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-fee!"
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 Double Tree 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, Whoh-ohh-oh-oh-oh-whoh-ohh-oh.
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.