Encyclopedia: Florida State

The following is reprinted from ESPN College Football Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Game, edited by Michael MacCambridge

The most dominant college football program of the 1990s was an obscure girls' school until the late 1940s, didn't field a team until 1947 and raised doubts about its viability as recently as the mid-1970s. Florida State enjoyed fleeting success in the 1960s, when Bill Peterson led the Seminoles to four bowl games and their first win over Florida. But by the time Bobby Bowden arrived in 1976, the program was in shambles, having gone 4-29 over the previous three seasons. "I could think of only two jobs that would have been worse," Bowden wrote in Bound for Glory, his autobiography. "Being elected mayor of Atlanta shortly after Sherman left town or being the general who volunteers to replace George Custer during the last siege of the Little Big Horn."

The charismatic, folksy Bowden built a juggernaut by recruiting in his fertile Florida backyard, instituting a wide-open offense and playing big-name opponents on the road, where the Seminoles became giant-killers and, ultimately, giants themselves.

At the start of every home game, an FSU student portraying the famous Seminole leader Osceola charges down the field on an Appaloosa horse named Renegade and plants a flaming spear at midfield. Created by 1965 FSU graduate Bill Durham, the routine didn't take off until Bowden embraced it during his tenure. Durham received approval from the Seminole Tribe of Florida for the portrayal of Osceola, and the tradition began at the home opener of the 1978 season against Oklahoma State. Another essential part of FSU games -- to the chagrin of opponents -- is the war chant, in which fans make chopping motions with their arms in unison. During the 1960s, FSU's Marching Chiefs band would chant the melody of a popular FSU cheer, but the present version of the chant is traced to a 1984 game against Auburn, where it apparently began randomly and grew into a stadium-wide happening by 1986.

The retirement, or permanent sealing, of lockers began after Deion Sanders' senior season in 1988 as a way to add more tradition to the locker room. For a locker to be retired, a player must be a two-time consensus All-American or Heisman Trophy winner. Sanders' glass-encased locker is joined by those of Ron Simmons, Marvin Jones, Derrick Brooks, Sebastian Janikowski, Peter Warrick and Heisman Trophy- winners Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke. The lockers are sealed with the player's final home-game uniform and gear intact.

Best Player
Ward and Weinke won Heismans, but the greatest (and most flamboyant) Seminole was Sanders, a cornerback who might have won the award were it not for an arguable bias against defensive players. "Neon"Deion, who lettered in three sports, was a game-changing presence. His smothering coverage and athleticism were reflected not only in his 14 career interceptions, but also by his effectively rendering half the field off-limits to opposing quarterbacks. As a punt returner, he led the nation in 1988, averaging a scintillating 15.2 yards per return. As a self-promoter, he was unmatched, reveling in his "Prime Time" nickname and brashly calling out opponents. "When those lights go on, it's prime time for me," he said. "It's like Jekyll and Hyde. When I have to put on a show, I put on a show."Sanders went on to be a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, and he also played major league baseball. "I'm not just any defensive back," said Sanders, stumping for a big contract. "I'm three players in one. I'm a punt returner, the best cornerback you'll ever get and an entertainer."

Best Coach
In 2002, Bowden passed his coaching idol, Paul "Bear" Bryant, registering his 324th career victory -- and in 2003, with 339 wins, he surpassed Joe Paterno as the all-time leader in Division I-A. He won national titles in 1993 and 1999, but his greatness is better illuminated by his remarkable consistency: he posted 14 consecutive seasons of at least 10 victories from 1987 through 2000 and won or shared the ACC title nine straight years from 1992 through 2000. He also boasted a streak of 14 consecutive bowls without a defeat. Perhaps most impressively, from 1987 through 2000, Bowden's teams finished in the Top 5 in the national polls every year.

Born in Birmingham, Ala., in 1929, Bowden played football at small Howard College (now Samford University) and dreamed of one day coaching at Auburn or Alabama. Instead, he began coaching at his alma mater, and then took assistant positions at Florida State and West Virginia, where in 1970 he became the head coach. Bowden, who was hanged in effigy at West Virginia during his only losing season there in 1974, came to FSU in 1976. "Every job I've gotten has led to something better. But I had no idea this was a good job," Bowden said of coaching at FSU. "When I came here, I thought this was the stepping stone to something else. Then things just worked out here."

Always relishing the role of underdog, Bowden took the Seminoles on the road to build their national reputation. They won at Nebraska in 1980 and played five straight road games in 1981 -- against Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and LSU -- going 3-2. Reverses, flea-flickers, laterals and "rooskies" all became part of the offensive arsenal. By the late 1980s, the Seminoles were rarely underdogs. From the 1982 Gator Bowl through the 1996 Orange Bowl -- a span of 14 games -- the Seminoles were undefeated in bowls, with 13 victories and a tie. During that time, they had an 11-game winning streak in bowl games.

Best Team
For all of his success, Bowden managed just one perfect season. It came in 1999, when the Seminoles went 12-0, including a 46-29 victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship. The team featured quarterback Chris Weinke, who would win the Heisman the following year, and electrifying receiver Peter Warrick, the Sugar Bowl's Most Outstanding Player, who might have received consideration for the Heisman before a midseason arrest cost him two games. The Seminoles were the first team to be ranked first wire-to-wire in the Associated Press poll.

Biggest Game
Four painful losses to Miami (10-9 in 1980, 26-25 in 1987, 17-16 in 1991 and 19-16 in 1992), including two with crucial missed field goals, cost FSU potential national championship bids. The Seminoles were in danger of losing another in the 1994 Orange Bowl, when Nebraska's Byron Bennett kicked a 27-yard field goal to put the second-ranked and 17-point-underdog Huskers up 16-15 over top-ranked FSU. But Charlie Ward and the offense roared back, and when Scott Bentley's 22-yard field goal cleared the uprights with 21 seconds remaining, there was a sense of justice among the FSU faithful. An FSU kicker had converted -- on Miami's home field, no less -- apparently giving the Seminoles their first national title.

Not so fast. Nebraska QB Tommie Frazier completed a 29-yard pass to Trumane Bell in FSU territory as time expired, but just as FSU was celebrating its victory, officials ruled that NU had called a timeout with one second left. With the national title on the line, Nebraska's Bennett attempted a 45-yard field goal that went wide left. Finally, Florida State had won its national championship.

Biggest Upset
Florida State's 18-14 victory at Nebraska in 1980 put the Seminoles on the map and solidified Bowden's reputation as a coach willing to go on the road and play anyone. The Seminoles finished 10-2 that season.

The subject is of considerable debate in Seminoles land. How about a 10-9 loss to Miami in 1980, when FSU failed on a two-point conversion late in the game for its only loss of the regular season? How about a 26-25 loss to Miami in 1987, again on a failed two-point conversion, again the only loss of the regular season? Then there are the Wide Right games of 1991, 1992 and 2000. The Seminoles missed field goals in the waning seconds of all three Miami games to again lose to the Hurricanes. However, many agree that the 17-16 loss to Miami in Tallahassee in 1991 was most searing. The Seminoles had been ranked No. 1 all season, were 10-0 and were leading most of the game before falling behind by a point. They drove into position for the winning points, only to see walk-on kicker Gerry Thomas miss from 34 yards. The Hurricanes went on to win the national championship. It was the third one-point loss to the Hurricanes for Bowden, and his sixth defeat in seven years to UM. After the game, Bowden said, "On my tombstone, they'll put: 'But he played Miami."'


Florida State's 22-19 loss to Florida in 1966 is a game the Seminoles still believe they won. Late in the game, FSU wide receiver Lane Fenner caught what appeared to be the go-ahead touchdown pass -- but officials ruled that he was out of bounds on the sideline, short of the end zone. Printed photographs, however, showed that Fenner did, indeed, have a foot inbounds and that the catch should have stood.


Named after a former FSU president, Doak Campbell Stadium had a capacity of 15,000 when it opened in 1950. For many years, it was derisively referred to as the Erector Set, because its steel girders were visible from the outside. It has now grown to more than 80,000 seats
and a brick facade surrounds the girders, matching the architectural design of most of the buildings on the FSU campus. The north end zone seating, which consisted of wooden bleachers until the 1994 season, is topped by the coaches' offices. Bowden's teams lost just 18 home games in 26 years through 2001, the season a 52-game home unbeaten streak was snapped.

Although the football game dates to just 1958, the Florida Gators are FSU's chief rival, the team the Seminoles have played the most in their relatively brief history. FSU perhaps initially suffered from an inferiority complex, which ultimately enhanced the rivalry. After starting a football program in 1947, FSU could not get Florida to play. The state legislature threatened to write a law mandating the teams play, but Florida yielded before it came to that. The agreement came with the stipulation that the first six games were to be played in Gainesville. FSU's 3-3 tie in 1961 was hailed as a victory, though the first win didn't come until 1964. Before Bowden arrived at FSU in 1976, the Seminoles had won just twice against the Gators. Bowden turned the tables on the rivalry in favor of the Noles. Twice the schools met in the Sugar Bowl, one a 1995 FSU victory and the other a 1997 Florida win for the national championship.

After just two games in their inaugural season of 1947, calls for a nickname went out. The Florida Flambeau reported that a student poll preferred the nickname Seminoles over other contenders such as Statesmen, Rebels, Tarpons, Fighting Warriors and Crackers. In the 1950s, a pair of undergraduates dressed in Native American costumes joined cheerleaders on the field, which eventually evolved into the tradition of Renegade and Osceola.

The school colors of garnet and gold were first used on an FSU uniform in a 14-6 loss to Stetson on Sept. 27, 1947. Over the years, the uniform has remained relatively unchanged. The helmet used to have an outline of the state of Florida with the word "State"written across it, but that was changed in the 1970s to the current design featuring feather-bedecked spears. FSU became trendsetters in the Bowden years, with many other schools with gold colors, including Notre Dame, copying the muted gold of Florida State's game pants.

FSU's Sod Cemetery, where turf from other stadiums has been buried in commemoration of many FSU road victories, is next to the practice field. A tombstone above each piece of turf's resting place notes the score and date of the game. The practice began in 1962, when FSU returned from Georgia after an 18-0 victory with a piece of sod from Sanford Stadium. The turf was presented to dean Coyle E. Moore, who founded the tradition of the sod game. At first, FSU took only grass from an opponent's stadium when the Seminoles won by upset on the road. Over time, the criteria changed: it is still considered a sod game when FSU is an underdog on the road, but now all bowl games are considered sod games, as are all big road games, no matter who is favored. (If the game is played on artificial turf, an attempt is made to bring back some artifact from that stadium.)

"At West Virginia, they sold bumper stickers that said BEAT PITT. When I came to Florida State, they sold bumper stickers that said BEAT ANYBODY."
-- Bobby Bowden