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Politics, pigskin mix as Florida awaits winners

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The rhetoric has escalated and the indecision has become almost unbearable in Florida this week as the public waits for a winner.

We are talking, of course, about Saturday night's college football game between No. 4 Florida vs. No. 3 Florida State _ a contest, unlike the presidential race, with a foreseeable end.

As sports and politics collide this week in Tallahassee, there seems to be agreement on one thing: The election may decide the future of the country, but the football game will go a long way in determining the next national champion and who is happiest in Florida for the next 365 days.

``Around the nation, I don't know,'' Florida State receiver Snoop Minnis said. ``But in Florida, I have the feeling more people are going to be concentrating on our game.''

Like so many Americans over the last week, Florida State student Angie Cheatham has been monitoring the election on TV and in the newspapers. She knows there are constitutional issues at stake.

``I'm a political-science major, so the election is important to me,'' she said. ``But it's my senior year, so the game is going to take up most of my attention this weekend.''

The mixing of metaphors between sports and politics long has been a staple of American life. Tight political campaigns are called horse races. Nebraska voters just elected former Cornhuskers football coach Tom Osborne to Congress. Steve Largent, J.C. Watts, Jack Kemp, Gerald Ford _ all are football players who became politicians.

In Florida, the ties are deeply entrenched.

Attorney General Jimmy Kynes once played linebacker for Florida. Citizens in Gainesville just sent Terry McGriff, part of a long family line of Gator football players, to the Legislature.

The rivalry itself is a product of politics: A former governor in the mid-1950s ordered the schools to schedule a football game as soon as possible. Florida won the first game, played Nov. 22, 1958, by a score of 21-7.

You might ask whether Floridians have their priorities straight.

``The interest in who wins the football game and how the election turns out are intricately linked,'' argues Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University. ``People in this country are secure in knowing the nation will continue to be administered in an effective way, no matter how the election turns out. That's one of the things that makes it possible to be obsessed with things beyond politics.''

When fans turn the TV off late Saturday, they will have a sense of finality. They may not like the result of the game, or they may disagree with a crucial call by the referees, but the score will stand.

``There's something deliciously relieving about a football game,'' Thompson said. ``You sit down with a bag of chips, a six-pack of beer, and by the time you go to bed, you have a pretty good idea of whether you owe money at the office pool the next day.''

This year's election has failed us in that respect.

``At least we'll know who the winner is after the football game,'' Florida student Nicholas Pasken said. ``This year, with that election, who knows?''

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