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The Greatest Game in FSU History

What makes the Michigan game in 1991 the best Florida State football game ever? 

What makes this game better than any that preceded, or any since?  Why is this game better than the 1993 national championship game ... where Scott Bentley kicked the go ahead field goal, and the Seminoles held on for dear life while the referees gave the Cornhuskers chance after chance?  Or, the 1999 national championship game ... where spectacular plays by Peter Warrick and Hokie quarterback, Michael Vick, wowed a national audience like never before? Or, the infamous Choke at Doak ... where the Noles set a record by scoring 28 points in the 4th quarter to tie the Gators?  Or, the 1988 Fiesta Bowl ... where Danny McManus led the Noles on a 97 yard, game-winning drive culminating with a pass on 4th and 15 to Ronald Lewis to defeat the Nebraska Cornhuskers and start the dynasty?  For Christ sakes, I drove across I-10 2,000 miles each way in an Isuzu two-seat pickup truck to watch that classic!  What about the 1996 game against the Gators ... where Warrick Dunn powered the Noles to a huge upset over the top-ranked team, causing 80,000 Nole fans to storm the field and carry the goal posts (and many handfuls of sod) away?  Or, the Florida game a few years earlier ... where a younger number 28 caught a swing pass from that year's Heisman trophy winner, Charlie Ward, and scampered down the sideline to seal the game in front of a raucous Swamp, which included (in the very last row of the upper level, end zone seats) my friend, Dan, and myself?  What about games predating the streak?  The 1964 game against the Gators ... our first win against our arch-rivals?  Bill Peterson, Steve Tensi, Fred Biletnikoff and the 7 Magnificents might argue for that milestone!  Or, the win against Nebraska in Lincoln (like they would play us anywhere else but in Lincoln, Miami or Tempe!) in 1980?  Or, 1981's Octoberfest?  Or, any of the 14 consecutive bowl games from 1982 to 1995 that Bobby Bowden coached the Noles to victory (we tied Georgia in the 1984 Citrus bowl, which by the way, was another great game)?

How is it possible to rank these great games in Florida State history ... much less move one to the top?  There would be much debate, and deservedly so, but in my opinion, the 1991 game against Michigan stands out as the best ever for several reasons.

The Hype

For one, the game itself was touted as one of the best ... even before Dan Mowry ever placed the pigskin on the tee.  Because the game was early in the season and further, because the Noles had a bye the week prior, this game benefited from much hoopla.  It was unanimous among Nole fans that we had the best team at the conclusion of the 1988 and 1989 seasons, but because of early losses in those years, the final rankings disagreed.  After another great year in 1990, spoiled only by narrow losses to Auburn and Miami, we projected our 1991 team to once again have the greatest collection of talent anywhere, and we were poised to claim our first national title.  Afterall, we had not one, but two Heisman contenders (Casey Weldon and Amp Lee) returning to an incredibly stacked team!  The spring and summer were nearly unbearable to suffer through, and we found ourselves begging for the fall to arrive, looking longingly to our biggest challenge ... the game in Ann Arbor ... which, to our delight, was scheduled only a month into the season.  To whet our appetite, we played in the first college game of the season, the Kickoff Classic, where we won handily over Brigham Young and the defending Heisman Trophy winner, Ty Detmer. We followed that by cruising past expected easy foes Tulane and Western Michigan.  During the bye week that ensued, Nole fans (and the rest of the nation) watched the Michigan Wolverines, and their heralded wide receiver, Desmond Howard, upset highly ranked Notre Dame.  With our game in Ann Arbor looming, we could feel our confidence tinge slightly as Michigan rose up the polls to number 3.  The week leading up to the game was like none since the 1988 opener against Miami (which for obvious reasons, I won't mention other than to say that that particular game did not live up to the hype).  Every day of the week, the paper was chock full of articles from writers already stationed in Ann Arbor.  It was for good reason that the local sportscasters were given extra minutes to preview the game, and you could hear the excitement growing their voices as the week went along.  ESPN, CNN, USA Today and other national news outlets primed the entire football world for the contest.   The campuses in Tallahassee and Ann Arbor were buzzing with anticipation.

The History

There is not much history involving the two teams on the playing field.  In fact, the only other time that teams faced one another was in 1986 ... an 18-16 win by the Wolverines.  However, the history and reputation of Michigan football is among the nation's elite.  Their famed maize and blue and their winged helmet represented 113 storied years of collegiate football.  The incomparable Michigan Stadium was the largest in capacity at the time of the game, and remains a national icon.  Florida State, on the other hand, was the new kid on the block.  Though we had put together 4 consecutive seasons of 10 wins or more, and had finished ranked in the top 4 in each of those seasons, we were still looked down upon by the Michigans and Notre Dames of the college football world.  We had only fielded 44 football teams in our brief history, and we played in a stadium better known as the Erector Set.  But, we knew that the program was evolving into something much better ... we just wanted to prove it to the outside world.  This game presented the platform.

It was a battle between the larger than life, unchangeable, tradition-rich master and the up-and-coming, yet wet behind the ears, bold and chancy apprentice.  It was North versus South.  It was the past meets the future.  It was bulk versus speed.  It was three yards and a cloud of dust versus puntrooskis, fake field goals, and an aerial assault.  It was the battle of Bull Run, as Bobby Bowden analogized before the game ... to which he added that the South had won that battle.

The White House on Bellevue & Hayden

Florida State at Michigan in 1991 was a theater-style-living-room, full-keg-on-tap, Deckerhoff-and-Prinzi-on-the-stereo, butterflies-in-the-stomach, moss-on-the-head game if there ever was one.  And, there were plenty.  The battle in Ann Arbor was a noon affair, and after a relatively sleepless night (you know you're a true Nole if you can't sleep the night before a big game), we were all a little groggy.  But, the keg was bought and tapped by eleven, and the couches were full well before kickoff.  The first dogpile happened only minutes after.

The Game

The tone was set early in the game by Seminole great, Terrell Buckley.  In front of 106,145 fans -- the 4th largest in Michigan history -- the 1991 Jim Thorpe Award winner stepped in front of an Elvis Grbac pass and trotted 40 yards for the Seminoles' first touchdown.  This, on the game's second play from scrimmage!  The Wolverines, however, countered with a 13 yard touchdown strike from Grbac to a diving Desmond Howard to even the game.  Undaunted, Bobby Bowden coolly reached into his bag of tricks for the Seminoles next score;  the fake field goal ... a flip from holder Brad Johnson to fullback William Floyd ... worked to perfection and the Noles were back on top.  After a Michigan field goal, Amp Lee weaved back and forth across the field for a 44 yard touchdown, leaving Wolverine defenders littered across their home turf, and extending the Nole lead to 19-10.  A 20 yard pass from Casey Weldon to Warren Hart, and the Garnet & Gold led 25-10 (two PATs & a two-point conversion failed).  Michigan stormed back with consecutive touchdowns to make it 25-23.  But, the Noles scored again before halftime (Amp Lee's second TD, PAT failed), and we held Michigan out of the end zone in the closing seconds to hold the intermission score at 31-23.  Bobby must have given another of his patented halftime speeches in the hallowed visitor's locker room of Michigan Stadium as the Noles' defense, behind the schemes of their coordinator Mickey Andrews, completely shut down Desmond Howard and the Wolverines in the second half ... save a fourth quarter touchdown and two point conversion.  In fact, Michigan did not score on its first six possessions of the second half.   The Noles' offense didn't skip a beat, scoring three touchdowns after the break:  a 20 yard pass from Weldon to Eric Turral (run failed), a 10 yard pass from Weldon to Lonnie Johnson (on 4th and 7), and a 49 yard interception return by Toddrick McIntosh to close the scoring. 

The final score ... 51-31.  Fifty-one is the most number of points allowed by a Michigan team in Ann Arbor in its 113-year football history!  It was the 3rd-most points ever scored on the Wolverines, and the most since 1958.  The Seminoles held high the sod souvenir from Michigan Field as the Maize and Blue faithful glumly filed through the exits, still not quite sure what had happened.  The Noles out-sped, out-hit, out-finessed, out-tricked and out-played Michigan, who would not lose again for the rest of the regular season.  The only area where Michigan outplayed the Noles was in the placekicking department.  We made only 3 of 6 PATs, and failed on 2 two-point conversions.  However, if you look closely, you might say that our kicking woes were a blessing on this day.  Because of our poor kicking, Coach Bowden forewent two field goal attempts ... the first was the fake for a touchdown, and the second resulted in a touchdown pass to Lonnie Johnson on 4th and 7.

The trick plays (both on the same drive) included the fake field goal, and a 29-yard gain on a lateral from Casey Weldon to Charlie Ward, then a pass back to Weldon.  The play was named "Crocodile," as it was patterned after a play run by our rivals from Gainesville (named carefully as to not give their head ball coach too much credit).  The defense and special teams scored three times:  the fake field goal, the interception and return by Buckley, and the McIntosh interception off of a deflected pass and return to paydirt.  The defense was exceptional in the second half, completely shutting down and frustrating Elvis Grbac and the eventual 1991 Heisman Trophy winner, Desmond Howard.

Overall, it was a dominating performance by the top-ranked Seminoles in a hostile environment on national television.  It was evident that the Garnet and Gold were the best team on the field that day, and that we were deserving of the number one ranking and the accompanying accolades.  More importantly, it proved to the country that the Florida State Seminoles were here to stay.

The Immediate Aftermath

The white house on Bellevue & Hayden stood well before Florida State University played their 1st game of football in 1947, and easily survived the party to celebrate the university's 4th game of their 44th season ... no thanks to those who partook in the festivities.  For every touchdown there was a dogpile on the front couch.  For every missed extra point there were stomps of dissatisfaction on the hardwood floor.  And, for every commercial break in between there was a mad rush for the bathroom and/or the keg.  Upon the game's ecstatic conclusion, there was only one thing for us to do ... pile into a pickup truck and head to Tennessee Street. 

Thanks to the majority's good judgment, we resisted the urge to load the keg into the bed of the truck.  Instead, we each filled up the largest cup we could find (which in most cases was already in our hands), and searched for the most sober driver to chauffeur us through the masses on the famous strip.  It was a wild scene when we arrived only a few minutes after the final gun sounded in Ann Arbor.  The streets were lined with revelers, and the cars -- mostly convertibles and pickups overflowing with delighted fans -- cruised up and down like a parade.  The police department made their presence known and several cruisers were already having their buzzes dampened as we arrived.  It took at least until the fourth or fifth pass by Bullwinkle's before our truck was summonsed to the side of the road by Tallahassee's finest party patrol.  The quick ones in the bed of the truck quickly disposed of their drinks, while those of us who considered that to be a worse crime than what we were already committing, waited for our fate ... hoping that the police were as thrilled with the Seminole victory as the rest of us, and that they were merely warning passengers not to get carried away.  Our wishes were only partially granted at best.  We were handed a ticket for violating the open container ordinance, and our mugs were confiscated.  The latter was of more punishment to me as the stein I held was given to me as a reward for serving in a dear friend's wedding party.  But, the protests offered were upon deaf ears, and my favorite keg mug was taken as "evidence."

The setback didn't ruin our mood.  We parked the truck and joined the crowd near Bullwinkles, responding to the honking cars by waving and screaming and singing the fight song and doing the warchant and generally raising hell until our voices were well past hoarse.  After a long while, the crowd began to thin, and we headed back to the house on Bellevue and Hayden, where the dwindling keg greeted us on the front steps.  The party continued into the night.

The next morning I bought a copy of the Tallahassee Democrat to confirm that the glorious day wasn't merely an anxiety-driven dream, and that I wasn't waking to the Saturday of our much-anticipated matchup with Michigan.  "WOW! 51-31!  Seminoles Rock Ann Arbor" thankfully read the headline through the paper rack.  "Seminoles Rock Ann Arbor" became my favorite headline of all time, and it gives me goose bumps to this day.

The After Aftermath

The Seminoles would go on to win their next six games against Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Middle Tenn State, Louisiana State, Louisville, and South Carolina to run our record to 10-0 going into games against Miami and Florida.  There was little doubt who deserved the number one ranking as the Miami game approached.  But our kicking woes, which were easily overcome in the Michigan game, proved costly in the Miami game, and we lost by a point as the game winning field goal missed the right upright by inches.  It was the only game in Doak Campbell Stadium that we would lose in the entire decade of the 90's, but it cost us a chance at our first national championship. The Miami game hurt our team's morale to such a great extent, that we fell the following week to a Florida team, who was certainly no better than a Michigan or a Syracuse, both of whom we beat handily.  Despite the two late season losses, we received and accepted a Cotton Bowl bid, and managed to regroup before the New Year's Day game, and though our play was lackluster, we defeated the Texas A&M Aggies and kept the young streaks alive.

The Florida State Seminoles would have to wait until 1993 to win the national championship for the first time ... and until 1999 before our first perfect season.  But, in Ann Arbor Michigan, on September 28, 1991, we announced to the college football world that our program was indeed here to stay, and it was about that time that we began to hear the term "traditional powerhouse" to describe our program.  Before an ABC national television audience, broadcast by the legendary Keith Jackson, the Noles displayed a rare combination of speed and power that was relatively unheard of in such a commanding fashion.  Some of the greatest Seminoles including: Marvin Jones, Terrell Buckley, William Floyd, Casey Weldon, Amp Lee, Edgar Bennett, Kirk Carruthers and an up-and-coming quarterback named Charlie Ward laced it up that day and announced to the more than 106,000 fans in the bowl and to the millions watching across the country that the Noles were a program to be reckoned with for many years to come. 


Sorry . . . poll closed

What do you consider to be the Greatest Game in FSU History? (This is my top ten in order)
1991 - FSU's 51-31 win over Michigan in the Big House (number 1 versus number 3; north versus south; 106,000 Michigan fans and Heisman trophy winner Desmond Howard sent home crying while Tennessee Street was a-rockin') - Box Score
1994 - Choke at Doak (nothing more needs to be said ... if a game has a name, it's gotta be great)
1987 - FSU's 26-25 loss to Miami (if we had made the 2 pointer, this game would be number 1 easily) - Box Score
1964 - FSU's first win over the Gators with Fred Biletnikoff and the Seven Magnificents (don't really know too much about this game since I wasn't alive yet ... but the first win over the Gators has to be in the top 5!) - Box Score
1988 - 31-28 Fiesta Bowl win over Nebraska (McNanus pass to Lewis on 4th & 15 started the streak) - Box Score
1989 - 24-10 win over Miami (whupped the eventual national champions & eventual Heisman trophy winner Gino Torretta, plus Dexter Carter risked death to put a flag on Clark's head).
1980 - 18-14 win over Nebraska (I only vaguely remember this one, but have heard a lot about the importance)
1994 - Orange Bowl 18-16 win for National Championship over Nebraska (I had to put this one here, even though it's the 3rd Nebraska game on the list) - Box Score
1984 - 42-41 loss to Auburn. (unforgettable loss in a great game)
1981 - compilation of wins over Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Louisiana State ... all away ... all in the month of October. 
Other (email me with description and your arguement)

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