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Florida counts when it comes to football


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 2000

You know how I like to brag about college football in Florida. Constantly, there comes powerful backup from Seminoles, Hurricanes and Gators.

Never hotter than now.

FSU is favored by 12 1/2 points to beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and win our state's eighth national championship in 18 seasons, a third for 'Noles coach Bobby Bowden, all since 1993.

It's a tri-headed dynasty.

There is, of course, controversy as 2001 approaches. Even if the 'Noles do succeed in the ultimate BCS passion play, there is a real chance No. 1 rankings (media and coaching polls) could be shared.

By another of ours, Miami.

If the Sears Trophy goes to FSU, the 'Noles inch up on the 'Canes, who wound up No. 1 four times between 1983 and 1991. Amid our state's 18-season dom-i-the-nation, the Florida Gators ruled as national champs in 1996.

After the most recent Miami celebration nine years ago, problems began to fester. Dennis Erickson, coach of two national championship squads, eventually departed beneath dark clouds. UM was headed for NCAA penalties, leading to some comparatively mediocre seasons.

But now, with Butch Davis as coach, 'Canes confidence, skills and ambition are back to full boil. Not unexpectedly, UM's hopes of being No. 1 again depend on a game against one Florida rival (Gators) while the 'Canes work at politically outpointing another (FSU).

This is some peninsula, huh?

Despite electoral fumbles.

An astonishing 18-year run of 'Noles-'Canes-Gators keeps gaining momentum. So many conquests. Such intriguing elements involving Coral Gables, Gainesville and Tallahassee.

So much to be envied in other football-powerful states like Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Nebraska and Alabama.

There's a jock saying that stats are for losers. But that's hardly the case when we're talking this 14th consecutive season of the Seminoles not finishing lower than No. 4 in national rankings.

Miami, of course, has multiple Sugar Bowl motivation, including the renewal of a spirited but dormant rivalry with UF.

If the 'Canes manage a solid Jan. 2 beating of the Gators in New Orleans, the prospects of a divided No. 1 will have 24 hours to gain steam before FSU-Oklahoma on Jan. 3.

How rich we are. Six times, the Heisman Trophy has come to a Florida collegian, all of them quarterbacks, two each from UM, FSU and UF.

Ironically, with so much teenage talent being recruited from our 67 counties, only one of that Heisman half-dozen attended high school here, Danny Wuerffel (Gators, 1996, from Fort Walton Beach).

All the others were imports: Charlie Ward (FSU/1993) from Georgia; Vinny Testaverde (UM/1987) from New York; Gino Torretta (UM/1992) from California; Steve Spurrier (UF/1966) from Tennessee; now the latest hot bloke, Chris Weinke (FSU/2000) from Minnesota.

Okay, a trivia break:

Name the three players from FSU/UM/UF history who became members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Here's a broad hint: these gents were long gone from Florida campus life before the '80s and '90s glory years at our Big Three schools and all became NFL achievers with the Oakland Raiders.

You're a sunshine wizard if your final answers, while using no lifelines, were Jim "Double O" Otto, Ted "Mad Stork" Hendricks and Fred Biletnikoff.

Otto was 1957-59 center at UM who earned his place in Canton with a heroic 1960-74 career in Oakland, seldom missing a play despite approximately a million injuries to each of No. 00's knees.

Hendricks, a 1966-68 defensive end/linebacker with the Hurricanes, then excelled with the Baltimore Colts (1969-73) and Green Bay Packers (1974) before having his finest seasons with the Raiders (1975-82).

Biletnikoff was a mid '60s sizzler at Florida State, so consistently spectacular that an annual award was established to honor America's finest collegiate wide receiver, called the Biletnikoff Trophy.

So far, no Gators have made the Pro Football Hall of Fame, although former Rams defensive lineman Jack Youngblood has been a near-misser in Canton votes. That orange-and-blue emptiness will for sure be remedied before much longer. Precisely, it will happen five years after the retirement of Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith (UF/1989).

Another cinch for enshrinement is that old FSU glitter bug, Atlanta-San Francisco-Dallas-Washington cornerback (and former Braves and Reds baseball outfielder) Deion Sanders (FSU/1988). He and Emmitt are lock first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famers.

Our guys are something.

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