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Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Reveling in rivalry week

By David M. Hale
NoleNation

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Monday proved to be a successful day of wheeling and dealing for Florida State wide receiver Rodney Smith.

The senior from Miami had been hard at work trying to snag as many of his teammates' allotted tickets for this week's game against the Hurricanes as possible, and the day's efforts had yielded two.

Lamarcus Joyner
Lamarcus Joyner is one of the many players on FSU's roster from the Miami area.
It was hardly a boon, Smith admitted, but it was progress. For Miami week, demand will always outweigh supply.

"It's hard, man," Smith said. "Everybody wants to go to the Miami game."

Jimbo Fisher might preach about avoiding distractions, but it's tough to find a player on the Seminoles' roster who doesn't understand that this week is a little different.

Bright orange flags with the familiar hurricane warning symbol fly from the video towers that soar above the practice fields. During Monday's workouts, a driver slowed to shout his allegiance to Miami as he cruised down a nearby street. Taunts and challenges have been issued via text message between former high school teammates now playing on separate sides of the rivalry. Safety Lamarcus Joyner, a Fort Lauderdale native, said he has had to shut off his phone to avoid all the calls from friends and family members eager to remind him of the significance of maintaining bragging rights in the ongoing war of words with their neighbors.

"Dude, it's Hurricane season," center Bryan Stork said.

Florida State and Miami have faced off 56 times through the years, and the mere mention of the rivalry conjures images of some of college football's most memorable games. In the state of Florida, the phrases "wide left" and "wide right" define a generation of football fans, and from 1983 through 2005, at least one of the two teams was ranked in the top 10 nationally for every meeting. In 12 of those games, both were top-10 teams.

"That's one of the big games that you're here for at Florida State," Fisher said. "That is one of the great rivalries in college football. There's history, a lot of tradition. It means a lot to the people here and a lot to the players that played here."

The history of the rivalry not only includes some of the most heralded finishes in college football history, but a bevy of Hall of Fame talent. And this is where some of the battle lines drawn over the years are blurred.

For South Florida natives like Joyner, playing at FSU means an acquired appreciation for Deion Sanders and Terrell Buckley, but they grew up watching Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. The mixed allegiances make for something of a paradox for the staunch Seminoles supporters.

"I hate to admit that my two favorite NFL stars are Ray Lewis and Ed Reed," Joyner said. "You have to accept the fact that they come from UM, and that stuff just p----d me off."

There's still plenty of NFL talent on the field for this year's game, too, but some of the luster has worn off the rivalry from a national perspective. While the winner of Miami-Florida State often became the front-runner for a national championship in the 1980s and '90s, it has been a decade since either team reached those heights.

This year's game marks the seventh straight season in which neither Miami nor Florida State is ranked in the AP top 10, and while the Seminoles maintain hopes of an ACC crown, the Hurricanes remain mired in an ongoing rebuilding effort with the dark cloud of NCAA sanctions looming.

While the national implications have dimmed, the local significance remains paramount.

"Pretty much all my buddies are Miami fans," Smith said. "I've got the bragging rights right now though, so they can't say too much."

The two schools are separated by nearly 500 miles -- a little more than the distance between Boston and Washington, D.C. -- but for the players and the fans, it's a neighborhood turf war.

In addition to Smith and Joyner, nearly a dozen players on the Seminoles' depth chart played high school football in the Miami area, which makes this game a priority both on the recruiting trail and for bragging rights.

"Rivalry games make Thanksgiving really interesting," linebacker Vince Williams said.

Xavier Rhodes has already heard from an old coach that his former high school teammate, Duke Johnson, predicted a big win for Miami. Joyner offered a more muted jab at good friend Phillip Dorsett, saying he was looking forward to "bumping heads" with the Miami receiver this week.

When it comes to trash talk, FSU insists the bulk of it comes from Miami's side, but there's ample braggadocio to go around.

"I don't know what it is about guys from Florida, but you can immediately tell who's from Florida, because he's talking some trash," Williams said. "When you're playing teams from Florida, you know it's coming."

That, of course, is what makes this rivalry so intense.

Jimbo Fisher
With a win, Jimbo Fisher would give FSU its first three-game winning streak in the series since the mid 90s.
For decades, fans outside Florida were intrigued by the impact the game had on the big picture. Closer to home, however, Florida State and Miami fans worried only about having the upper hand against coworkers or neighbors, and there's no amount of coaching Fisher could provide that would offer the same level of inspiration.

"Football, you have to be enthusiastic. You've got passion and emotion, and you have friends and family in the stands," Joyner said. "You get that extra edge. It's more than a football game. It becomes something I can't explain."

It's the football equivalent of a civil war, close friends pitted against one another with the chance to become what defensive tackle Anthony McCloud calls "the king of Florida."

In living rooms and office cubicles around the state, the battle lasts 365 days a year, but Saturday represents the one chance the Seminoles and Hurricanes players have to rally their troops.

Never mind the Hurricanes' consecutive losses or the Seminoles' diminished expectations. It's Miami week, and that's all that matters.

"It's not no hate or anything. It's just fun," Joyner said. "But when that 60 minutes is on the clock, I don't have no friends, no family. You're either with us or you're against us."