FSU Football: The day we’ve been waiting 14 years for

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14 years have passed since Florida State’s last national championship. (Rico Clements/UPI)

The day FSU football fans have waited for has finally arrived

Allow me to tell you a little bit about myself. I grew up watching the great Florida State football teams of the 1990s. I remember being eight years old and watching Warrick Dunn go 80 yards down the sideline to put away Florida. I remember being nine years old and watching Florida State come back from a 31-3 fourth quarter deficit to force a 31-31 tie against Florida. I remember being 12 years old and watching the Seminoles go into Chapel Hill to hand a top 5 North Carolina team a 20-3 loss. I remember being 14 years old and watching Peter Warrick and Florida State outscore Virginia Tech 18-0 in the fourth quarter to complete the school’s first perfect season and second national championship.

For people like myself fortunate enough to watch the Seminoles in their hey day, I like to call us “spoiled Seminole children of the ’90s”. Growing up watching those great teams that competed for a national title almost every year and never having to endure the days of Bill Peterson or Darrell Mudra, I assumed that Florida State football would always be that way. Top 5 and top 10 finishes were nothing special, they were routine. Boy, was I wrong.

As top-ranked Florida State gets set to take on Auburn in about 12 hours for the BCS National Championship, the excitement is certainly building. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has FSU back on top and with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston being just a freshman, Florida State looks to have a number of great years in front of them. My advice to you however is simple: don’t take it for granted.

For we spoiled Seminole children of the ’90s, taking Florida State football for granted was all too easy. The idea that the Seminoles could lose three games in a season was laughable, four, five and six were nothing close to a reality. After 14 straight top 5 finishes from 1987-2000, we spoiled Seminole children of the ’90s fell into a lost decade and we’re hopeful that tonight is the night that we’ve waited 14 years for.

While FSU finished in the top 5 for 14 straight years, it managed just two national championships over that span. Florida State came close to a title virtually every season, but a Sugar Bowl loss in a rematch to Florida in 1996 and BCS title game losses to Tennessee in 1998 and Oklahoma in 2000 kept that number at two. After a 13-2 loss to the top-ranked Sooners in the 2001 Orange Bowl, the lost decade began.

For years, legendary head coach Bobby Bowden had the luxury of sitting quarterbacks until they were fourth-year juniors. He didn’t have that luxury in 2001 as converted wide receiver and projected starting quarterback Anquan Boldin went down with a knee injury prior to the season. The injury to Boldin forced redshirt freshman Chris Rix into action.

After an unlikely 41-9 loss to North Carolina that season, Florida State suffered its first home loss in more than a decade losing to #1 Miami, 49-27. Florida State had two losses and it was only October. FSU went on to finish the 2001 season with a record of 8-4, its worst finish since 1986. The Seminoles also failed to win the ACC for the first time since joining the conference in 1992. Everyone has a bad season here and there though right? In 2002, Florida State will be back to normal right? Wrong.

The following season, Florida State reclaimed the ACC, but lost five games in the process. Okay, so there’s two bad years, big deal right? Wrong. Multiple losses became common at Florida State. FSU not only lost four games in 2001 and five in 2002, but the Seminoles would lose six in 2006, 2007 and 2009.

There were glimmers of hope in between, but they rarely stayed for very long. Florida State rose to third in the country in 2003, fifth in 2004 and fourth in 2005, but each of those three seasons ended with at least three losses.

There were wins over that period that made you think that a turning point was near. There was P.K. Sam’s last-minute touchdown in Gainesville, a 36-3 beatdown of a top 10 Virginia team, an unlikely ACC Championship victory over Virginia Tech, Labor Day wins over Miami, a road upset of #2 Boston College and a 54-28 win over a top 10 BYU team in Provo. As much as we all wanted Florida State to be back, they all turned out to be false alarms.

The days of being among the nation’s elite were gone. The storied Doak Campbell Stadium where not a single opponent won for an entire decade was no longer a place where visitors couldn’t win. I remember sitting in the student section in 2006 as we lost to Wake Forest 30-0. I remember being drenched in that same student section in 2008 as Tim Tebow and rival Florida handed FSU a 45-15 loss. Unlike so many around me, I didn’t leave the game early in disgust. I instead stayed and took it all in. Why? Because I always believed that things would eventually get better.

After graduating from Florida State in May of 2009, I was given season tickets as a gift for the following season. I sat and watched as Florida State had to score a last minute touchdown just to beat FCS Jacksonville State. I watched as South Florida held the Seminoles to just a touchdown in a 17-7 USF victory.

In the final home game of 2009, my future wife and I watched a redshirt freshman quarterback named E.J. Manuel rally Florida State to a 29-26 victory over a two-win Maryland team to keep the nation’s longest bowl streak alive. No one knew it at the time, but it would be the final game that Bowden would coach at Doak Campbell Stadium.

After a 37-10 loss to Florida to conclude the 2009 regular season, it was reported that Bowden would be forced out after 34 years at the school he turned into a national power. FSU was able to beat West Virginia in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day of 2010 to avoid the first losing season since 1976, but to finish 7-6 was hardly much of a consolation prize for we spoiled Seminole children of the ’90s.

The beginning of the Jimbo Fisher era brought hope. After a 9-3 regular season in 2010, FSU was back in the ACC title game for the first time since 2005 to face Virginia Tech. Florida State hung tough early on, but the Hokies and quarterback Tyrod Taylor were too much as Virginia Tech claimed the ACC crown with a 44-33 victory.

A strong finish was in the works for Florida State as the Seminoles beat SEC East champion South Carolina 26-17 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to notch their first 10-win season in seven years. 2011 however, did not fail to disappoint us.

After rising to #5 in the country early on, the big game had seemingly returned to Florida State. Facing top-ranked Oklahoma in Tallahassee with ESPN’s College Gameday on the scene in September of 2011, FSU erased a 13-3 deficit to draw even in the fourth quarter. A long touchdown pass to Kenny Stills however, would be the winning score as the Sooners outlasted the Seminoles 23-13. The dream of finally playing for a national championship was dead yet again.

In the two games to follow, the dream of an ACC title would soon die as well. With backup quarterback Clint Trickett under center, the Seminoles suffered road losses to Clemson and Wake Forest. In less than a month, FSU had gone from fifth in the country to 2-3.

Florida State went on to finish 2011 by winning seven of its final eight games and 2012 once again brought we spoiled Seminole children of the ’90s hope. After beating #10 Clemson 49-37 in primetime, it seemed as though all was right in the world again. It took just two games for disappointment to rear its ugly head.

In what seemed like a routine victory in October of 2012, #3 Florida State took a 16-0 lead into the locker room against N.C. State in Raleigh. The Wolfpack outscored the Seminoles in the second half 17-0 and the dream of a national championship once again was gone before the midway point in the season.

Florida State would ascend back into the top 10, but a 37-26 loss to Florida at home ended the regular season on a sour note. Despite a lackluster effort, the Seminoles were able to bounce back by beating Georgia Tech 21-15 to claim the school’s first ACC crown in seven years. FSU followed that up with its first BCS bowl win in 13 years topping upstart Northern Illinois 31-10 in the Orange Bowl. With it, came a top 10 finish.

We spoiled children of the ’90s were pleased with the strong finish to 2012 and 2013 has brought more than could have ever been expected. The 63-0 shutout of a ranked Maryland team to begin October was an old school FSU beatdown and featured a defense reminiscent of the days of yesteryear when Mickey Andrews was running the show. Victories over top 10 foes in Clemson and rival Miami by a combined 92-28 margin began to make the dreams of a national championship a reality. Despite being at home, the arch-rival Gators proved to be no match and ACC Coastal champion Duke was able to hang for only a quarter. Florida State has handled each of its opponents and at 13-0, now sits just a single victory shy of its first national championship in 14 years.

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For we spoiled Seminole children of the ’90s, tonight’s match-up with Auburn is more than just a football game. It’s a trip down memory lane, it’s the reason some of us attended FSU, it’s the reason we stayed put while Wake Forest kept us off the scoreboard and why we sat in the rain while Tim Tebow ran circles around us and it’s something we’ve waited 14 years for.

As Florida State looks to claim its first national championship in 14 years tonight and third overall, we spoiled Seminole children of the ’90s are hoping that this season brings about a new generation of spoiled Seminole children. One word of advice to them: don’t take it for granted because nothing lasts forever even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time.

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  • Matt Jones

    Mike –

    The Bill Peterson days were special, certainly not something to be “endured”! Our first win over Florida, our first ever win over a top five opponent, our first ever AP top ten ranking, our first major bowl game, five straight wins over Miami (the longest Orange a Bowl winning streak by any Seminole coach), the first win at Florida Field, the first ever All-American, the first ever two-time All-American, the first black football student-athletes and on and on and on. When you add to that the list of coaches who worked for Peterson – guys like Bowden, Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, Don James, Dan Henning and on and on and on – it’s no wonder Peterson is referred to as the “Coach of Coaches”.

    Monday was exciting, but without Peterson laying the foundation, who knows? We certainly owe him more respect that has been given. No, it wasn’t something we “endured”, it was a helluva ride!


    Matt Jones

    • Mike Ferguson

      Hey Matt,

      I was aware of Peterson’s accomplishments. I was just saying that I didn’t have to through the building process. I was fortunate enough to grow up during the glory days. My apologies if I came off as unappreciative of Coach Peterson.

      • Matt Jones

        Mike –
        No problem. As one who lived through both eras, it struck me as odd to compare Mudra and Peterson. Mudra was a fine coach and is in the college football hall of fame. In reality, he set the table for Coach Bowden’s early years. That said, Mudra’s record was still 4-18, including a 1-10 season in 1974. After what Peterson did in the 1960’s, that was a challenge and something to be endured. Peterson’s eleven seasons as head coach were a lot more like Bowden’s first eleven seasons, before the “the streak” began. Both eras were nothing but fun as we were growing the entire time.
        You know what they say, its not the destination, its the journey!