I noticed it early on during his press conference on Monday.
So much so that I had to turn back and ask about it a few minutes later.
Mike Norvell spoke so passionately about this week, about this game, about this rivalry, that I wanted to know exactly why he was so excited.
That may seem like a silly sentence, so let me explain.
Yes, it’s Florida State-Florida week. It’s a great rivalry, one of the best, most fierce in the country. And yes, WE understand that. But Mike Norvell didn’t necessarily grow up playing football in the state of Florida. Not up close and personal anyway.
He hasn’t been here for two years. He was from Memphis. And before that, he was in the desert with the Gila monsters.
The state of Arizona-Arizona is not the same as the state of Florida-Florida. Not even close.
So I wondered where all this passion came from.
In this modern era of college football where coaches and now players switch schools every few years, you wonder how much a game like this can mean to someone who hasn’t lived it, who wasn’t born into it, indoctrinated into the hate that occurs when the Seminoles and Gators meet on a soccer field.
That’s why you have so many coaches who only talk about “faceless opponents.” The other sideline doesn’t matter, it’s all about you and what you’re doing. They don’t want to fan the flames of a rivalry because to them it’s just another game. They know it means a lot to the fans, sure, but so many coaches these days feel like outsiders when it comes to the real passion of rivalry.
They can feel like mercenaries who are here to do a job, get a check and hopefully win some games and change some lives in the process. But to them, Florida is no different than Syracuse or North Carolina.
How thankful we should be that Mike Norvell isn’t one of those coaches.
He understands without a doubt how important these games are.
He admitted earlier this week that when fall camp starts, there are two games he brings to his players before first practice.
“Miami and this one,” Norvell said.
As an aside, he said “this” or “this game” or “this opponent” several times this week when he mentioned Saturday’s showdown. I haven’t checked all the tires, but as far as I can remember, the words “Florida” or “Gators” haven’t popped out of his mouth all week.
This is of course not an original idea. There are plenty of examples of head coaches not naming their rivals: legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes would never say “Michigan”, Urban Meyer would never say “Florida State”, Jimbo Fisher would never say “Hey, what’s going on, Ira? Good to see you, man!”
But speaking of Fisher.
One of the things he did exceptionally well as Florida State head coach was beat his rivals. He did it over and over.
He lost to Florida once. In 2012.
He lost to Miami once. In 2017.
That is it. Everything else was victories.
Fisher knew how important these rivalry games were because he lived them in a sense. He was so close to the Bowden family as a quarterback at Samford, playing for Terry, that he knew firsthand what it meant when the Seminoles beat the Gators.
Before he ever coached for a second at FSU, he knew what this rivalry was all about.
Looks like the new guy does too. That’s hugely reassuring for us old college football fans.
As the sport gets closer and closer to the NFL every day — with free agency (transfer portal), NIL deals, astronomical coaching salaries and talk of a 12-team playoff — the only real difference between the two sports could end up being the passion. are of these rivalry games.
You can tell me the NFL has rivalries too. But man, if you try to convince me that Green Bay-Chicago or New Orleans-Atlanta is the same as Auburn-Alabama or FSU-Florida, I can promise you I don’t believe you. I will never believe you.
One of the last bastions of the sport that I loved so much from childhood is the passion of this game. At the end of the year. After Thanksgiving.
The FSU-Florida game is a ritual, a game that will always mean something. Regardless of the records. Whether a championship is at stake or not.
This is not a faceless opponent. It’s the Florida Gators. And Mike Norvell certainly seems to understand how much this game means to all of us. On both sides of the rivalry.
With that in mind, let’s wrap this up with the answer he gave on Monday about what’s at stake on Saturday.
You may have already read it. You may have already seen the video. But it deserves one last look when we go to Florida State-Florida.
“I know what this game means,” Norvell said. “And if you don’t get up for this, go somewhere else. Go do something else. Because it’s not for you.
“But you look at the history, you look at the tradition, you know what it means to the university, you know what it means to the fanbase. This is why you play! This is why you coach! And it’s to help guys to get [ready] for this moment. Everything we’ve done so far has prepared us. Or we make use of it. Or we don’t.”
Contact senior writer Corey Clark at [email protected] and follow @Corey_Clark on Twitter.
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