As a purely sports story, the 2000 Miami-Florida State college football debate over who was #2 in the polls and deserved a chance at the national championship, wasn’t especially noteworthy. Interesting to be sure, passionate at the time yes, but nothing that altered the course of sports history. But the location of these two teams dovetailed with one of the biggest political controversies in history to create a rich irony and a lasting memory.
2000 was the year of Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court case that settled the controversy over how to count presidential votes in the state of Florida, and ultimately decided the election itself. Miami and Florida State didn’t have quite the same stakes, but their own debate came right on the heels of the presidential battle.
Florida State was the defending national champion and opened the season at #1 in the country. Miami, after being out of the national picture for five years, had big expectations when the season began and were ranked #5. An early Hurricanes’ loss to Washington was deflating, but on October 7, all was well in South Beach–Miami upset Florida State 27-24 and put themselves back on the map.
Miami went on to beat Michael Vick and Virginia Tech in a highly anticipated battle of unbeatens, while Florida State hammered Florida in their season finale. Either the Hurricanes or the Seminoles would get an Orange Bowl shot for the national title. But though the voters liked Miami, ranking them #2 in both polls, the computer rankings strongly preferred Florida State, enough to lift the ‘Noles into that spot in the BCS standings.
The public outcry on Miami’s behalf was deafening and if this were a true two-candidate race, quite understandable. But what everyone overlooked was that there was a third one-loss team in the mix and that was Washington. And hadn’t the Huskies beaten Miami head-to-head?
Unfortunately for Washington, they were the Ralph Nader or Pat Buchanan of this race–a third-party contender that everyone ignored, and settled for being an underappreciated #4.
Miami went to the Sugar Bowl and hammered Florida 37-20, while Washington dismantled the Purdue team led by Drew Brees in the Rose Bowl. All they could do was watch as Florida State got their chance at a national title. It was an opportunity the Seminoles did nothing with, losing to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. But it served to add another chapter to the great rivalry between Florida State and Miami, and this one had a dose of presidential politics in the backdrop.