TAMPA—The history, the prestige, the implications, and the dynamism of two polar opposites, who happen to be less than 200 miles apart. On one end—the Florida Gators, the other—the Florida State Seminoles.
This is college football.
The journey to this apex, while perhaps a bit hazy in the minds of those who aren't the most intimate of die-hard fans, may tell the tale of how Florida State and Florida will forever be a rivalry worth tuning in for. Luster or not—these two teams have always been an instant sensation, and in the minds of most, perhaps one of the most storied programs of the last quarter century.
The next few pages will attempt to recap some of the more monumental and memorable times of the rivalry that is: Florida/Florida State.
It was the same year that Steve Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy.
It was the same year that Gatorade received national attention.
It was the same year the Orange and Blue won their first ever Orange Bowl.
It was the same year Florida State was robbed.
Some debate still rages today on whether Gatorade was indeed invented by Dr. Cade down in the "hallowed swamps of Gainesville," or if the electrolyte concoction perhaps may have been stolen away from FSU team physician Dr. R.A. Johnson.
Credence and a burden of proof are somewhat murky on whether a 6-5 Florida State team actually developed the beverage that would become Gatorade, but arguments have been made as to whether FSU could have even marketed a sugar and salt drink effectively, given their lackluster record; thus quelling the debate that Seminole Firewater may have existed first.
What if that same 1966 FSU team beat that same Orange Bowl Gator team led by that same Heisman Quarterback? Well, according to Bill Peterson—Head Coach of the Seminoles in 1966, FSU did just that.
Trailing 19-22, from the Florida 45-yard line, with 0:26 left to play in a raucous Doak Campbell Stadium, Wide Receiver Lane Fenner lined up on a fade route opposite the heavily covered future Hall-of-Famer Ron Sellers. As the ball was snapped, Fenner shot past the secondary to the corner of the end zone—where a perfectly thrown pass by Gary Pajcic was caught for the winning score. Or was it?
Moments later, the call from the opposing sideline—"incomplete pass," as SEC official Doug Moseley ruled that the ball was bobbled, and was therefore not a catch. A photo taken on the sideline that day would prove otherwise, and made its way to many panhandle newspapers, causing a lot of animosity and protests from Florida State students and fans alike. Coach Peterson, refusing to admit defeat—proclaimed the game a victory, and went on record as wanting a rematch with the Gators in the Gator Bowl.
Peterson would never get his wish, or the win his team earned that day. Gatorade went on to be a huge success and one of the main contributors to the $1.2 Billion endowment of the University of Florida. Florida State's football records and programs commemorating the game all read, "Florida 22-Florida State 26*, thanks to a receiver not on the field for that play—current FSU President T.K. Weatherell.
The Seminoles came into Gainesville in November of 1993, having just soundly defeated North Carolina State 62-3 a week earlier, as the number one team in the nation—following a Notre Dame loss to Boston College.
The Gators, led by the Nation's 2nd best scoring offense in the country, would be playing a week later in the SEC championship as the representatives of the SEC East, and were ranked fifth in the country. Hopes of a National Championship were in their hands if they could somehow defeat Florida State, then beat Alabama* in the SEC Championship Game. (*Auburn was on probation, and therefore ineligible from post-season play.) The only catch? Florida State boasted the top offense in the country—a fairly good opponent for the Seminoles' defense to practice against.
Florida State coming off their lone-loss just two weeks earlier to then undefeated Notre Dame in South Bend, needed a win over Florida in the worst way, to assure a shot at the National Championship against 11-0 Nebraska.
From the onset, Charlie Ward and company wasted no time creating a cushion through three quarters to take a 27-7 lead into the fourth. However, Florida, behind Quarterback Terry Dean, who replaced Freshmen Danny Wuerffel at the half, scored two quick touchdowns to make the score 27-21. with 6 minutes remaining.
On the ensuing possession, with FSU at their own 21 yard line, was facing third down and long with a raucous Florida crowd making play calling at the line near impossible. With the play clock nearing ten-seconds, Heisman Trophy winning Quarterback Charlie Ward called for the snap, and tossed an out-route pass to Freshmen Tailback Warrick Dunn up the sideline for a 79-yard scamper into the end zone that would put Florida State up for good.
With a final score of 33-21, FSU would go on to play Nebraska, and young Option-minded QB Tommie Frazier in Miami for the Seminoles' first Championship Trophy. Florida would settle for a Sugar Bowl victory over West Virginia.
When the 2004 Gators took to the field for "Bobby Bowden Field" dedication night, they were in a tailspin of emotions, as a team without an identity, or a head coach.
Florida State was ranked #8 in the nation, and was looking to make a statement for their beloved coach on the most heralded of nights. Florida was looking to take a special night from a great coach, to send off their beloved leader, who had been fired just a few weeks earlier, after losing to then 1-5 Mississippi State.
With Zook's last game in Tallahassee against a very talented 8-2 Seminoles team, the chances of Florida winning this game were nil. Then it happened.
Fate, it would seem, had other plans.
After Chris Leak led his team to a 13-3 lead through three quarters of football, the "Gator Killer", Chris Rix, who had been benched in favor of Wyatt Sexton earlier in the season, was given his shot to redeem himself one last time. With Sexton seemingly incapable of penetrating the Gators defense, a costly pick in the third was all the green-light Bobby Bowden needed to insert the Senior.
After a couple of series Rix was able to find paydirt and put FSU within 3 points early in the fourth quarter, but just moments later Chris Leak would answer to put Florida up 20-10. A huge kick return by Antonio Cromartie for 61 yards would give FSU excellent field position, but the Seminoles would go three-and-out. An FSU field goal would close the game to within seven, and FSU would march the ball down to within the 20-yard line, but on 4th and 10, Rix would not be able to convert for a first down to keep hope alive.
As time expired Ron Zook was carried off the field a winner, even if it was in Florida's darkest moment. Bobby Bowden would lose on his own field for the first time, against a seemingly inferior opponent. Florida State has yet to claim their first win against the Gators on Bobby Bowden Field.
When #7 Florida State met up with #5 Florida on January 2nd, 1995, the media outlets dubbed the contest "5th Quarter in the French Quarter."
Just a month earlier the two teams met up for an improbable game that would forever be etched into the minds of Gator and Seminole fan alike, and the resulting rematch in New Orleans would not be the last time these two teams would go head to head in a sequel that would count for all the marbles.
With the score tied at a field-goal apiece through one quarter of play, Tailback Warrick Dunn took the HB option to his right hash mark, and then opted to pass to a wide open O'Mar Ellison for a 73 yard touchdown. This would set a new Sugar Bowl Record as the longest pass for a score. It would only stand for a matter of minutes.
After a quick possession by Florida, the Seminoles made quick work out of their Quarterback, Danny Kanell, who drove 72 yards down the field, capping it off with a 16 yard touchdown pass to Kez McCorvey to go up 17-3.
With the game seemingly in Florida State's hands, the Gators answered back, with UF Quarterback Danny Wuerffel connecting on an 82 yard touchdown pass to Ike Hilliard that would top the existing Sugar Bowl record for longest touchdown pass, set by Ellison and Dunn just a few series prior.
Heading into halftime, FSU made quick work of their two-minute offense to put three more points on the board on the leg of Dan Mowrey, setting the score at 20-10.
The second half was much less eventful than the first, as FSU only managed another field goal, and Florida plunged in from one yard out on a quarterback keeper to put the score at 23-17 late in the fourth.
Florida did manage to get the ball back with less than two-minutes remaining, and fans on both sides bit their nails as Florida began to march down the field with time winding down. With just over 1:30 to play, Wuerffel made an erratic throw that was picked off by All-American Linebacker Derrick Brooks that would seal the FSU victory, and claim bragging rights for another year.
Florida would remember this game, and they would have their revenge in the Superdome in just two short years.
"I hope we can have a cleaner game without all of the late hits."—Steve Spurrier, after being advised the #3 Florida Gators would be playing the #1 Florida State Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl.
"I really hoped we wouldn't have to play them again..."—Bobby Bowden.
Several media outlets and coaches labeled this an "unfair" contest, since the Gators of Florida had already lost to the Seminoles of Florida State once during the regular season, while countless others argued the multiple no-call late hits on Danny Wuerrfel influenced the outcome of the game in their prior meeting. The controversy surrounding this match up, (and outcome) still circles between many pundits to this day. The claim to the title however, was never in question, as this game was never really a contest.
With #2 Arizona State and #4 Ohio State tied into the Rose Bowl, due to the agreements set forth by the Bowl Coalition, it would seem the two arch-rivals would be forced to square off in the Sugar Bowl. This time, the winner earning a National Championship, (with Ohio State having already defeated Arizona State in the Rose Bowl.)
From the onset, Florida's offense made it rain inside the Superdome, early and often, electing a more shotgun-minded attack. Danny Wuerffel hooked up with receivers Ike Hilliard, Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony for several large plays, that the weary defense of Florida State simply could not handle.
With the game surprisingly within reach at the half, Florida led 24-17, and an anemic FSU offense seemed somehow capable of still making a contest of it.
However, in the ensuing kickoff to start the second half, the high octane Gator Spread became unstoppable, as Florida racked up an impressive 14 points to FSU's three, in the third quarter. Fred Taylor's inspirational ground attack limited the front five for FSU, and Danny Wuerffel continued to pile on points, finishing with an astounding 306 yards of passing offense and three passing touchdowns (one rushing) en-route to one of the most lopsided victories in the rivalry between the two teams. His four touchdowns is still a record today, matched only by Chris Weinke in the 1999 Sugar Bowl.
Steve Spurrier's Gators would claim their first National Championship over it's most hated rival. Florida State would finish third in the final AP Poll, eluding their first 12-0 season.
That too, would come just a few years later.
For a Gator fan, this is the equivalent of any exciting contest FSU has ever paraded.
Better than the 1994 game.
Better than Ron Zook Field.
Better than beating your hated rival for a National Championship? Well, let's not go too far.
For an FSU fan, the 1997 contest was one, to simply forget.
Trailing 25-29 late in the fourth quarter in Gainesville, the #10 Gators were holding their own against the #1 Seminoles in a game that was predicted to be a blowout of a 30+ point margin.
Florida State featured one of the most prolific teams in recent memory, and were pegged to win it all in 1997. Florida had lost two games and would likely be playing for a spot in a lesser bowl game.
The Gators didn't see things that way.
With a little over 2:30 remaining, a Janikowski field goal gave Florida State a comfortable lead and Florida their last possible chance at upsetting a National Championship contender. Setting up from his own 20 yard line on a touchback, Doug Johnson went deep on the first play for 63 yards to a wide open Jacquez Green who would be tackled at the Seminoles 17. On the next play RB Fred Taylor ran a 16 yard draw to put Florida inside the one yard line.
Fred Taylor scored on the very next play to put Florida up 32-29. It was his fourth of the game.
With nearly a minute and a half for Florida State to get at least a field goal, Thad Busby started from his own 16 yard line, and did little on his first two tries as Florida was covering zone, and pressing Busby inside. On 3rd and 11, Busby went to the air again, and this time found a wide open Dwayne Thomas, of the Florida Gators.
Steve Spurrier's team would not only crush the dream of Florida State completing a perfect season, but any chances of reaching the National Championship were dashed as well. Florida would go on to win the SEC Championship, and beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl for a 10-2 record. Florida State would defeat Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, finishing third in the country, behind Nebraska and Michigan.
Florida fans to this day consider this one of the sweetest moments to be a Gator fan. Seminole fans likely consider this game the motivation FSU needed to play in the next three National Championships.
The Seminoles, likewise, would get their revenge just two years later.
How do you solve a problem like a Warrick?
Well if you're a Gator fan, you get inside his head, and you bring thousands of Dillard's bags to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Following an off the field incident where Heisman Candidate Wide-Receiver Peter Warrick, and Laveranues Coles were both arrested and implicated in illegally obtaining clothes in excess of $400.00 for a mere $21, Peter Warrick was suspended for two games, and came back in time to play the remainder of his season with exemplary statistics. The only statistic Florida didn't count on, was the one that mattered most—Florida State, the TEAM, had been ranked number one the entire season.
With or without Peter Warrick, or Laveranues Coles, FSU had never dropped from the top spot in the land, even while Warrick served a two-game suspension, and Coles was dismissed from the team.
Coach Bowden focused on giving Warrick his chance to do redeem himself in his last game against the rival Gators in Gainesville, by doing anything he could—including lining up at quarterback, (which led to his only touchdown of the game.)
In the early going, Florida State was able to get into the red zone on several tries, but for all of their effort, settled for no more than three points on each occasion, leading by a score of 13-6 at the half, behind the brilliant execution of Sebastian Janikowski's right foot.
Heading into the third quarter, the game seemed to lack the luster that many fans had anticipated, but Florida continued to grind it out on defense against one of the best offenses in the country. With the see-saw battle for field position, Florida finally managed to move the ball down the field to inside the 20, before stalling out yet again. Kicker Jeff Chandler managed to kick a short chip shot from the Seminole 5 yard line to put the Gators within four, at 13-9.
Then, just as soon as the game had been diminished to what was seemingly becoming a kicking contest, it became raucous.
On the ensuing possession, Chris Weinke, who was playing in his first ever Florida—Florida State contest, threw an errant pass directed toward Marvin "Snoop" Minnis, that was picked off by Gator linebacker Bennie Alexander who took the pick to the house for a quick six.
The number three Gators now led 16-13, and the crowd became uncontrollable.
On the next Seminole possession, the 'Noles managed to march down to the Florida 27 yard line before getting buried on two successive sacks that led to another Janikowski try. After a delay of game penalty nullified the 49 yard attempt, Janikowski took another shot from 54 yards out and nailed it, tying the game at 16 apiece.
On the following possession, the Gators stalled around their own 30 yard line, and were forced to punt. With punter Alan Rhine deep to punt from his own 24, Tommy Polley squirted past the line and blocked the Gator punt, placing FSU at the 21 yard line. Just a few quick plays later, tailback Jeff Chaney managed to squirt in for the go-ahead touchdown to put Florida State up 23-16.
Early in the fourth, Weinke would hook up with Marvin Minnis with a 27 yard strike to put FSU up by 14, at 30-16.
Not conceding defeat, the Gators inserted quarterback Plan B, Doug Johnson, who had been sharing the field that day with Plan A, Jesse Palmer. Johnson managed to lead the Gators down the field 80 yards for a two yard pass to Brian Haugabrook to pull within seven.
After Florida State was stopped on the next possession, Florida would get the ball back with just under a minute to play, and after a few short plays to move the ball to midfield, with time running out, Jesse Palmer launched a Hail Mary from midfield that was broken up by the cluster of players in the end zone.
Florida State would go on to claim the first ever wire-to-wire National Championship in the history of the AP Poll, and become the first ever, undefeated BCS National Champion, and Peter Warrick would go on to "steal" the MVP honors. Florida would go on to lose the SEC Championship and the Citrus Bowl that year.
In 1993, when Florida State lost to Notre Dame, in what many would christen "The Best College Football game of the 20th Century," my apologies to you. The best college football game between a #1 and a #2, in the regular season, was played on November 30, 1996.
Danny Wuerffel was beaten, battered, and plummeted for 60 long and grueling minutes, as the best team in the land, and the owner of 23 straight regular season victories was defeated in a controversial 24-21 decision in Tallahassee.
Florida State had solidified it's reputation as one of the best teams in the country, by finally beating the #1 team in the country.
All of this, would be in no small part due to the overwhelming defensive acumen that took the field that day. Peter Bouleware and Dexter Jackson would smother play after play, wreaking havoc on the interior line for Florida, and QB Danny Wuerffel, who was sacked a season high six times, and recorded three interceptions.
At the half, Florida State led 17-14 with all 17 points accounted for in the first quarter. Florida managed to pull within three at the half on the talented playmaking of Danny Wuerffel and favored receiver Jacquez Green.
Heading into the fourth quarter, neither team was able to score, as Florida squandered to field goal attempts of 40 yards or less, and Florida State was unable to get the ball beyond the mid-field mark. In the fourth quarter, Thad Busby managed to successfully drive the Seminoles down to within the 15 yard line, where Warrick Dunn setup a one-yard scamper by Pooh Bear Williams to put FSU up by 10.
On the ensuing possession, not to be outdone, Wuerffel managed to push the ball back down the field for one last shot in the end zone. From the Seminoles two yard line, with just over a minute remaining, Wuerffel managed to hit Reidel Anthony in the back of the end zone to get the Gators back within three at 24-21.
On the following kickoff, Matt Teague managed to kick the ball just outside the left sideline, and Florida State was able to convert their final first down to seal the game.
After the completion of the game, Senior Warrick Dunn, who hailed from New Orleans, always wanted to play for a National Championship in his home town. He would finally get that wish. Unfortunately, the outcome would not be the one he hoped for as his last day as a Seminole.
This was the only meeting between #1 and #2 in the history of the rivalry.
..."He's gotta get the first down to stop the clock. He didn't get it! The clock is going to continue to run with ten seconds left...He's gotta stop this baby. Line up and down it, he's gotta down it, it's gonna run out on him...No. Didn't do it. This game is over. A 31-31 tie...a 31-31- tie..."—Brent Musberger, calling the legendary "Choke at the Doak, November 26th, 1994.
In those quick ten seconds—the image, and reputation, of a football rivalry would become legendary. The momentous comeback in Tallahassee would symbolize the ebb and flow of two powerhouses who have been for the better part of 25 years, a household recognized slugfest.
So much can be discussed about the outcome—Spurrier going to prevent, and zone too soon, FSU not burning a timeout, Florida passing in the fourth quarter. The fact is, never in the history of the game has there been such an exciting tipping of the scales, and never, has it meant so much to both teams.
For Florida State fans, the game would be a bloodbath that would scar hearts and minds for three quarters. The eventual outcome would be missed, perhaps by many, who simply turned off their television sets that day.
Dan Mowrey, would score the only recorded points for the Seminoles, for nearly 45 and 1/2 minutes. The only time Florida State led the game was in the first five minutes, on that solitary 35 yard field goal, to take a 3-0 lead.
From that point on it was all Florida. Wuerffel to Hill for 58 yards, touchdown. Wuerffel for three yards to Jackson, touchdown. Davis, field goal. Wuerffel to Jackson for 28 yards, touchdown. Wuerffel on the keeper for 1 yard, touchdown. 31-3...
Then it happened. With Spurrier's defense seemingly needing to only keep FSU off the field, and keep the clock winding down, the Gators switched to a prevent defense that spread the field for FSU to open up it's ground attack, and get some pressure inside and over the middle.
Suddenly, late in the third, FSU was moving the ball. Just before the clock hit zero, Danny Kannell and company found themselves finally looking at a red zone opportunity. With the start of the fourth quarter, FSU would waste no time, and would score on a five yard scamper by Zack Crockett.
Less than two minutes later the 'Noles would regain possession after forcing the Gators on three-and-out, and would move the ball again, by using the middle of the field with quick drop passes to Dunn, and sideline threats like Andre Cooper, and 'Omar Ellison. Kanell would hit Andre Cooper in the corner of the end zone for six yards and the score, closing the gap to 31-17, Florida.
Again, Florida would be held to three-and-out, and would punt. On a dangerous botched snap, Florida managed to avoid the block, and FSU setup on their own 30. After several passes utilizing an open middle of the field, Kanell and company managed to drive the ball for 70 yards to setup a fake to Dunn for the QB keeper that put the score at 24-31 in favor of Florida, with just over five minutes to play.
To this point, while momentum seemed to be fleeing, Florida was still in control of the tempo. With a poised Wuerffel in the pocket, the plays simply needed to be up and down, and capable of keeping the ball away from the very hot handed Danny Kanell. Unfortunately, just two plays later, the Seminoles made him pay. James Colzie intercepted an errant pass by Wuerffel that put FSU in excellent field position for a possible tying score.
After a huge toss and catch to Warrick Dunn down the sideline, FSU setup shop at the 30. Just four plays later, tailback Rock Preston scampered into the end zone from four yards out to knot the game at 31-31.
What most people forget is that Wuerffel and company again failed to convert for a first down with a little over a minute to play, giving the ball back to FSU on downs. Kanell on his first pass hit Kez McCorvey for a 23 yard completion to the Seminole 48. On the next play Kanell was flushed out of the pocket for a scamper of about nine yards down the field that would be just shy of enough needed to stop the clock. With time winding down, FSU would not get a measurement, and could not stop the clock in time.
To this day, this game is remembered for not only being one of the greatest comebacks in college football, but also one of the most memorable games in the rivalry of two of the most storied programs of our generation.
So before deciding not to tune into the Florida-Florida State contest this weekend, take a minute to remember why this rivalry is so great. Nothing is ever a sure thing, and there is never an anti-climactic moment, when it involves the men in Orange and Blue versus the Garnet and Gold.