FIU Flashback: The Panther, the Ibis, and the Pigskin: When FIU and UM went to war

UM mascot Sebastian (left) and FIU mascot Roary (right) standing side-by-side. Photos by Lance King / Getty Images and FIU Panthers Prowl

Brian Olmo / Staff Writer

Everyone knows that cats and birds do not get along. 

It’s common sense. One is a predator and the other is prey. Putting the two in a small space together can only mean trouble. 

So what happens when you pit a Panthers’ football team that’s backed into a corner, desperate to prove itself, against a Canes’ team a few miles away that is already a powerhouse, producing Hall of Famers like linebacker Ray Lewis and running back Frank Gore? 

You get a brawl so memorable that the NCAA wishes everyone would forget about it.

But this conflict is far more complicated than these simple animal analogies suggest. To understand why FIU and the University of Miami harbor such animosity towards each other, one needs context for both teams and that all starts at the beginning. 

October 14, 2006. It’s game day, and the Panthers suit up to face the Hurricanes for the first time ever. 51,000 fans are in attendance at the Miami Orange Bowl.

FIU football is in the middle of a horrible season under Head Coach Don Strock, 0-6 heading into the matchup. 

The offense was stumbling over itself, with quarterback Josh Padrick throwing eight interceptions and only three touchdowns in the season. In one game, they were blown out by 31-6 against the Arkansas State Indians. 

In the previous season FIU Athletics was sanctioned by the NCAA for violating league rules and as a result, had all of their wins vacated, changing their record from 5-6 to 0-6. 

Needless to say, the Panthers were struggling and needed to win. Tensions were high as it was do-or-die for this team.  

Meanwhile, the Canes, led by coach Larry Coker, were coming off back-to-back 9-3 seasons and were 3-2 at the time. 

Led by quarterback Kyle Wright and a talented wide receiving core of freshman Sam Shields, junior Lance Leggett and senior Darnell Jenkins. Shields and Jenkins would both make it to the NFL. 

UM was looking for an easy victory over a winless school. 

For the first half, there wasn’t much action from either side, at least in terms of actual football. A slow game, the only score coming from an 11-yard touchdown pass to Leggett. 

There was plenty of trash-talking and chippy play. The referees had already dished out more than 10 penalties up to this point. 

It wasn’t until the third quarter that the Canes started dominating. Wright connected with UM fullback James Bryant for a 6-yard touchdown. Bryant, in a celebratory mood, bowed towards UM’s west end zone. He was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, but the damage was already done. 

Trash talk reached feverish highs at this point. The pot had been boiling for far too long. Something big was about to happen. 

Right after Miami kicker Jon Peattie hit the extra point, a fight broke out on the field. FIU safety Chris Smith wrestled UM holder Matt Perelli to the ground and punched him in the chin. 

Perelli was then kicked in the head by Panthers cornerback Marshall McDuffie Jr. After this point, the fight escalated into pure pandemonium. 

FIU and UM players brawled on the field on October 14, 2006. Photo by Gary Rothstein/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Miami defensive end Calais Campbell came in to separate Perelli from the surrounding FIU players. FIU defensive back Lionell Singleton thanked Campbell for acting as a mediator and the entire fight ended right then and there. 

Just kidding.

An all out brawl broke out between the two teams. From helmet throws to punches the football field briefly turned into a scene resembling a UFC octagon. 

Notable moments towards the end of the fight include UM defensive back Anthony Reddick swinging his helmet at various FIU players and injured Panther running back A’Mod Ned using one of his crutches as a weapon to fend off the Canes. 

After two minutes, the Florida Highway Patrol and FIU campus police stormed the field to restore order. 13 players were ejected from the game: eight from FIU and five from Miami. 

The Canes went on to win the game 35-0 and handed the Panthers another crushing loss. 

The aftermath of the beatdown was not pretty for either side. Strock expressed deep regret over the incident. 

“Football is an emotional game, but there’s a line you can’t cross,” Strock said in an interview with PantherNOW at the time. “There is no place in the great game of college football for anything like this, and I apologize.”

Conflict between these two schools can be attributed to a few things. Geographically, both are only 11 miles apart, perfectly setting the stage for a cross-town rivalry. A lot of the players from both teams are from the Miami and Broward areas, meaning it’s possible they’ve had a history before in high school. 

Coker, on the other hand, didn’t seem all that remorseful. In fact, he thought the brawl would be a positive for UM’s image and indicated that jealousy from FIU players was the catalyst for the fight. 

“I think this will affect the image of this program, but in a very positive way,” Coker said to the Miami Herald. “This won’t be a negative for the University of Miami… It looked like there were a lot of players on their team that were frustrated that they’re not here.”

Say what you want, but Coker was a master at delivering the most incendiary comments possible. This, compounded with a 7-6 record, resulted in him being fired at the season’s end. 

One-game suspensions were given to 18 Panthers and 13 Canes for a total of 31 players. This fight caused Miami to adopt a zero-tolerance policy, which would have any players in a fight suspended for the rest of the season. On FIU’s side, McDuffie Jr. and Smith were kicked off the team and the other players were suspended indefinitely. 

FIU faced UM again next year, on Sept. 15, 2007. This game was devoid of any sort of scuffles as the Panthers once again lost to the Canes 9-23. 

It took 11 years before there was another matchup between these two teams. 

The Panthers faced the Canes for the first time in more than a decade on Sept. 22, 2018, at Hard Rock Stadium. The Canes scored 24 first-half points to lead 24-0. But FIU fought back hard, scoring the game’s last 17 points off a terrific performance by wide receiver CJ Worton, who hauled in two touchdowns. 

The game ended with Miami winning 31-17, but this was definitely a sign that the Panthers can put up a good fight.

The football rivalry between the two teams had been one-sided in UM’s favor so far, as they have won three games to none. But on Nov. 23, 2019, the tides turned. 

FIU celebrating its victory over UM. Photo by Michael Berlfein / FIU Athletics

FIU beat UM for the first time in program history, 30-24, at Marlins Park. The Panthers had a brilliant first half, giving them a 13-0 lead. Wide receivers Tony Gaiter IV and Shemar Thornton each hauled in six receptions and a touchdown. Running back Anthony Jones led the team with 112 rushing yards and a game-sealing touchdown in the fourth. 

The friction that fateful October night was enough to ignite one of, if not the worst, college football fight in history. The flames of disdain and hatred burned so bright that night that it’s all people think about when they talk about FIU versus UM. 

Follow Brian Olmo on Twitter at @Brian_Olmo11

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