I don’t really get excited about college football, not to mention my indignation about the long-term psychological damage that the sport inflicts on its players.
Or so I told myself until I found myself watching Florida State University Seminole’s matchup with the University of Michigan Wolverines during the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30. First of all, by all objective measures it was a great game. Second of all, I was emotionally primed, and the setting was totally conducive.
My aunt and uncle’s place in Fort Myers, Fla. is set up like a sports bar, with a wide-screen, high-resolution TV in the living room and a generously apportioned unit on the screened-in patio next to the pool, which is also equipped with a dartboard and small fridge stocked with beer. There’s also a third TV at the end of the kitchen counter. Two signs displayed on the patio — “Gator Zone” and “Nole Zone” — testify to the divided loyalties of the house. Half my family members were pulling for Michigan, or rather, against their in-state rival’s success.
Florida State seemed to be consistently outflanking and out-hustling Michigan at every turn in the first half. I didn’t detect any real warmth for the Wolverines; it was more the case that the Florida Gators fans were only rooting for the Seminoles to lose. There was some trash talking about whether Michigan star player Jabrill Peppers’ decision to sit out the game was motivated at least in part by a desire to improve his prospects as a draft pick. Whether gloating by the Florida State fans or a resentment by the other side that Michigan wasn’t putting all its resources into the game, it all amounted to a cloud of ill will hanging over Peppers.
There were some truly spectacular plays: a record-setting 92-yard passing touchdown by Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, who seemed to shrug off would-be interdictors like flies, and a straight-line pass by Michigan QB Wilton Speight that looked like a cannonball blasted into enemy territory. Indeed, Michigan played hard in the second half and scored a touchdown to take a 30-27 lead with less than two minutes on the clock. But Florida State turned the game around with an improbable touchdown of their own with only 40 seconds left, and then fended off Michigan’s last-ditch efforts to score. That’s drama.