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Lightning vs. Panthers: Ranking the best rivalries in Florida

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Panthers Lightning Florida rivalries
The Miami Hurricanes and Florida State Seminoles renew their longstanding rivalry at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 6, 2018. // Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire

When the Tampa Bay Lightning visit the Florida Panthers for Game 1 of their Stanley Cup playoff series on Sunday night, history will be made.

This is the first time the NHL’s two Florida teams have ever met in the postseason.

It should elevate what has been, at times, an already heated rivalry.

The state of Florida is a big place and it is populated by numerous sports teams — professional and collegiate.

Although the college teams have a much deeper history of playing one another, the pro teams are starting to catch up.

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Remember, until the Dolphins got here in 1966, Florida did not have a major professional sports team unless you count the Miami Seahawks — an AAFL team which lasted one year before moving to Baltimore and being renamed the ‘Colts.’

And, until the Heat joined the NBA in 1988, the state did not have anything other than its two NFL teams not counting teams like the ABA Floridians or the early 1980s USFL Tampa Bay Bandits, Jacksonville Bulls or Orlando Renegades.

So, on the eve of the first Panthers-Lightning playoff series, where does that rivalry stand among the state’s best?

With apologies to the great high school rivalries as well as all of those defunct Arena League teams, let’s find out!

This is a completely scientific survey, by the way…

1. University of Florida vs. Florida State University

There is no doubt football is king in the Sunshine State and although this rivalry is not the oldest in Florida (it did not start until 1958) it may be the one with the most on the line.

This is the only Florida rivalry which directly decided a national champion (the Gators’ first title in 1997 came by beating FSU in the Sugar Bowl) and these two fanbases just don’t like each other.

It may not be Alabama-Auburn when it comes to in-state hatred but it’s the best we can do.

At least no palm trees have been poisoned. 

2. University of Miami vs. FSU

In the 1980s, as the Miami Hurricanes football team rose to national prominence, some of their biggest wins came against the Seminoles as the two teams battled it out in some classic games.

In fact, both teams hit the national stage around the same time and this rivalry was bigger than Florida. This was must-see-TV nationwide.

Miami and Florida State are now roommates in the ACC so their teams play in a variety of sports throughout the year.

The football rivalry trumps them all although the baseball rivalry can get pretty heated.

The baseball rivalry doesn’t have any ‘Wide Rights’ in it, however.

3. Miami vs. Florida

The Miami-Florida rivalry is older (1938) than the Florida’s with Florida State but it has been mostly in mothballs since the Gators ended things in order to “play a national schedule” in 1988. Florida did look outside the state and replaced Miami with … Montana State.

Anyone catch the sarcasm? I was putting it on pretty thick.

Anywho, like anything placed on a shelf, sometimes you take it down for dusting and enjoy it. Then put it back. That’s the Canes and Gators.

The two teams have only played seven times since 1987 and each time, the bad blood quickly rose to the surface.

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They even brawled in the streets of New Orleans in 2000. Payback for the Gator Flop?

The Hurricanes lead the all-time series 29-27 and have won seven of the past nine.

Florida will try to make it two straight against Miami (the Gators won in Orlando to kick off the 2019 season) in 2024 at Florida Field.

The Gators return to Miami Gardens the following year. After that? We’ll see.

4. Bethune-Cookman University vs. Florida A&M University

Perhaps one of Florida’s most overlooked traditional rivalries involves the state’s largest HBCU programs.

When these two play in Orlando each year in the Florida Classic, you better choose sides.

Can’t root for both.

The series dates all the way back to 1927 (Florida did not have a hockey team then) with the FAMU Rattlers dominating the season series 50-24-1.

But, the Wildcats have definitely had the upper hand of late, winning the past nine.

The 2020 game was cancelled.

The game has been played in Tallahassee and Daytona Beach (home to the two campuses) over the years, but the games have been played either in Tampa (1978-96) or Orlando (1997-present) as far back as many of us can remember.

The halftime show is a true Battle of the Bands and it is epic. Sometimes better than the game itself.

OK, a lot of times.

5. Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

This playoff meeting may just move Florida’s hockey rivalry up the chart. 

Although Florida and Tampa Bay have never met in the postseason, the two teams do seem to have a mutual dislike for one another and that comes through just about every time they play.

It certainly comes through in the stands. Always a fun time when these two meet up.

Tampa Bay obviously has the bragging rights (winning the Stanley Cup twice will do that) but it wasn’t much of a rivalry early as the expansion years were dominated by the team from South Florida.

The Panthers still hold the edge in the all-time series (71-65 with 10 ties) although this is the series everyone will remember.

6. Miami Heat vs. Orlando Magic

Outside of football, this was the biggest rivalry in the state when the two teams came into the league (like the Lightning and Panthers) a year apart.

Miami joined the league (OK, the Association) in 1988 with the Magic coming aboard the following year.

Unlike the hockey teams, Orlando got the better of Miami early on, especially after getting Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway in back-to-back drafts.

Like the hockey teams, however, one team has the bragging rights when it comes to titles and, in this case, it’s the guys from South Florida.

Orlando has reached the Finals twice (once with Shaq and again in 2009) but are 0-for-2.

The Heat has won it all three times. In 126 regular season games, Miami has gone 70-56.

The Magic an Heat has only met once in the playoffs (the Turnpike Series?) with Miami winning 3-2 in the 1997 divisional round.

7. UCF vs. USF

They call it the ‘War on I-4’ and for a while, it was a rivalry that USF just kind of ignored. UCF wanted to play but the Bulls did not.

With USF in the Big East Conference and UCF in the lesser MAC, the two teams did not play from 2008-13 until both became part of the same conference.

Over the past couple of years, UCF has become a national name while USF (fun fact: the University of South Florida is not close to South Florida) has not been very good.

Still, it’s a fun rivalry that finds its way onto national television. USF leads the series 6-5 although UCF has won the past four meetings.

Speaking of Arena Football, the ‘War on I-4’ was previously used for the Orlando Predators-Tampa Bay Storm rivalry. Those games were fun as well.

Anyone remember the Miami Hooters?

8. Miami Marlins vs. Tampa Bay Rays

I think this is called the ‘Citrus Series.’ Not sure. At one point, it was sponsored by Amtrak and I don’t even know if Amtrak goes from Miami to Tampa. Or St. Pete. I could look but don’t feel like it.

OK, I did. You can apparently get train service from Miami to Pinellas Park. Close enough?

With Interleague play, at least these two teams play each other every year.

Tampa Bay and Miami even opened the 2021 season against one another.

9. FAU vs. FIU

These two commuter schools (one located in Boca Raton the other southwest of downtown Miami) do not have a lot of history but when they do play, it is in the Shula Bowl.

And that’s pretty cool.

The FAU Owls have won 14 of the first 19 meetings but we’re hoping FIU’s Sunblazers/Golden/Panthers pick it up a little moving forward.

10. Miami Dolphins vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If you like watching the Panthers play the Lightning in the preseason then you may be a fan of the Bucs-Dolphins rivalry.

The two teams, since they are in different conferences, rarely play in the regular season (11 times since the Bucs came into the league in 1976) but do meet in the exhibition season quite often.

The Dolphins ran this state when it came to football back in the day, but the Bucs have most definitely caught up.

Word is they did pretty good this past season. We weren’t paying attention.

11. Miami Dolphins vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

Yes, the Jaguars are not very good and they don’t play the Dolphins a whole lot.

But they beat the living porpoise out of Miami one January day in 2000 — and that is memorable enough to probably raise the tenor of this ‘rivalry.’

When you beat a team so bad that not one but TWO Hall of Famers hang ‘em up afterward, well, good for you Jaguars.

The two take this North-South Florida rivalry across the Atlantic and meet Oct. 17 in London.

Whether Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson show up remains to be seen.

12. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Is this even a thing? I have no idea. Maybe it will be eventually. Let me know.

Hit it Jerry!

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Jon B

I love that you managed to get a story about the Canes on a hockey website George. You rock!

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