God, it was electric in Tallahassee, Fla., last weekend. The
anticipation. The tension. The fate of the free world teetering
on a simple tally.
Plus, there was that little vote thingy. At about the same time
No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Florida were doing something
really important before 83,000 maniacs, a few hundred suits down
the street were trivially pursuing who should become president.
Not that the two events didn't have things in common. Both
featured bad calls, prescription drugs and serious sucking-up to
pollsters. It was a nightly standoff at the Toot-N-Moo:
tailgaters, tuba players, sportswriters and mascots like the
Seminoles' painted warrior, Chief Osceola, versus Gore staffers,
Bush staffers, lawyers and their mascot, Wolf Blitzer.
Naturally, the helmet-heads kicked booty. This is because they
had the good sense to schedule their chaos. Every room within 75
miles of Tallahassee was reserved by football fans months ago.
Can't you see Peter Jennings, packing up his Louis Vuitton just
as a half-dozen topless men burst into his room, each with an
orange-and-blue Steve Spurrier face painted on his belly,
wheeling a dolly full of Pabst over one of Jennings's Italian
loafers and hollering, "Whoo-eee! Somebody smells froo-tee!"
About 300 journalists were in Tallahassee covering the Florida
recount, but more than 600 credentials were issued for the game.
Twice, cops had to go to hotels to evict a pundit for a fan. One
political reporter went to court to keep his room--and lost.
As on a Palm Beach canvas board, not everybody got along. One
Gators fan standing in the DoubleTree Hotel lobby took umbrage at
a reporter's questions. "Y'all are going to make us look like
yahoos," he yelled, "which just goes to show that y'all don't
have real lives! This is big!" He was wrong, of course. The
reporter didn't make him look like a yahoo.
Rooms were so scarce that clever Florida State frat guys tried
to rent theirs to journalists--for as much as $250 a night. How
bad could that be? Water beds, keggers, sorority babes wandering
by. Then the frat's alumni organization vetoed the idea, much to
the disappointment of a few politicians. Look, Mr. President,
I've told you 10 times, you can't stay here! One group of
juniors rented their ramshackle off-campus house to a BBC crew.
There, under a big ACC banner, a Seminoles spear and the
influence of malted beverages, the Brits came to learn one of
the finest customs of this great land: Florida State's tomahawk
chop. So, Nigel, one can only sum up by saying,
Everything stopped come game time, including the hand count in
Palm Beach County. Two Florida Supreme Court justices arrived at
Doak Campbell Stadium, neither looking as if he gave a pitcher of
possum spit about picking the leader of the free world. Then,
just before kickoff, all eyes turned to that familiar figure
coated thickly with war paint: Secretary of State Katherine
Harris. As the game wore on, you couldn't help but think that
somewhere Cokie Roberts was trying desperately to get sports bar
patrons to switch to the election results.
Roberts: But you don't understand! It all seems to have come down
to a single hanging chad!
Bubba: Missy, you best change it back 'fore I make you run a
recount on yer teeth.
"We've had to break up two fights this weekend," said Ed
Rosenberg, the manager of A.J.'s sports bar in Tallahassee. "They
were both over Katherine Harris." Well, she is the granddaughter
of Ben Hill Griffin Jr., the man whose name is on Florida's
football stadium. And George W. Bush was head cheerleader at
Andover. And Al Gore was a high school quarterback. And, don't
forget, this is the same country where, beginning in February,
Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura will do color on XFL games.
As time drained away on Saturday night, you were sure there were
two glum men sitting on bar stools somewhere, pennants limp in
their hands, watching the last-minute results.
Man No. 1: We fumbled too often.
Man No. 2: We didn't even take our own state!
No. 1: I mean, what was the point of running this whole time?
No. 2: I'm afraid a buncha people will fry after this.
No. 1: They can start with that idiot Spurrier.
No. 2: What?
By Monday the game was over and the politicians were deep into
overtime. The town belonged to them again, except for one guy
standing on the corner, selling T-shirts that read NO RECOUNT
NECESSARY: FLORIDA STATE 30, FLORIDA 7.
COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
"We had to break up two fights this weekend," said a sports bar
manager, "and they were both over Katherine Harris."