Florida-Miami rivalry has bitter history

Updated: September 5, 2003, 4:21 PM ET

MIAMI -- Art Kehoe knew little about the Florida-Miami series when he played for the Hurricanes in 1979.

But after two seasons as a player and more than 20 years in positions ranging from student assistant to interim head coach, Kehoe has learned a lot.

He read all about the "Florida Flop" from 1971. He experienced the peach pelting in 1980. He even dealt with the Bourbon Street brawl in 2001.

So Kehoe was as excited as anyone when the teams renewed the series last season in Gainesville. And he will be even more emotional Saturday night when No. 21 Florida plays No. 3 Miami in the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1987 -- possibly the final game for several years between the bitter rivals.

"There is nothing bigger than this," said Kehoe, Miami's offensive line coach since 1995. "There is no stadium in the world that will match the intensity of this stadium. Anybody who thinks they have been to big games before in their lives has no idea what this is going to be.

"This is going to be the wildest place you've ever been in your life."

That would be fitting for this series, which began in 1938 and started growing into a rivalry in the early 1950s, when the teams began playing for a wooden canoe. The 9-foot canoe made from a 200-year-old cypress log would be ceremoniously brought out at halftime, displayed on the sideline and then presented to the winning coach.

Because Miami won the final game in the series in 1987, the canoe now sits in the school's sports hall of fame. It has been somewhat forgotten.

But memories of the infamous "Florida Flop" in 1971 might never be erased.

With Florida leading 45-8 late in the fourth quarter of the season's final game, Gator defenders laid down and let the Hurricanes score so quarterback John Reaves could have the ball back and get the 15 yards he needed to break Jim Plunkett's record for NCAA career passing yards.

Miami coach Fran Curci refused to shake hands with Florida coach Doug Dickey after the game. Making matters worse, several Gators headed to the Orange Bowl's east end zone and jumped into a pool that housed Miami Dolphins mascot Flipper during NFL games.

It fired up the Hurricanes for years.

The rivalry grew even more bitter in 1980, when Florida fans -- angry that the Gators trailed Miami 28-7 late in Gainesville -- threw peaches at the Hurricanes, who were headed to the Peach Bowl. Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger was so furious he ordered a field goal to add to the final margin.

"It's always been an intense rivalry," said quarterback Brock Berlin, who transferred from Florida to Miami in 2001 and will be one of the game's main story lines. "There's a lot of history and always a lot at stake. We know that, but we're just going to treat it as a game. You can't treat it as something bigger than it is."

For the Gators, the game never hit the heights of other Southeastern Conference rivalries like Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee -- or reached the crescendo of the annual meeting with Florida State.

So Florida dropped the Hurricanes in 1988 because it wanted to play a "more national schedule," then promptly replaced them with Montana State. Miami fans accused the Gators of pulling out because the Hurricanes were dominating them -- on field and on the national scene.

With Florida's recruiting efforts suffering in talent-rich Dade County, former coach Steve Spurrier wanted the Hurricanes back on the schedule in 1990. But with the SEC expanding, there was no room.

After a 13-year hiatus, Florida and Miami renewed the rivalry in the 2001 Sugar Bowl. Just a few nights before Miami's 37-20 win, a handful of players from both teams mixed it up on Bourbon Street.

"It's the whole familiarity breeds contempt thing," Miami center Joel Rodriguez said. "Half the players on their roster I know from either playing with them or against them in high school and in all-star games. There's going to be so much talk on the field. That makes it fun, but also intense.

"You don't want to lose this game for so many reasons."

No other team has played Miami as often as Florida (51). And no other team has beaten Miami as many times, either (25).

"The anticipation for this rivalry to be renewed has been one of the biggest things," Florida guard Max Starks said. "Now that we have that opportunity to play them, I think it's definitely heated up pretty well."

The schools are working on a deal to play at a neutral site in 2008. But the earliest Florida and Miami expect to play another home-and-home series is 2012 -- much too long a wait for Kehoe.

"We've got the best athletes in the best state for football in the world, so how can Florida and Miami not play every year?" Kehoe said. "We need to play them because of the fans, the players recruited at both schools, the rivalry, because of everything in the world.

"It's a great rivalry, and we need to see them every year for the rest of our lives."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index