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Gator fans divided on backing rival

University of Florida fans might be in a bind tonight. Which team should they root for in the Fiesta Bowl?

The dreaded Tennessee Volunteers, who defeated the Gators this year and prevented them from playing in the conference championship game?

Or the in-state rival Florida State Seminoles, who have bragging rights this year after beating Florida in November?

Some Gator fans are rooting for Tennessee, saying they should support a fellow Southeastern Conference team.

Others will cheer for FSU, saying the state team deserves their support. Count Inverness' Tom Mayberry, a big Gator fan, in that category.

"I wish we were" playing in the championship game, Mayberry said. "But we were beaten fair and square by a good Florida State team. We certainly have to root for the state of Florida."

Buddy Martin hosts a program from 7 to 10 a.m. weekdays on WMOP-AM 900, the sports talk radio station in Ocala. Many of his callers and listeners are Gator fans from throughout this part of Florida. Where will their allegiances be?

"It's definitely a mixed bag," Martin said last week. Some Gators simply cannot root for FSU, he said; others note that, given this choice, they would rather cheer for athletes who, for the most part, played high school ball in Florida and simply wound up in Tallahassee, not Gainesville.

Martin's prediction, by the way: A 3-point Seminole victory.

SOMETHING FISHY IS GOING ON: Ron Stickley had fished quietly at Fort Island Trail Park two consecutive mornings with no luck when he suddenly found himself surrounded by a flock of birders trying to lure a snipe that was wading in the mud flats across the Crystal River from the pier.

The birders were participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count last Monday, and they had not yet seen a snipe.

Stickley could relate.

"I was here for three hours yesterday and didn't get a single hit," he said, two lines in the water baited with fresh shrimp.

Then the birders struck gold.

Within just a minute or two they saw the snipe, an anhinga drying its wings atop a No-Wake Zone sign and, perched in a tree, a red-shouldered hawk. A manatee even sauntered past.

Stickley checked his lines. He, too, had his first hit, though he never saw his catch: The two shrimp on his hook were gone.

He baited his hook again, sat down and laughed.

The birders, who count once a year, had already seen thousands of birds.

The vigilant Stickley was still resting on zero.

_ Times staff writers Jim Ross and William Yardley compiled this report.