Reality check marks Miami-Fla. State game

Hurricane-related deaths cloud anticipated opener

September 10, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- The buildup began last winter, from the moment the football teams from Florida State and Miami left Pro Player Stadium after the FedEx Orange Bowl knowing their next game was eight months away -- against each other.

The hype grew this summer, as the Atlantic Coast Conference prepared to welcome the Hurricanes and set the stage for the first league matchup between its two top teams.

The wait, which included a four-day postponement because of Hurricane Frances, is over. The No. 4 Seminoles will meet the No. 5 Hurricanes tonight at the Orange Bowl.

But given what has transpired over the past few days, the season's first marquee game has lost some significance.

Whatever excitement was left was muted by the news this week that two of Florida State coach Bobby Bowden's family members died in a hurricane-related traffic accident.

"To me this is life," said Bowden, who attended the funerals of his 15-year-old grandson, Bowden Madden, and former son-in-law, John Madden, yesterday in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

"I experience it with my players a lot. Somebody can't tell you how it feels when it hasn't happened to them. Well, now it's happened to me. I believe I can sympathize a little more."

But Bowden said his family's tragedy hasn't changed his approach with his players, or altered his team's preparation for its first season-opening game against the Hurricanes in 16 years.

"We're looking forward to playing this ballgame. We've about covered everything we can," said Bowden. "Both teams should know what they're doing, and both teams should be in a great shape."

Miami coach Larry Coker admitted that much of the buzz has been been silenced by the reality of the two hurricanes that have hit the state in the past two weeks, with lives lost and property destroyed.

There is also the grim possibility of Hurricane Ivan hitting South Florida early next week.

"It really puts things in perspective," Coker said earlier this week. "Certainly the tragedy and the way we feel for the Bowden family, I know what family means to them. And the tragedy of all the homes lost and those things, it gives us all a little bit of a reality check."

But there's a game to played, with another reality check for Florida State to face: The Seminoles have lost five straight to the Hurricanes, twice last season.

"You've got to break that spell there, sooner or later, and you will," said Bowden. "The Florida series has been, you win at your place, we win at ours. The Miami series has gone in cycles. They've got five in a row on us. I think we won five before that. I just hope it don't last forever."

Florida State linebacker Ray Piquion said the Seminoles have been pointing to this game since losing in last year's Orange Bowl, 16-14.

"Guys collectively got together and it was like, `As soon as we get back to Tallahassee we're going to be working," said Piquion, who is from Miami. "We know what we have in store for us. I think we took that focus all through the spring and all through the summer and into the fall camp. We definitely have a different focus."

Asked how the Hurricanes joining the ACC changes the rivalry, Piquion said: "It just adds more fuel to the fire. Our goal every year is to win the state championship and the ACC championship and play and win the national championship. With Miami being in the conference, we have a chance to knock out two birds with one stone. We just to go with our `A' game to have a chance."

Certainly senior quarterback Chris Rix hopes to bring his best effort against the Hurricanes. Despite the fact that he likely will break many of Chris Weinke's school records by the time he's finished, Rix yet to beat Miami in four tries.

"All I know is the importance of this football game and the implication it has for this season, just the confidence of our team," Rix said last week. "It's been tough not to beat them. We've beat some other great football teams, but we haven't been able to beat the Hurricanes."

Bowden knows he's going to have to do something different to beat Miami than he tried last year in the Orange Bowl, when he admittedly used a "vanilla" offense, in part because the Seminoles were without two of their top receivers but mostly out of respect for a defense that featured four No. 1 draft choices.

"This year you can forget vanilla. There'll be a little orange in there, a little strawberry, we might throw a little grape ice cream," said Bowden. "There's going to be a little mixture this year."

If the Hurricanes need any motivation, it comes from the fact that the Seminoles were picked by a wide margin to win the league.

"It's perfect the way it worked out. They're 1 and we're 2, and we have a chance to prove the pollsters wrong," Coker said.

Bowden has been through a lot more of these games than Coker, and some of them seem to blend together.

It doesn't seem so long ago that his Seminoles met up with the Hurricanes, if not at the Orange Bowl than in the Orange Bowl game?

"I said, `Gosh we just played them yesterday,' " said Bowden. "I guess we did. It was yesterday. It was the last game we played."

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