That tag will never, ever change. Not so long as I'm a Florida resident.
Florida State fans who grew up in the era of Miami/UF dominance know...there was nothing fun about being an FSU fan in the 80s. Not as a kid. I think of Crystal Gale in this moment: I was Seminole...when Seminole wasn't cool. While other 5th and 6th graders donned bright orange & blue t-shirts bursting with kiddie-cool cartoon alligators, or, if they were children of a scarier corn, netted orange & green jerseys cut-off at the midriff and shoulders, boasting the numbers 12, 14 or the menacing, taunting 47, there straggled us few...the proud...the unconquered...yet mercilessly beaten...those so bold to wear the garnet & gold.
Good luck finding "cool" FSU garb in Foot Locker or Maas Brothers or any other fashionable outlet; no, if you were a 'Nole fan, you were buying your hats and t-shirts at K-Mart—Wal-Mart, if you were lucky. The latter generally ran the ilk of poorly bedazzled, fluorescent-hued, XXXX-L sized tarps I still believe were meant to cover cars, not torsos. Why neon green? Why, I ask again, was Chief Osceola matted against neon green? And, apparently, The Chief felt compelled to call out a shakily scrawled, puffy-paint war-cry of, "TOTALLY AWESOME!!!"
What, I can't even find a Biletnikoff iron-on?!
I blame not the 80s; rather, the 80’s dearth of FSU faithful, for it was during this era that Coach Bobby Bowden dragged The 'Noles across the country to learn 'em how to win. And—dadgumit—he did! By making them play every dadgum team in the nation, even — especially — if that meant gettin' their butts kicked. Yet somehow, Old Bobby figgered it right because we weren't awful those early Bowden years. In fact, our only losing season was his first — 1976. (Yay for the year of my birth!) His strategy of placing faith in those young men—not only are you boys gonna play the best teams in the country, but I expect you to beat them—it worked! Well now, don't that just beat all?
Eventually, yeah, it sure did beat all—but that comes later. Because at that early point, we still weren't UF and we certainly weren't The U. Florida State didn't play in a stadium regarded as "The Swamp," a moniker that struck fear into the hearts and jock-straps of Croc— Gator opponents. No. We had a "stadium" fondly referred to as "The Erector Set"—referred to fondly but justly because that piece of crap held together by a few interlocking metal parts you can find at your nearest Tru-Value for about $4.99. And much like your local streetwalker, Doak Campbell Stadium was hot, dirty and barely legal—and you stumbled away with a blistered ass from a nooner with either to prove it.
Long rows of metal bench-seats superheating under a blazing Florida sun... Ahhhh. I recall well the fleshy sizzle.
No, we didn't have the goods to garner the fandom: no posh or intimidating stadium, no Heisman winners, no National Championships (really now, Miami, you were just being ridiculous with that — showoffs), no "Great Wall of Florida" (nor the era of disgrace that built it but, alas, I digress...on-purpose...) and we didn't have any superstars.
Until we did.
No, I'm not talking about "Prime Time" or Buckley. Nor do I refer to Brooks & Dunn — country duo or former FSU/Bucs linebacker and running back, respectively. I'm not vaunting our first Heisman Trophy winner, Charlie Ward (themostdecoratedcollegefootballplayerinhistoryeatthatTeablow). Heck, I ain’t even talkin’ ‘bout The Bandit himself—Burt Reynolds. (But I can see how you might’ve thought I was.) They and many others came around early in the dynasty-days (or even long before — Turd Ferguson, I'm looking at you-ouu) and made their indelible marks in the turf. But one came first, foremost, ahead of their game:
None of the FSU superstars would exist as we know them without the easygoing, countrified, trickeratin’, impish, quick-with-a-one-liner but quicker-to-forget-your-name legend we’ve all come to know and refer to casually as…“Bobby.”
I don't know that I can express to you just what that first, 1993 Championship meant to those of us who suffered the indignity of Seminole fandom prior to the Dynasty Days; what it meant to hit my knees before our coffee table in fervent prayer as the seconds ticked away, Ward pushing the offense against that Nebraska Blackshirt defense try after try for the endzone, unable to get past the 3 yard-line and now, time has filtered down to under a minute-thirty and that inevitable field goal in—of all the dadgum places!—The Orange Bowl—are you serious with this crap? And to add a whopping dollop of annoyance to my hugeantic bowl of fruity anxiety, now sloshing over the edges, here comes my older brother, angrily pacing furious circles through the kitchen, around the dining room and back into the family room, now standing directly in front of the big screen TV Daddy and I are fixated on.
"GET OUTTA THE WAY!" we hollered in unison.
"I don't get why she cares so much!" Freddie bellowed, pointing an accusatory finger at me. "She doesn't even go to FSU!"
Freddie, who attended a certain university in Miami in 1994, was most displeased that not only did his little sister root for his archrival (who lost 28-10 to FSU that season, in addition to a loss to West Virginia, then that HUMILIATING shut-out to Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl...poor Fred...HA-HA!), but that archrival was on the cusp of winning...their first National Championship…in his team's stadium.
I cannot believe his mind didn't just explode all over his face — right there, right then.
My father interjected with reason.
"Fred, Anne doesn't go to Florida State because she is, as of right now, a senior in high school and, therefore, in high school. Now get the hell out from in front of the television or I will kill you."
As FSU's field goal unit lined up before the goal posts I am 100% positive are bedeviled by some Hurricane-wind wide-right/wide-left voodoo spell, I took to praying aloud, and with great specificity:
"Dear God, if you let The Florida State Seminoles—who are currently playing the Nebraska Cornhuskers—make this field goal and win this game and be National Champions of this year, the 1993 season, I will go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life. I swear it. PleaseohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseAmen."
"I heard you! I heard you!" My father, the uber-Catholic, was now pointing the accusatory finger. "You are going to church! I heard you!"
"God knew I was kidding," I muttered, irritated at the distraction; too much time remained on the clock and FSU just excessively celebrated. "He's a 'Nole, anyway. Like He'd let us lose."
Fast-forward a decade and Annie's an atheist. Go figger. THANKS FOR MY FAITHLESSNESS, CHRIS RIX!
Tooootally kidding. About blaming Rix for my godlessness, I mean.
The glory days: two National Championships and two Heismans; the first (only) AP wire-to-wire #1 team in college football history; fourteen consecutive Top 5 finishes in the AP Poll; twenty bowl wins. And still...we were—are—outnumbered. More Gator fans in the state, by far. ’Canes? They sucked so bad during their probationary years, nobody cared. (They're back now—you'll see the fan resurgence.) But I liked that even though we were dominating you, yo' mama and yo mama's mama, we were still unliked, deplored, hated. Because during the glory days, the Bowden regime, there were a'might few scandals: Free Shoes University, the Peter Warrick/Laveranues Coles Dillard's Debacle, mascot controversy (really? Y'all are gonna blame that on Bowden? Some do...), the academic cheating scandal, Bobby's too lenient, not punitive enough, they're The Criminoles, etc., etc.
Yup. Yup, yup, yup. Who can deny it? Y'all can read. Well, those of you who didn't matriculate from UF can, anyway...
Oh, gotta get my digs in where I can, folks.
At 3:25 a.m. last night, UF defensive end Carlos Dunlap was arrested for DUI: stopped at a green light—fell asleep at the wheel. Obviously, it's in the news because I am aware of it. Will it be the kind of scandal it was when Sebastian Janikowski was arrested for disorderly conduct outside of a Tallahassee bar in '98? Unlikely. Why? Because some programs are super-awesome at camouflaging their athlete’s blemishes — even prior to a National Championship game. (And here, I am not pointing a spear solely at the Crocs. Please know that.) But Bobby ain't so much on covering up the mistakes of his kids. So The Polish Powder-Keg was arrested and that was that? No. ’Noles fans know: you screw up and you pay. PPK ran those stadium steps — no longer the terrifying, swaying Erector Set stairs but long strides of cement built to hold over 83,000 devout fans, The House That Bobby Built and you better godda— dadgum believe that — and Sebastian ran them every day for a week, time and again and again and again. Don’t think much of that? Try it once. In the midday heat and scorching sun. Because that’s when the running — the punishment — occurs.
He’s an old school man with old school rules. Coach Bowden abides by the three strikes and you’re out policy — despite taking endless flak for it. Had Janikowski made it to the “Yer’ OUT!” point, despite kicking his way to a Groza by scoring 324 points for the team (3rd all-time point-scorer for FSU), Bobby would have let him go with a sad pat on the back and, given his inability to remember a name, much less one as complex as “Janikowski,” a kindly, “It was great havin’ you on the team… Buddy.”
He did it with outstanding wide receiver, Coles. He even let the great, venerated Randy Moss go after that wide receiver’s brief (and man, do I mean brief — he never played a down!) stint at Florida State under the proviso that his three strikes were whittled down to one: Moss transferred to Bowden having been dismissed from Notre Dame due to violence and drug use. Irish Coach Lou Holtz hoped his FSU friend, well-known for helping troubled young athletes, could take this young man by the hand and lead him down the right path. Instead, Moss took out his one strike in one stroke — make that "with several tokes" and, knowing he was cutting loose the best wideout in the nation, Bobby bid him a succinct farewell. We all know Moss went on to kick serious ass with Marshall and I’m sure, given that he’s now a self-professed pothead, he also smoked some serious grass whilst playing there. That’s his deal. But it’s also against the NCAA rules. Marshall went undefeated with Moss; he broke every record there was to break. He even won…the Biletnikoff.
Needn’t mention irony. Or iron-ons.
Some coaches care in ways seen as too lenient; some coaches care in ways not at all seen. Perhaps because they care...not at all.
I’m no sportswriter. I’m not much of any writer—but I love football. I love Florida State. And whether you agree with me or not, if you are a fan of FSU football, then you are in agreement with me on this: Bobby Bowden built Florida State football as we know it. There wouldn’t be a dynasty to refer to, Heismans in the trophy cabinets for UF fans to steal (nice try, you morons), National Championships to boast of and a litany of legendary players or…take-your-breath-away moments of trickeration and sheer coaching brilliance… The Puntrooskie, Weinke’s fake-out, flatfoot 98-yard touchdown pass to Snoop from our own end zone against Clemson in The Bowden Bowl (my favorite trick play ever—always)—The Choke at Doak! A 28-point rally? Twenty-eight unanswered points in the fourth quarter to tie the game against your biggest rival? Who coaches a team to that but a genius? And, of course, to the beginning—the beginning of the end of The Dynasty Days—the quote that entitles this blargh: the 1999 National Championship game against Virginia Tech and the vaunted Michael “I hate dogs” Vick.
“He’s all but won the Heisman.”
“He’s the new quarterback; Weinke is the old. Vick is mobile, runs, passes like a rocket from outside the pocket, scrambles away from defenders like a greased pig. Weinke can't run: stoic, standard-issue pocket-passer. He's a statue. Florida State doesn’t stand a chance.”
Vick was everything the sportswriters/channels touted him to be, as was the Hokie defense. But what the "objective" analysts and commentators forgot about was our biggest weapon. Not Weinke. Not Allen, Polley or even Simon and the rest of our ferocious D. Not Janikowski with his explosive leg. Not even MVP of the game and mouthpiece of this blargh title, Peter Warrick.
Bowden. Always our biggest—and, year after dadgum year— still, our secret weapon. ’Cause who’s afraid of Old Saint Bobby?
You—if you’re smart. Because those boys love him, because he has faith in them and they have faith in return. They want to win one for the Old Man, wanted to give him his first undefeated team. So when it came down to it, the score a tighter-than-it-may-look 39-29, “Ol' Numbah Nine” (as Coach liked to call him, because…well, names are dadgum hard to remember when there’s so many of them to remember!) approached his teammates, head coach, and asked,
“Do you want me to finish it?”
Peter already caught a TD, returned a 59-yard punt for another 6 and successfully made a two-point conversion. The Hokies were obviously more than a little annoyed by his presence; they just attempted a trick-play on a punt — unsuccessfully. Tech wanted to seal this deal just as badly as FSU did.
But not as badly as those 'Noles wanted to give Coach Bowden "The Picture" — one meant for a picture frame he purchased years ago with a single purpose in mind: to mount a photo of an undefeated FSU team. Instead, that frame hung empty, dusty, still awaiting its photograph in his office.
“I’ll finish it.”
Florida State’s offense returned to the field, exhausted in this, the final quarter of the biggest game of their young lives, but confident, knowing they had the winning play drawn out, ready to execute.
I’ll let you watch the results, here, as they roll out at video’s end (approx. 3:03). The results are better known by us FSU Faithful as “The Catch.” You can see why:
I don’t want to see the only coach I’ve ever known leave the program I so adore, but if he searched his soul, the faith in which he's so strong, talked to his best buddy—his God—and made this decision…then I understand. He’s called the greatest plays I’ve ever witnessed in collegiate football history; I cannot challenge the man now, in this fourth and final quarter of his life, on any of his calls.
From an SI article on Coach Bowden’s roast this past summer:
Richt, a former Bowden assistant, told the tale of his decision in 1986 to become a born-again Christian. Richt made the choice at a time of great turmoil, and Bowden was thrilled to help Richt into the flock. So the men went into Bowden's office and kneeled to pray. According to Richt, Bowden did the talking with the almighty.
"Dear Lord," Richt remembered Bowden saying, "I'm here with… What's your name again, buddy?"
It has been an honor to have been coached by you, Mister Bowden.
Okay—maybe not quite finished. The Rooster Crowed in 1998, when FSU "stood no chance" at beating the unstoppable Crocs. I was there. I rushed the field. Because FSU did stop the unstoppable Crocks—who went on to beat the hell outta' us two months later in a bullshit, never-should've-happened National Championship rematch. S'all right. Only proves my point:
UF beat us in the BCS National Championship game that year, were the ultimate winners in all of NCAA football.
Yet…we'd already beaten them two months beforehand, with our back-up, red-headed stepchild of a quarterback.
Yup. S'all good.
It ain't '98—not in any state—'least, not for the Gates, as of late.
Oh—and like it said on my back, driver's side window:
"Bite me, Gators."
See UFucks Saturday!