HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) - While seated near a trophy filled with oranges, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was reminded of a coconut.
It was 41 years ago when Harbaugh came to the Orange Bowl as the son of a Wolverines’ assistant, a trip where he saw the ocean, the beach and palm trees for the first time. Harbaugh and some of the other coaches’ kids were flummoxed one day trying to get a coconut down, spending hours climbing and shaking the tree without any success.
They eventually knocked it off by throwing rocks, and smashed it open against a curb before enjoying that well-earned snack.
“One of life’s memories,” Harbaugh said. “Signature moment, right there.”
Harbaugh and No. 6 Michigan have one more chance at a signature moment this season, when they face No. 10 Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30. Harbaugh and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher appeared Wednesday in South Florida to promote the game - which has already sold out and will pair two of the game’s storied programs.
It’s only the third meeting between the schools. Harbaugh was the quarterback when Michigan beat Florida State 20-18 in 1986; the Seminoles won the other meeting 51-31 in 1991.
“The Orange Bowl doesn’t take a back seat to any bowl that I know about,” Harbaugh said.
Both teams were considered national-title contenders at times this season, and Michigan was in the mix for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff until the end. Both clubs were as high as No. 2 in the AP Top 25, and each features one of college football’s most dynamic players - the do-everything Heisman Trophy finalist Jabrill Peppers for the Wolverines, and running back Dalvin Cook for the Seminoles.
It will almost certainly be the highly touted Cook’s final college game, and fittingly it comes just north of his hometown of Miami. Cook was an Orange Bowl youth league player as a kid, which only adds to the symmetry of Florida State getting to this matchup.
“To me, that’s what this all is about,” Fisher said. “His opportunity, and why did he get an opportunity? Because the Orange Bowl was here originally, to set up a youth program, to get him out to the field and get him to play and then his talent became out there. … Everybody gets caught in the game itself, but really behind the scenes, what these bowls stand for, they’re tremendous things. For him to do it in his hometown, it is a tremendous event.”
Seated a couple feet apart on the dais, looking down at the Orange Bowl trophy, Harbaugh and Fisher chatted back and forth like close buddies.
And before he figures out a way to slow down Cook and Florida State, Harbaugh wants to figure out how to see Renegade - the horse that gets paraded out before Seminole home games, gets guided to midfield before his rider slams a flaming spear into the turf.
“It’s one of those great programs, one of those great traditions,” Harbaugh said. “Renegade, the war horse. The spear. The tomahawk chant. I’ve never been to a game at Florida State - I always wanted to. I always wanted to go to their stadium and see what that atmosphere was like in person - and this is as close as I’ve ever been to that. I’m very much excited about that.”
Harbaugh then turned to Fisher.
“Is he gonna do it? Does he do it at the bowl game?” Harbaugh asked.
“I don’t know. I guess they will. I don’t know if he’ll get in or not. Probably will, I guess. If the bowl game allows it,” Fisher said.
“Well, you have our permission. I want to see that,” Harbaugh said.
Before long, there was another back-and-forth between the coaches, still looking back at past matchups before looking too far ahead at this one.
“It is amazing that Michigan and Florida State haven’t played more,” Fisher said. “It really is. Matter of fact, you were the quarterback once when they beat ‘em, right?”
“Yessir,” Harbaugh said.
“Twenty to 18,” Fisher continued. “Yeah, I remember that.”
More memories are coming at this Orange Bowl, and only one coach will consider them fond ones.
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