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What is the Sunshine Showdown? Florida vs. Florida State rivalry explained

The Tomahawk Chop. The Gator Chomp. The Sunshine Showdown rivalry? Two of those three expressions live in college football folklore, while the other is as obscure as it gets. The Sunshine Showdown, or the annual Florida State vs. Florida rivalry game, is steeped in tradition but certainly not known for its name. What exactly is the Sunshine Showdown? How did it come to be? Today, we take a journey through history — a history full of triumphs, defeats, memorable experiences, joy, and tears.

What is the Sunshine Showdown?

Simply put, the Sunshine Showdown is just that, a showdown in the Sunshine State. The battle for Florida supremacy. The showdown between the Florida State Seminoles and the Florida Gators.

The rivalry dates back to 1958 and had been played annually for 62 consecutive years prior to the COVID-19 cancellation of the 2020 game. Routinely pitting ranked teams of FSU and UF, the year-end Sunshine Showdown has seen either the Seminoles or Gators ranked in the Top 25 on 70 occasions.

Furthermore, the game between Florida and Florida State has only been played 15 of the previous 64 matchups when neither team had a ranking. However, in 2021, we’ll add one more time to that as neither team will enter the 2021 iteration with a ranking.

There was even an 11-year stretch where the teams played 13 times — each ranked inside the Top 10. They met for the 1997 National Championship Game as well as the 1995 Sugar Bowl, splitting the pair of postseason appearances against one another. Truly, it’s a game steeped in tradition between powerhouse programs.

When is the Sunshine Showdown in 2021?

The Sunshine Showdown in 2021 follows suit with the rest of the games in series history. Historically played on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, the meeting between Florida and Florida State has taken place in November or December since 1976. Playing for state bragging rights, there’s also a Makala Trophy awarded to the victors.

The game also features into the Florida Cup between FSU, UF, and Miami. Only awarded when the three teams have games against one another, the Florida Cup goes to the best record and winners of the majority of contests between the three.

It’s happened six times since 2002, with Florida owning the latest iteration in 2019. That season, Florida defeated FSU and Miami while Miami defeated FSU, awarding the Gators the Florida Cup. The Florida Cup won’t be up for grabs until the 2024 season.

This season, the teams will meet for the first time in 727 days. They’ll square off at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, on Saturday, November 27. And this time, they’ll each be fighting for something specific in addition to state bragging rights.

Florida vs. Florida State

  • Date: Saturday, November 27, 2021
  • Start time: 12 PM ET
  • TV channel: ESPN

The Seminoles and Gators enter their year-end contest with bowl eligibility on the horizon. One will obtain it while the other will end their season. However, each enters the game on two different ends of the spectrum.

Florida State has seemingly turned the corner, winning five of their last seven games after starting the year 0-4. Yet, Florida has lost five of their last seven outings and even allowed 52 points in a shootout with lower-division Samford two weeks ago. The Gators will also be without their head coach after firing Dan Mullen this week.

Mullen finished his tenure with the Gators after an overtime loss to Missouri in Week 12. He went 34-15 as Florida’s head coach but 21-13 in SEC play, finishing first in the SEC Eastern Division just once.

Sunshine Showdown is a tale of two decades

The game between Florida State and Florida is one that has seen several runs by each program. Florida holds the outright advantage at 36-26-2. The Gators won 23 of the first 34 meetings, finishing 22-5-2 from 1958-1986.

However, legendary head coach Bobby Bowden’s firm grasp on the Florida State team saw the Seminoles turn the corner around the tail end of the 1980s. Since 1987, FSU has won 20 of the 35 meetings, compiling a 20-14-1 record. FSU has won seven of the last 10 meetings since Florida’s nationally prominent teams of 2006-2009.

Florida State vs. Florida just means more

A personal story: Those years between 2006-2010 were an incredible time for the rivalry. Florida had dismantled FSU’s hopes in 2004 and 2005, while FSU was unable to keep pace with the Tim Tebow-led teams from 2007 to 2009. While yours truly was a sideline photographer and Sports Editor at the student-run FSU newspaper for five years, the Seminoles hadn’t defeated the Gators. That was until the 2010 bout.

That game was different. It gave those senior classes that hadn’t defeated Florida in their time a rare glimpse of what it felt like to knock off your bitter rival. That game left a lasting legacy in every Seminole fan’s collective memory — especially mine.

It was the first time in over a half-decade that FSU showed promise on the national stage. That victory paved the way for the future national championship-winning Seminole team of 2013. It was a taste of yesteryear.

It was also the last game I ever worked as a student at Florida State. The last time I stood on the sidelines at Doak Campbell Stadium with a camera in my hand as a working member for the university. And yes, those aforementioned tears that this rivalry is filled with were indeed mine on that Saturday back in November 2010. But I can guarantee you this: my tears weren’t the only Seminole tears shed that glorious Saturday. That’s just what this rivalry means.

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