The Confidential

The ACC Sports Blog

“Rules to Build a Rivalry”

With the recent addition of Louisville to the ACC many have wondered, “What rivalries will the Cardinals develop in the conference?” It is difficult to say, as many general factors can go into developing a rivalry. Clearly you would think that things like being near each other regionally help, along with cultural similarities, and level of competition must play major roles in the development of rivalries.  Yes, they do, but those terms are vague, and by no means certain.  Consider FSU and UGA, they are closer together than most schools, yet other than the Dawgs poaching FSU assistants like it is their favorite past time, they are not real rivals.  Of course I am sure that frequency of play has a lot to do with the lack of a rivalry between the two today, but even if they played regularly there is no guarantee a healthy rivalry would develop.

So what exactly makes up a rivalry? To answer this question I have come up with some helpful rules using my team as a reference point.  As you will see many of the rules are similar to the general factors of a rivalry I mentioned.  Also, in discussing these rules I will clarify some misconceptions about FSU rivalries.

First, let me start by discussing a question I often get from other ACC fans: “Who is FSU’s biggest rival?” This question is often asked to Seminole fans, and I have no clue why. Regardless, every follower of the Garnet and Gold has their own take on who are viewed as rivals to FSU, but the vast majority of them tend to agree on the identity of the top two teams on FSU’s yearly hit list.  I will give you two hints on the identity of those teams.  They both have an obsession with Orange clashing against either a hideous shade of Blue or Green, and I can attend their stadiums without leaving God’s Waiting Room (aka the State of Florida).

I will use these two teams, among other FSU rivals, to illustrate the “Rules to Build a Rivalry.” I will also mention that the identity of FSU’s top rivals seem somewhat predictable to me, but I have been surprised by reactions of non-Seminole fans whenever I reveal the identity of FSU’s top two rivals.  There seems to be a slight sense of confusion.  What is even more surprising to me is a recent trend of non-Seminole College Football fans making arguments that certain other ACC schools whose mascot is not a certain ibis recovering from an addiction to pipe tobacco (side-note: UM’s mascot just does not look the same since going on the patch in 1992) are in fact FSU’s main ACC rival.  The program that seems to have in many peoples’ eyes surpassed UM as a rival to FSU is Clemson.  I cannot express with enough vigor my disagreement regarding that notion, and state that my “Rules to build a Rivalry” will clearly explain why those Tiger fans are mistaken.  The Tigers are rivals, but at best a distant third to the Canes and Gators for FSU.

Let us start with Rule Number 1: Can fans, alumni, and players of one school easily disparage the same of another program without using social media? Let us consider FSU’s rivals in answering this question.  Everyone has to remember UF, UM, and FSU alumni live and work near each other every day, and no matter the on the field struggles you never forget when your team upsets your rival.  Trash talk can be daily among fans and alumni of the schools.  FSU fans and alumni just do not have this relationship with fans from other schools.  Most FSU alumni are not likely to work with Clemson alumni in Florida, but most Noles have to tolerate those Canes and Gators throughout their work weak.  Put it this way, if I cannot redecorate a rival fan’s office in Garnet and Gold, while leaving random reminders of last year’s winning Seminole score throughout their work space (think hidden on random days on their physical or even Outlook calendar so they find it throughout the year, or taped to the bottom of a mouse so the laser censor does not work), then it cannot be a great rivalry.  If I cannot on any given day go to a parking lot and find a car owned by a rival fan where their fandom is clearly marked (vanity plate, etc.), so I can then leave some sort of note indicating FSU dominance over their school, I question the eliteness of said rivalry.  I am not saying these are things I have done per se, but they should be options.  In Clemson’s case, they lack this key rule.

Rule Number 2: Quality and Amount of Named Games? Simply put, if your rivalry lacks any nicknames for any of the games the two teams have played then it is not a rivalry. FSU and Clemson have had some Named Games, such as the “Puntrooskie Game” (side note: I also refer to this game as “Deion’s Shout Out” because Deon calls out the Clemson sideline while running a punt back for a TD).  Yet compare that with the amount and quality of the names for some of the named games for: FSU vs. UF and FSU vs. UM.

For UF, it started with a “Death in the Family,” which was the Gator coach’s reaction when FSU stunned UF for a 3 to 3 tie in the mid-60s. You really do not have a good rivalry until funeral references illustrate a team’s disappointment in a game; call that Rule 2a.  Following that game, the two schools exchanged wins the next few years, one of which required a referee to make one of the early controversial calls in the two teams’ history against each other.  There were some other named games in the later 60’s and 70’s, one involving the legalized abuse an FSU QB took in a game, but the rivalry did not take off to new heights until the 90’s.  The first big game of the 90’s was “Ward to Dunn” the year FSU won its first title, with Ward hitting Dunn on a beautiful pass for a 70+ yard game clinching touchdown pass, which is still a major highlight played at Doak Campbell Stadium. A few years later there was “Choke at Doak” where UF lost a huge lead late to finish for a tie.  I guess Rule 2b is that names that rhyme are always a plus.  Then the year after “Choke” both played in a pair of games called “1 vs. 2” and the “Rematch,” where respectively FSU knocked off UF at the end of the regular season, then UF won its first national title against FSU in the Sugar Bowl that bowl season.  Another game was the “Greatest Game Ever Played in the Swamp,” where UF cost FSU a national title shot.  Also, “Swindle in the Swamp” is another great named game, where ACC refs allegedly helped out Rix and the Noles in an upset at the Swamp, causing the Gators to demand that SEC refs call FSU vs. UF games in the Swamp from then on.

One of my favorite UF vs. FSU named games was “Not in Our House!” FSU won this game 23 to 12, but it is memorable for a different reason. A pre-game scuffle between the teams broke out before the future Seminole win, and legend goes that during this scuffle Doug Johnson (UF starting QB) tried to peg Bobby Bowden in the head with a football. Johnson just missed Bowden, and later apologized, although he claimed he was only throwing it in general, not at Bowden.  Dougie actually hit another FSU coach in the head as a result of the throw, but was still permitted to play in the game.  Part of the legend among Seminoles is when asked about this incident Bobby Bowden in classic form responds, “If it were my quarterback he would have been accurate enough to hit me.”  I cannot confirm this statement to be true by searching online, but his response is recounted as fact none of the less by many of the fans of the Garnet and Gold.  Also, remember Rule 1, and you can tell these teams hated each other.

UM’s famous games go back a long way with FSU, and this reality is no surprise, as UM is one of FSU’s oldest regular rivals. The named games started in the 60’s, but really did not matter too much until the 80s, when FSU “Went for the Win” on a very late two point conversion and lost by one.  Both teams were Top 4, and UM went on to win it all that year.  The named games took special form in the 90’s, when the first “Wide Right” games took place in back to back years.  FSU lost both games, and both cost it a national title shot.  FSU had two more “Wide Right” losses in 2000 and 2004 (Orange Bowl game), a “Wide Left” loss in 2002, but neither game was as impactful as the first two missed field goal games.  FSU did get some revenge in 2005’s “Miami Muff,” where UM muffed a kick attempt to tie the game in the last moments of the game, and FSU finally broke a 6 game losing streak to the Canes.  Since then FSU has generally owned UM, despite some good games.

FSU just has history with those teams that it does not with Clemson. You need history that includes named games for a real healthy rivalry to emerge. I should not have to say to my friend, “Remember that 90s game where we had 4 TDs in the second half to tie UF” to remind him of a game, I should just have to say “Choke in Doak.”  In general, for any rivalry to emerge between any teams, those games will need to be so special that nicknames are given as a quick reference.

Rule Number 3: Equal Greatness Breeds Contempt, otherwise known as “I am King of this Hill”? The main reason many seem to have for the Clemson game being so important with FSU is it has decided the outcome of the Atlantic Division for almost half a decade, and has always been one of the most important games in the Atlantic Division.   Also, over the last half decade Clemson is the only school in the ACC that has really even come close approaching FSU’s level on the football field during that time.  Of course it is not just Clemson’s success that has led to the perceived notion that the Tigers are a bigger FSU rival than UM, but it is also UM’s decade long struggle to return to relevancy.

Despite a very recent amazing history with Clemson, it does not outweigh decades of elite Florida based teams going at it. Between FSU, UF, and UM the three schools have won 11 national titles since 1983.  That represents a tad over a third of the national titles won in that time, just among those three rivals.  Most of the named games I mention included Top 10 or better match-ups.  Remember all the fuss the media made recently when FSU and Clemson faced each other as Top 10 teams?  Well that was a yearly thing among FSU, UM, and UF.

For a rivalry to grow both teams must have a lot of success, and generally at the same time. Michigan vs. OSU really became the game it is now known as due to decades of equal greatness in the 60’s and 70’s.  USC and ND is a great rivalry, because both are 2 of the top 5 programs all time by any measure.  Auburn and Bama was always a great rivalry, but due to the national success of both teams at the same time over the last 5-7 years (maybe more), the game has reached new heights.  Another way to put this rule is to ask how often both teams are ranked top 15 in match-ups?  FSU and Clemson have met a few times under those conditions, but many other rivalries I have highlighted seem to regularly have elite game match-ups.

There are other rules that help grow a rivalry, but maybe they are not as important. For example, Rule Number 4 might be “Controversy Breeds Contempt,” or put another way if the refs are perceived to have helped one team then contempt and rivalries grow.  See “Swindle in the Swamp” and last weekends ND vs. FSU match-up as evidence (still was a good call Irish).  Yet, NCSU and UVA both have several controversial wins over FSU (in the eyes of Noles fans), yet neither are top 3 or even 4 rivalries for FSU.  So controversial upsets are not enough by itself.

Rule Number 5: Proximity of Campuses is another important factor, but can be easily offset by a failure to have Rule Number 6: Frequency nailed down.  See Georgia Tech as an example.  Once GT was probably FSU’s third or fourth rival due to being so near each other, but over the last decade the two schools barely play and the rivalry has died.  Yet frequency is not always a killer, as FSU and ND have become budding rivals yet only have played 5 times over 21 years.

Also, Rule 1 and Rule 5 seem the same, but 1 focuses on where alumni, fans, and players come from while the other is physical location of the campuses. Alumni often come from other areas of the country and then move after school to specific places.  Consider all of the ND alumni in the North East or the odd amount of Seminoles working in DC.  Also, Rule 1 factors in size of the school. GT has a small alumni base compared to UF, so I mathematically have a better chance to run into a Gator than a Yellow Jacket.

I am sure there are other rules to consider, like Rule Number 7: Culture Similarities Breed Rivals, but none are as strong as the first three rules focusing on alumni/fan/player interaction, history, and success. Also, ND and UM cannot be further apart in culture, yet they truly hate each other making for a great rivalry.

One other rule I will mention is Rule Number 8: Trophies Help, but Alone Mean Nothing.  A trophy for the teams to battle over does help, but by no means guarantees a rivalry.  Consider UVA vs. FSU.  When both teams play, they have a trophy at stake called the Jefferson-Epps Trophy.  I bet maybe 1 out of 10 college football fans and 4 out of 10 FSU fans even know that bit of trivia.  So consider this Rule 8a, if the fans of the teams in the rivalry do not even know a trophy is at stake, then that fact is equivalent to tree falling in a forest with no witnesses.  No one knows much or cares much about UVA vs. FSU, and Noles fans are only moderately interested in the game (cannot speak for UVA fans).  So, despite the trophy, it is not a major FSU rivalry.  Don’t get me wrong UVA has upset FSU 3 times, but that is not enough to be a major rival.

So there it is UL fans, consider those rules and make some rivalries happen in the ACC. Don’t fall into the trap of one way rivalries as other programs have.  Nothing is worse than interacting with a fan of another school expecting them to respond to your snarky-ness as a perceived rival to their fan base, and instead they respond with apathy and surprise that you despite their team so much.  I have been on both ends of this interaction.  I once had an exchange with a Bama fan a month after FSU beat Saban’s tide in the mid-2000s, and the fan certainly did not view FSU as much of a rival or threat.  On the flip side, a Hokie fan was surprised to learn I did not view them as major FSU rivals, and really did not care that they can only beat FSU when it had to play its back-up QB for the game over the last 25 years or more (maybe I cared a little… but I wouldn’t show that to him).  Oh and for the record FSU’s rivalry list is as follows for me: 1) UF, 2) UM, 3) Clemson, 4) NCSU, 5) ND, 6) UVA, 7) GT, 8) VT, 9) USF, 10) Wake.


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