This is the weekend when South Florida finally gets to show its true colors again — in all its high-fiving, beer-ponging, insult-trading, stat-shaming, chomping, tomahawking, Turnover-Chaining glory.
Welcome home, college football. We missed you.
After the lost year of 2020, when capacity limits at stadiums and bars put a chill on fan enthusiasm, a new season is here, in arguably the most football-crazed corner of the most football-crazed state in the union. (Yes, we’re making that argument.)
In addition to opening day, this weekend features televised games of unusual local interest among the area’s three dominant tribes of college football fanatics — Miami Hurricanes, Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles — who often struggle to observe the terms of a tenuous multilateral cease-fire agreement.
South Florida fans from each school will be among those who have made the trip to pack stadiums in Atlanta, Gainesville and Tallahassee this weekend. Hurricanes fans are looking forward to their Sept. 11 home opener at Hard Rock Stadium, which last season resembled a dry, socially distanced mausoleum.
“It didn’t have that same vibe. [This season] there will be tailgating. There will be alcohol sales. So all is good in the world,” says Tammy Bouker, Palm Beach County ‘Canes board member, with a laugh. “That is football in South Florida.”
Watch parties with a more familiar atmosphere are scheduled in bars and restaurants across South Florida — a boon for fans and barkeeps alike.
“It feels amazing. A little sense of normalcy after the last 18 months,” says Paul Greenberg, co-owner of American Social, the FSU-leaning restaurant with South Florida locations in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Miami. “College football brings so many people together, we are happy to share in that excitement.”
“We have been anticipating this kick-off for months,” says Joe Webb, president of the Duffy’s Sports Grill chain, this year an official partner of the Orange Bowl Committee. “College football … is not only part of our brand DNA, but we see a lift in sales between 10% and 20%.”
The 14th-ranked Miami Hurricanes open their season 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Atlanta on ABC (WPLG-Ch. 10, WPBF-Ch. 25) against defending national champion Alabama. Crimson Tide head man Nick Saban is still Nick Satan to fans who remember his wham-bam coaching stint with the Miami Dolphins.
At 7:30 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network, the 13th-ranked Florida Gators play in Gainesville against Florida Atlantic University, pride of Boca Raton. The underdog Owls’ bandwagon will be overflowing with Miami and Florida State fans.
Florida State University will face traditional power Notre Dame, ranked No. 9 by the Associated Press, in Tallahassee at 7:30 p.m. Sunday on ABC (WPLG-Ch. 10, WPBF-Ch. 25). Nobody likes Notre Dame.
Also of local interest, Florida A&M University is scheduled to play its first game since it went 9-2 in 2019, taking on a Jackson State team coached by former FSU star Deion Sanders. The game is at 3 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, and will be shown on ESPN2.
Galuppi’s in Pompano Beach will host a major FSU watch party Sunday night, with the game shown on a dozen TVs inside and out, including a 17-foot projector screen.
One thing you will not find during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is Irish beer. Owner Grant Galuppi, whose sister Carey played softball at FSU, will put a ban on Guinness during the game.
“Nothing but respect,” Galuppi says of the history of the football program at Notre Dame. “But I want FSU to kick their asses!”
If you’re new to South Florida, that’s the kind of passion FSU followers typically reserve for UF and UM fans, and vice versa. It’s part of the fun of college football season around the imaginary water cooler.
But the smack talk appears to be more measured going into the season, perhaps because everyone seems to want Alabama and Notre Dame to lose.
Greenberg, of American Social, is an FAU alum. And as one of the original managing partners of Tallahassee’s iconic Potbelly’s, he’s also an FSU fan. But given the opportunity to trash talk the Gators, Greenberg wouldn’t bite.
“I graduated from FAU, so we are Owls all the way … but we root for all Florida teams,” Greenberg said.
Less diplomatic was Batch Gastropub in Delray Beach, which will host a Florida Gators watch party on Saturday. In a Facebook post, Batch said of the game against FAU: “When you play in the SEC, you can’t stack your non-conference schedule. … Be sure to get there early or you’ll get stuck watching the second string.”
Warren Corpus, Palm Beach County Gator Club vice president of communications, laughed when he heard it, but was reluctant to endorse a diss of FAU or any prediction of a blowout.
“I never say that kind of stuff, because I don’t want to jinx my team,” says Corpus, a Boynton Beach resident. “But that’s a good line.”
If you are a fan of the Canes, ‘Noles or Gators and want to see the game with a group, here are some places to do it. If you’re a newcomer to South Florida, a free agent, it’ll be a good weekend to test drive the fan base of each school to see where you’re most comfortable.
Palm Beach County: There are two watch parties organized by the Palm Beach County ’Canes alumni group at Biergarten Boca Raton, 309 Via De Palmas No. 90; and Duffy’s Sports Grill, 11588 US 1, North Palm Beach. Visit Facebook.com/pbccanes.
PBCC board member Bouker says that with COVID numbers surging she’s not sure how crowded either party will get. But even if people stay home to watch, there’s value in the national TV spotlight, she says: “It puts us on a national stage. It’s important for people around the country to see this new version of the Canes that Manny Diaz has built. … It’s been a long hard path. I do think we’re going to do very well this year. I don’t know if we’re going to beat Alabama, but to be back in the conversation is just thrilling.”
Broward County: There are no officially sanctioned Broward County Canes watch parties, but club president Matthew Beekhuizen points out that Miami fans have previously held events at Carolina Ale House in Weston, 2618 Weston Road, and the Downtowner, 10 S. New River Drive, Fort Lauderdale. Township, 219 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale, is hosting watch parties for all three games. Facebook.com/UMBrowardAlumni.
Beekhuizen says the club got university approval to host an in-person event, but as COVID numbers surged, they decided against it: “This game has been circled for a year. We were raring to go. We really wanted to blow it out, but then we said, let’s hold off … We’re thinking of maybe doing something for the Florida State game [Nov. 13].”
Florida vs. Florida Atlantic
7:30 p.m. Saturday, SEC Network
Palm Beach County: There are now four locations for Palm Beach County Gator Club watch parties, with a new spot at Hurricane Dockside Grill, 4075 S. State Road 7 in west Lake Worth. Others will be in familiar locations: Roxy’s Pub, 309 Clematis St., West Palm Beach; Batch Gastropub, 14813 Lyons Road, Delray Beach; and Old Key Lime House, 300 E Ocean Ave, Lantana. Visit Facebook.com/pbcgatorclub.
Corpus points out that the Palm Beach County Gator Club is the largest and most active UF alumni club in the nation and that there is extra reason to celebrate: The county and the city this week approved plans for a UF campus near downtown West Palm Beach.
This will be the first game for FAU since the death of program founder and first head coach Howard Schnellenberger, the one-time Miami Dolphins assistant and architect of the University of Miami’s resurgence in the 1980s. FAU will honor Schnellenberger with a uniform patch and helmet decal.
FAU watch party? In year’s past, watch parties have been held at Biergarten Boca Raton, 309 Via De Palmas, which may be filled with lingering Canes fans when the FAU game starts. But they won’t mind rooting against the Gators, too. Visit Facebook.com/BiergartenBoca.
One alum, Jed Lawson, of Delray Beach, said he planned to go to Miller’s Ale House near campus, 1200 Yamato Road, Boca Raton: “Anyone is welcome to join me. I’ll have an owl on my table!” Visit MillersAleHouse.com.
Broward County: The Broward County Gator Club has official watch parties scheduled at Twin Peaks in Davie, 2000 S. University Drive, and Quarterdeck, 1035 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale. Visit BrowardGators.com.
Florida State vs. Notre Dame
Palm Beach County: The Palm Beach County Seminole Club will gather at Grease Burger Bar, 213 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, its home for the past decade. FSU fans will find discounts on food and drink, and door prizes for the chance to win FSU football tickets. Visit PBNoles.com.
Broward County: The Broward County Seminole Club’s officially sanctioned watch party will be at Slacker’s Bar & Grill, 995 Marina Mile Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Visit Facebook.com/BrowardNoles.
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Unofficially, there are no shortage of FSU fans and alumni who own Broward County bars and restaurants that will be hosting watch events. They include Galuppi’s, 1103 N. Federal Highway, Pompano Beach, Facebook.com/Galuppis; American Social, 721 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, Facebook.com/AmericanSocial; and Township, 219 S Andrews Ave, Fort Lauderdale, Facebook.com/TownshipFTL. Township has a sister location in Tallahassee, so will be going all out with a mechanical bull, dunk tank, beer pong and other distractions.
This will be the first FSU game since the death of legendary coach Bobby Bowden, who will be remembered with a signature on each Seminole helmet.
This sets up a titanic battle between Notre Dame’s Touchdown Jesus and the spirit of Bobby Bowden. American Social’s Greenberg says it’s an easy bet.
“The Spirit of the GOAT. Respect to Mr. Bowden and what he did not only for FSU football but for humanity. He was a great man,” Greenberg says.