the Rose Bowl victory. One dream had been fulfilled. It was time to pick a new goal and aim to achieve it. Set the bar a little higher. Raise the standards. Push a little harder.

The media screwed up in not picking the Canes to make it to the Fiesta Bowl. It is only fuel to an out of control fire. Keep commenting on how difficult it is to repeat. Continuously remind Miami that the schedule is a monster and that it is near impossible to win at Florida and Tennessee while taking on Florida State and Virginia Tech at home. Call that schedule an untamable, brutal monster. Bring it on. Continue to hate. Shake your heads in doubt. Pick rival Florida State to get to the title game even though Miami smoked them 49-27 in Tallahassee last year and started this young season with a No. 1 ranking.

Tell the Canes they can't win at Florida. Make the early line Florida -1.5 even though Miami is riding the 23-game win streak and hasn't lost in two years. Please keep spitting in our faces. Us Canes feed on it. The negative energy fuels the fire. Thank you.

We only hope all the talk continues this week. Keep counting Miami out and singing the praises of ol' Mighty Florida. Tell us again how Rex Grossman is a better gamer than Ken Dorsey. Praise his amazing stats and remind us that Dorsey will be running for his life due to a depleted offensive line. Forget that No. 11 has shattered every damn "Quarterback U" record that was placed before him. Disregard the 27-1 record, gutsy performances and selfless nature. Rex is still the Heisman favorite. We hear you loud and clear.

You hate us. You doubt us. You disrespect us.

We thrive on it.

Come Saturday a one-horse town and an arrogant program will be put in check. The Canes are headed to Gainesville to take out the trash. The objective is to remove an obstacle that blocks the path to Tempe. Excessive force will be used if necessary.

September 7th will be business as usual. Miami will roll in the true season opener.

Miami 31 Florida 20

Born and raised in Miami, FL and a Grassy.com guest columnist since 1995, Chris Bello now resides in San Diego, CA. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him for potential writing assignments at cbello@san.rr.com

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