Graham faces old foe

Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 2:30 a.m.
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Florida's Earnest Graham is held up during the second quarter.

(MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun)
TALLAHASSEE - This year, it wasn't about the teams.
Sure, it was a rivalry game, but Saturday's contest between No. 15 Florida and No. 23 Florida State wasn't exactly taking the nation by storm.
Anyone who doubts how minimal the impact of this game was on the college football world can just ask ABC, which showed the Notre Dame-Southern Cal game to the majority of the nation, while one of the country's best rivalries was relegated to a regional telecast.
But there was one real reason to watch the Florida-Florida State game, and it wasn't to end the drama as to whether the Gators would earn a berth in the Outback or Capital One Bowl.
There was one reason to care. Earnest Graham vs. Darnell Dockett. It was a little more than a year ago that Graham and former coach Steve Spurrier accused Dockett, the Florida State defensive tackle, of trying to intentionally injure Graham.
Tapes of the incident were suspicious, but inconclusive. A reporter overheard Dockett bragging about taking Graham out of the game. Dockett has repeatedly denied ever trying to hurt Graham.
Graham was forced to miss Florida's next game, which was an upset loss to Tennessee that took the Gators out of the national championship race. Florida was 10-0 with Graham last season, and 0-2 without him, so any speculation that he may have been the difference against the Volunteers was not without merit.
If Graham plays, who knows? Florida might have advanced to the SEC title game. The Gators might have beaten LSU, and they might've earned a trip to the Rose Bowl to play Miami for the national championship.
But they didn't and that's a big reason why the bitterness remains. Graham's knee healed, and he has had a successful senior season.
Dockett has also played well as a junior. Entering Saturday night's game he was fifth on the team with 52 tackles, respectable numbers for a defensive tackle.
So while there was little drama surrounding the teams, Graham and Dockett were a good reason to watch.
Just three plays into the game, the two were reunited when Dockett pulled Graham down after a 10-yard gain. There was an injured player on the play, but it was FSU's Jerome Carter.
There was no incident between Graham and Dockett the whole game. In fact, both players performed quite well. Graham was the only consistently effective aspect of the Florida offense, racking up 82 yards on 17 carries.
Dockett also played well in contributing to the FSU victory. He had four tackles in the first half and helped lead a defense that held the Gators to just 14 points.

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