Mutual admiration rivalry

Published: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 1:14 a.m.

MIAMI - Descriptions of most rivalries include adjectives like bitter or heated.

Not Miami-Florida State. That has been a rivalry of respect. Even when the word hate was used by Miami tight end Kellen Winslow, he said, ''I love to play them, I love to hate them.''

Tonight, No. 9 Miami (10-2) and No. 10 Florida State (10-2) renew acquaintances in the Orange Bowl. It's the first time the two teams have played in the postseason.

Unlike Miami-Florida, who don't play on a regular basis, and Florida State-Florida, whose rivalry has turned ugly, the 'Canes and 'Noles truly enjoy each other's company. It's like a rugby match where guys are beating on each other for three hours, then shake hands and hug afterward.

''When a guy hits you in the face, and they keep fighting, win, lose or draw, they're a man,'' Miami strong safety Maurice Sikes said. ''That's why there's so much respect and admiration. When we're not playing Florida State and watching them on TV, we want them to win.''

This respect extends from the players - 33 who played together in high school - to the coaches, the athletic directors and presidents.

While FSU linebacker Michael Boulware said playing against a friend never gets old, wide receiver P.K. Sam said, ''Miami is like playing your brother in the back yard.'' That's why Florida State folks aren't anxiously bracing for Miami's entry to the Atlantic Coast Conference, they're welcoming the arrival. It's no secret FSU athletic director Dave Hart not only worked behind the scenes to convince ACC commissioner John Swofford to get off the fence and woo Miami, but he let out not-so subtle hints that the Seminoles would have to look at their options if expansion didn't occur.

Hart and coach Bobby Bowden felt that Miami needed to be added for the ACC to be considered among the country's best conferences.

FSU risks its conference domination and regular Bowl Championship Series berths by having Miami join, but the advantage is an increased image, more television dollars and a possible ACC title game.

''If we could've gotten one team, I wanted it to be Miami,'' said Bowden, who wanted the Hurricanes when FSU first joined the ACC in 1992. ''Because I've got to play them every year. I'd just as soon have them in my conference since I've got to play them.

''I think you could nearly put Miami in any conference and all of a sudden they become the best conference in the country for football.''

Besides a conference, Miami and Florida State share one other common bond - they're not Florida.

Whether Florida is considered the state's university or is the oldest or biggest, Bowden said the other two feel like stepchildren who want to be treated equal to brothers who get more attention.

''Florida is like the little dude down the street that you just want to beat up,'' Sam said. ''It's just a different breed of people. The Gators, they're just like that.''

Miami players feel because they don't play Florida on a regular basis, it's not a true rivalry.

And Florida-FSU has turned nasty after former Gators coach Steve Spurrier's constant digs at Bowden and allegation of cheap shots.

Miami-Florida State, now that's a rivalry; and even though the Hurricanes have won four straight, they aren't bragging because they know how tough it's been.

One other reason these teams respect each other - talent. Seven national titles and 59 first-round picks in the last 20 years. Free safety Sean Taylor says it's like an NFL showcase.

''There's a lot of speed out there,'' Taylor said. ''It's not like an all-out, 60-0 track meet. It's hard fought.''

''It's competition, but it's good, healthy competition,'' Sam said.

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