If this list had been made during any season between, say, 1990 and 2004, this game may have capped it.
There was a time when a man skipped weddings without feeling a gnawing obligation to defend himself, ignored friends and family indifferent to the circumstance, delayed with powerful drugs the birth of children and set back funerals if the deceased had poor enough form to slough off his mortal coils the week Florida State played Miami.
This rivalry directly altered—not in a secondary markets or by some rippling butterfly effect—the course of college football history. The game seemed, year after year, to somehow force fate to reveal her hand.
If not for Miami alone, Florida State likely would have played for seven national championships between 1987 and 2000, rather than the five they did maneuver to skirmish for.
Miami won national championships in 1983, '87, '89, '91 and 2001 and were a mighty scourge across the land; the terror of college football, really.
The team was the barely sanctioned equal to a band of modern Vandals that, when the fighting days of autumn came, stormed over the countryside and broke down the gates everywhere they went, ran off with the women and raided the coffers with devil-might-care grins twisted onto merciless faces.
The Canes played it up, too, making an August arrival at a national championship game decked out in combat fatigues, looking like a sadistically eager mercenary force gone to battle. On the field, it employed a style of conduct that could understatedly be called arrogance—though the Hurricanes and their partisans had it called swagger.
The team wore snow white helmets with a half-tropical green and half-orange "U" distinguishing the sides and stripes of the same color in a triple pattern down the center. It started calling itself "The U."
In this name, and in those colors, was wrapped everything that disgusted and frightened decent and civilized people across the country.The team enjoyed a great success in many quarters.
But to the enduring outrage of its legions of detractors and enemies, there was tremendous substance behind the flamboyant, violent style, as Miami put as hard a hitting, swift of foot and spectacular a football team onto the field year after year as there ever has been at the college level.
While it felt generally that if Miami played its way into a national championship game, it won, the Canes suffered defeats in the final game of the 1986, 1992 and 2002 seasons. That is still a 5-3 record on college football's biggest stage. Florida State, for its part, has fared 2-3 at the champion's feast.
It was bewildering, in a certain way, that a smallish private university in Coral Gables, heralding a sparkling academic reputation, could assemble a fearsome, mighty football team every season. The roster was larded with players from talent-fertile Dade County and hard-scrabble places in southern and central Florida. All places rich with athletic talent, but perhaps not traditional "Miami material" in the university sense.
There was a compelling documentary called "The U" which showed as well as anything could how and why this had happened. The university would pay a price in reputation and prestige for the conduct of their football team, but the on-field glory appears to be forever.
In the context of college football, the epic scale of the clashes between these two schools in the golden years quickened the pulse. The amazing circumstance of what was for many years a non-conference game between teams on the northern and southern boundaries of a large, exotic state, played every autumn with a national championship in sight, and professional-grade talent literally all over the field, felt like too good a fortune.
There was also the tribal, pulsing, war-drum rhythm to the games in Tallahassee, the chanted "chop" sounding deep and hauntingly through the rumbling din of the stadium. And the way the games began, with a piece of tradition preserving the blood consecrated upon those southern fields.
Osceola, the great Seminole Chief, striding into the arena atop his Appaloosa horse, the feathered spear of war burning with malice to rear-back at mid-field and plant the totem of battle into the turf. It is the most riveting pre-game tradition in American sport.
The games in The Orange Bowl at Miami were staged in a commensurate setting for high-stakes sport. The Hurricanes storming onto the field through an eruption of white smoke obscuring mystically the stadium's tunnel. The bright Cuban neighborhood in Little Havana, and the venerable two-tiered stadium rising orangely and winsomely above it, with the rows of tall green palm tress at the semi-open end of the horse shoe blowing brightly in the sub-tropical air.
It was an absurdly colorful, picturesque stage that somehow held everything that makes Miami the sea front settlement it is charged into its atmosphere.
The rivalry has been markedly less since 2006, when the Hurricanes moved from The Orange Bowl into the almost cartoonishly generic, Dolphins—(I can't remember this year's corporate sponsor)—Stadium. That venue used to be called Joe Robbie Stadium, which had at least the dignity of being called after a human being.
But as corporations continue campaigning to convince the world they are people, too, with expensive feelings, the stadium no longer has even that to speak for it. It is mostly empty for Miami games, and the soul of the Old Place had the wrecking ball to send it into eternal slumber.
The sporting landscape as a whole has been diminished by the loss of The Orange Bowl, which had so much history webbed within its stately decks. I think, too, that the mystique of Miami football has been shrunken since.
College football has always celebrated and preserved what made its game unique, which were the regional and the local ingredients that gave the presentation its flavor. Miami lost its claim to one of the most famous connections to place in the entire sport. That kind of loss is not easily recovered.
But both schools made a great advantage out of their home venues over the years. The all-time NCAA record of 58 consecutive home victories at The Orange Bowl belongs to Miami, a streak that rolled out over the autumn of 1985 into September of 1994.
The Hurricanes hold also two of the longest winning streaks in college football history, with 29 consecutive wins from 1990 to 1992 and 36 in a row from 2000 to 2003. Both runs began in obvious ascendancy, crescendoed in national titles and ended with a clashing fury in the national championship game as the Canes tried to blow down back-to-back titles.
Florida State went unbeaten in 54 consecutive games at Doak Campbell Stadium from 1992-2001, a streak broken at both ends by Miami. Who else?
But it is the games that make this rivalry. Without hyperbole, two of it are equal to any other two in the history of college football. They could hold their own against all challengers.
As a general atmosphere, Florida State would come into the game having beaten everyone it had played— good schools—by three, four, five, six, sometimes more, touchdowns. The Noles carried scalps from road skirmishes with the Titans of college football in which they'd drubbed senseless a pride-filled and beloved institution in front of its own horror-struck and sickened fans.
The Seminoles won 29 consecutive conference games after joining the ACC in 1992 and nine consecutive conference championships. Their 1995 team scored 70 or more points against three conference rivals during the same season.
No one has ever entered a league and so robustly abused the seated membership. The fact is, there was not a team in the conference that had the power, personnel or forces to stop them.
But the Hurricanes were the team the Seminoles could not vanquish when they needed it most, like some champion heavyweight against the one man who had his number. The heartbreak for the Florida State camp on this front has been profound.
To see it more clearly, consider this: The Noles have finished 11-1 or 10-1-1 six times since 1979. In four of those campaigns, the one setback was to Miami—in the other two, it was the University of Florida, including the tie. They have finished 10-2 eight times since 1977. In five of those seasons one of the losses was to the Hurricanes, and in two, the second loss came the week following the Miami game.
Bobby Bowden, the man with more wins than any coach in major college football history, the chief who at the height of his powers led the Seminoles through 14 consecutive seasons with 10 or more wins and a Top 5 finish in the final national polls, garlanded with two national championships and a pair of Heisman Trophy winners along the way, has acknowledged several times over the years his peculiarly cruel destiny against Miami.
Bowden gave an interview to the Tampa Times in 2009 in which he very rightly noted that most major powers dropped their regular season series with Miami because the Hurricanes were smothering national championship runs before they could collect from the boilers enough steam to make the run.
"We were going 11-1 every dang year, and what I was thinking when I said that was, 'Daggum. What we ought to do is drop Miami like those people did,' " said Bowden. "Notre Dame played them and dropped them. Penn State played them and dropped them. Florida, too. I was thinking, 'At least, I played Miami.'"
Coach Bowden got it right also when, after another knee-bucking loss to Miami, in a flash of what must have been agonizingly lucid self-awareness as to how coaching legacies are handled, he said: "I think the curse is that they're on our schedule. They're going to chisel on my tombstone, 'He played Miami.'"
The 1991 and '92 games were the first two in a trilogy known in modern football mythology as Wide Rights I, II and III. They are the Greek tragedies or Roman triumphs of college football, depending on your loyalty. The first two were unexplainably, indescribably good, compelling and bloodily fought football games. These are the games that will stand with any other in the long annals of college football.
As a boy being indoctrinated into the religion of the sport, I remember absorbing the intensity of the first game so profoundly that—having sat riveted for three-and-a-half hours—I fled the oppression for the grass field outdoors and the big lonesome willow tree, the target for the football I carried, while State's kicker Gerry Thomas came on for a 35-yard field goal.
There was :40 seconds to play, and Florida State trailed in Tallahassee, 17-16. I came quietly back inside for the news: the kick had sailed wide to the right. Miami had won, 17-16, and took fairly Florida State's No. 1 ranking, which the Seminoles had owned and defended with great panache for nine consecutive weeks.
Florida State would lose its next game, the last of the season, at Gainesville, against a fifth-ranked, very hungry young Florida Gators team, 14-9.
Miami would finish the season 12-0, crowned national champions.
Florida State would win the Cotton Bowl and conclude the year at 10-2.
It had been like watching some beautifully built ship, some proud man of war, get stunningly disfigured by one clean shot through the hull, and then, as her crew nobly tried to repair the ship to fight again, a second clean shot blew through the decks and sent her to the sea's floor. It was a stunning, bitter, irrevocable end to their season.
It was, in the glory and the abyss, the apotheosis of college football.
The feeling that fate was repeating itself in 1992 was almost too pungent to share the room with, like when the durian fruit is sliced open in a Bangkok fruit market. The game went back to The Orange Bowl. It was another splendid, pulse-quickening, palm-sweating Saturday of football under the south Florida sun.
Again, everything was on the line. The Hurricanes, defending champs, second-ranked, undefeated. And Florida State, third-ranked, undefeated, back for the rematch. And these two behemoths slugged it out.
The Hurricanes' Michael Barrow annihilating Florida State's Tamarick Vanover on a wide receiver screen is indicative of the kind of game it was. It was remarkable for the number of decleatings and clean, vicious hits on both sides. It was a stifling, powerful game. And of course, it was grindingly close from wire-to-wire.
But the game is called Wide Right II for a reason—it was nearly identical to the kick in Tallahassee the year before. Miami would finish 12-1, with its single loss to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, that years' national championship game. Florida State would finish 11-1 and ranked No. 2.
There are several more series defining games not written of, including the third of the wide right trilogy, which happened in 2000: great games, thrilling games.
But the rivalry is not now what it once was. Those earlier days, from this vantage point, are almost as a dream, that strange mix of real and unreal.
The University of Miami is again looking at probation and NCAA sanctions for major rules violations, and the Seminoles are working, after the Bowden era, to resume their place as a decorated chieftain at the big council fire of college football.
The winds have blown a 31-26 series lead in favor of the Hurricanes, but there is much here yet to be written.