When it comes to rivalry week, there’s no place for civility
“I don’t really know a lot of people on FIU – I don’t even know if I know anybody,” FAU quarterback Chris Robison said. “But that doesn’t mean anything less to me. It’s still a rivalry and I still hate them.”
As FAU and FIU prepare to renew their Shula Bowl rivalry in Miami on Saturday for the 18th time, what drives that emotion?
“I go to FAU. They go to FIU,” Robison said. “That means I hate them.”
The hate – let’s soften it a bit, to what left tackle Reggie Bain termed “a strong dislike” – manifests itself in many ways. There’s the expected on-field chatter, usually not suitable for publication. Defensive players’ hits are a little bit harder. Scrums last a little bit longer. Celebrations are a little bit more emotional.
And then there’s the sprint to collect the game’s prize – the Shula Bowl trophy – which has itself become its own little piece of incivility in recent years.
The trophy features a plastic FAU helmet on one side and a similar FIU helmet on the other. Three years ago, in the mayhem that followed a 31-17 FAU victory, the FIU helmet became, let’s say, dislodged from the trophy. Photos soon circulated showing FAU players enjoying the emancipated FIU helmet as though the piece of plastic were a trophy unto itself – the biggest spoil of winning.
One year later when FIU reclaimed the trophy, the FAU helmet became a Frisbee tossed around Silva Stadium with abandon. Following last season’s 52-24 victory, FAU players took another turn desecrating the FIU side of the trophy.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” FAU senior safety Jalen Young said. “That’s a rivalry game. You expect things to happen like that. You expect emotions to be high.”
In a rivalry that’s largely disregarded outside of South Florida, one that generally lacks noticeable traditions, the symbolic beheading of the loser from the trophy is one of the more conspicuous postgame visuals.
“I guess it’s part of what we’re doing now,” Young said. “Hopefully we get to rip their head off the trophy at the end of the day.”
That’s an animosity that easily builds between two schools separated by less than 60 miles, football programs struggling to find national relevance.
Both rosters are comprised primarily of South Floridians, players overlooked by major programs. As youngsters they played against each other in youth football leagues. They were teammates in high school.
During a normal week some FAU players talk or text with friends from “the school down south,” but not during Shula Bowl week.
“We can’t do none of that,” said FAU wide receiver Pico Harrison, a North Miami grad. “We ain’t friends this week.”
Many FAU players, especially those like Robison who came from out-of-state, acknowledge that they didn’t really grasp the meaning of the Shula Bowl rivalry until they arrived on campus.
But those who’ve been around rivalries in the past or played in games like the annual Muck Bowl, which pits Glades Central vs. Pahokee in one of the fiercest high school rivalries in the nation, immediately recognized the fissive power of the Shula Bowl.
“I didn’t really understand it until my freshman year, until I was in it,” said defensive tackle Steven Leggett, a Glades Central grad. “You can kind of compare it to the Muck Bowl, Glades Central vs. Pahokee. FAU vs. FIU is pretty much the same thing. No matter the record you, just want to win that game.”
Winning that game means a full year with the trophy.
“The coach put the trophy in the team room so every time you go in there you see it, so you can visualize taking that trophy home,” FAU defensive tackle Kevin McCrary said. “You can’t just give away something that’s yours.”
As the closing seconds ticked away during last season’s Owl victory and FAU players raced to the end zone to reclaim – and partially decapitate – the Shula Bowl trophy, first year coach Lane Kiffin didn’t immediately recognize where his players were going. He says he didn’t know a prize came with the victory.
He couldn’t, therefore. realize the electrified emotional effect emanating from the Shula Bowl trophy. Now Kiffin gets it.
“It’s a big deal around here,” Kiffin said.