Eagles or Gators? It's a House (and Senate) divided
You would think a legislator who went to Florida Gulf Coast University -- and whose last name, Eagle, is the same as the school's nickname -- would be cheering for his alma mater to beat the Florida Gators in the Sweet 16 bracket in the NCAA college basketball tournament.
Even as FGCU soars to basketball preeminence, deep down, Rep. Dane Eagle is still a Gator. He later transferred to UF, and Gator pride runs deep in Florida's Capitol, which is why he says he hasn't yet decided whom to root for on Friday night.
"I'm still thinking about it. It's going to be bittersweet either way," said Eagle, one of two state lawmakers who have attended FGCU in the school's brief history (Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, is the lone legislator with a bachelor's degree from FGCU).
Eagle says FGCU's hard-to-believe Cinderella story is creating lots of buzz, and lawmakers with no ties to either school are rooting for the Gators to lose.
Eagle's 13th-floor Capitol office is an orange-and-blue shrine to the Gators, with no Eagle bling in sight. But he's preparing for a possible Eagle victory and asked his sister, an FGCU student, to get him a blue-and-green T-shirt at the FGCU bookstore. "I'm jumping on the bandwagon, that's for sure," Eagle said.
A total of 27 state lawmakers have degrees from UF, some of them from the law school in Gainesville.
Chris Cantens, legislative aide to Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, has good reason to root for the Eagles: Brother Joey is the university's director of basketball operations.
Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, works at Florida Gulf Coast as budget manager for the college of arts and sciences. Rodrigues' roommate during legislative sessions, Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, who has a graduate degree from the University of Miami (also in the Sweet 16), says he's rooting for FGCU "out of spite."
"I want Florida to lose, and then I want to rub it in the face of the Florida alums, who are quite nasty up in the Capitol," Artiles said.
Another Gator-hater is Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, an FSU graduate. "Florida is the last team I want to win," Braynon said.
-- With reporting by Kathleen McGrory and Katie Sanders, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau