It figures to be an emotional game when No. 21 Miami hosts Florida International on Saturday, but one hopes it doesn’t reach the fervor of the first meeting between the two neighboring programs 12 years ago.
ESPN2 (3:30 p.m. ET) will be there to telecast the action, and if you’re wondering why the network would be interested in airing this non-conference matchup, what happened in the 2006 game might have more than a little to do with it.
That game, the first between the two schools, turned into a huge, ugly brawl early in the third quarter that was punctuated not only by fist fights between players but also helmet swings, kicking, stomping, you name it.
The bench-clearing melee resulted in the immediate ejections of 13 players — eight for FIU, five for Miami — and eventual suspensions of 31 from the two teams. You could even link the firing of the two coaches — Larry Coker at Miami, Don Strock at FIU — after the season to the brawl, though that wasn’t the only factors in their dismissals.
Miami coach Mark Richt, whose Hurricanes (2-1) have won their last two after falling to LSU in their opener, acknowledged it will be an emotional game again against the Panthers (2-1).
But he doesn’t see it turning into the melee that the first meeting did.
Keeping disciplined is the key, Richt said, and both teams seem to have that approach this season. Miami didn’t have a penalty in its last outing and has only 14 for the year. FIU was penalized twice in a 63-14 rout of Massachusetts last week and also has only 14 penalties for the year.
“There will be guys getting their blood pumping, which should happen in the game of football,” Richt said. “It’s a game of adrenaline and a game of guys physically getting after each other.
“But everybody knows you do something stupid then you don’t get to play. That’s the way football is and the way it ought to be. I don’t really anticipate anything foolish.”
It helps that the brawl was 12 years ago before the current players were in grade school.
“I’ve not mentioned one thing to our guys about it,” Richt said. “I remember watching it on TV, but that was a long time ago.”
FIU coach Butch Davis recognizes the extra excitement around the meeting, especially for his underdog Panthers.
“I think the last time they played, it was obviously embarrassing for both programs,” David told the Miami Herald. “But you know, these kids, a lot of them know each other, they played against each other, maybe even played with each other, and I’m sure there will be a lot of competition.
“It’s not too different when Miami plays Florida or Florida State. Any time you play people in your own backyard, there’s some added excitement about it.”
Davis should know the Miami-Florida and Miami-Florida State rivalries quite well. He spent five years as the Hurricanes’ boss in the late 1990s before venturing off to the Cleveland Browns, building the foundation for the Miami team that would win the 2001 national championship and come within an interference penalty of capturing the 2002 title.
“He certainly did a great job here at Miami while he was here,” Richt said. “He had a great record. The last season he was here, I think they were 11-1, and probably accumulated the most talent in the history of the school.
“That team, the next couple of years, was one of the most talented ever in college football. He’s doing a great job at FIU.”
Last season, Davis got the Panthers into their first bowl in six years. They started off 2018 with a 38-28 loss to Indiana in their opener but have beaten Old Dominion 28-20 and routed UMass since.
“They’re fast,” Richt said of the Panthers. “There’s no doubt they’re fast. When you’re recruiting south Florida, you’re going to get fast guys. They absolutely have great team speed. They’ll match up well.”