TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State has won 43 and lost six since 1986. Florida State is undefeated in its last nine bowls. Florida State, having given us Deion Sanders and the original tomahawk chop, has made the whole world of sports a livelier -- certainly louder -- place.
"But, yeah, there's something missing," said Bobby Bowden, the Seminoles' easy-riding coach.
It's called a national championship. Bowden knows exactly where three of them went. They're seven hours south of here, hidden inside pink buildings and under mean streets, in a world most Floridians fear and loathe.
They're in Miami.
The Hurricanes blow into town tomorrow for the 26th summit meeting in college football history. FSU is No. 1, Miami No. 2. The hosts don't dare look back. They might see a leap frog.
In the last four years Miami has finished No. 1, 2, 1, 3 in the wire service polls. The Seminoles have finished 2, 3, 2, 4. The 'Canes have won the title in '83, '87 and '89, for three different coaches. In '87 and '90, the 'Noles could have done the same for Bowden. But those championships got away. Where? Miami, of course.
"I guess we're going to have to go up there and take their championship away again," said Miami linebacker Rusty Medearis.
FSU has beaten Miami only three times since 1979. It hasn't beaten Miami's healthy quarterback since 1984. In '89, with Craig Erickson hurt, Gino Torretta threw four interceptions here and the Seminoles won, 24-10. But because they began with losses to Southern Mississippi and Clemson, the victory was only moral.
Bowden still winces when reminded of 1987. FSU had 25 first downs to Miami's 11, held the ball 40:32 to Miami's 19:28, outgained the 'Canes 426-306. It even led 19-3 late in the third quarter. But a two-point conversion pass hit the ground with 42 seconds left, and Miami escaped, 26-25. Miami wound up 12-0, FSU was all wound up at 11-1.
Has a collegiate field ever contained more talent? The Seminoles' runners were Sammie Smith, Marion Butts and Dexter Carter. Their receivers were Lawrence Dawsey and Pat Carter. Their blockers were Jamie Dukes and Pat Tomberlin. Their defenders were Sanders, Martin Mayhew, Eric Hayes and Odell Haggins. All grace today's NFL.
Miami countered with Steve Walsh, Brian Blades, Melvin Bratton, Michael Irvin, Brett Perriman and Cleveland Gary on offense, Daniel Stubbs, Bennie Blades, Bill Hawkins, Bubba McDowell, Russell Maryland and Jimmie Jones on defense.
"I've never seen so many crazy things happen in a game," Bowden said. "We're getting ready to kick a field goal in the first quarter. We snap the ball, and our holder isn't down. The ball goes 51 yards downfield! Now they're at our 26 -- and they kick a field goal. Never saw that in 38 years of coaching, still haven't."
Tied 19-19, Florida State drove briskly to the Miami 17, where quarterback Danny McManus fumbled a snap. Four plays later, Walsh fired a 73-yard touchdown to Irvin. Down 26-19, the Seminoles sprinted 73 yards in eight plays and tied it again. Bowden sent in kicker Derek Schmidt. It was October. The tie was the right play.
"There was no question we were going to tie the game -- just like there's no question we'd go for the win here Saturday," Bowden said. "If it's a tie, Washington is No. 1."
Then somebody called timeout. Bowden still doesn't know who. Time to think, and look into the dejected faces. "Even my coaches slumped a little bit," Bowden said. He reconsidered and ordered the two-point pass. McManus missed Ronald Lewis in the corner, and that was it.
Maybe Bowden remembered how much good a kicked point-after did him in 1983. Trailing 7-2, FSU scored and Bowden went for one. Sure enough, Miami won, 17-16. On New Year's Day, Bernie Kosar was passing Miami to its first title.
Anyway, the '87 Seminoles cheered their brave coach in the losing locker room.
"I don't remember that," Bowden claimed. "Maybe you're talking about a chair flying through the room. You mess up like that, and you're not Saint Bobby any more. Just the initials."
But FSU promised revenge in the season opener of '88. "Most of our guys were back, most of theirs were gone," Bowden said. "We didn't realize they had more great ones coming. We thought, 'We'll whip y'all, now.' We were overconfident. By the time you sense things like that, somebody's kicking off." Miami 31, Florida State 0. The 'Noles were 11-1 again, and Notre Dame was No. 1.
Last year, Colorado (11-1-1) and Georgia Tech (11-0-1) split the title. But the Seminoles would have been 11-1 if Miami hadn't muscled them, 31-22, in the Orange Bowl. "It was the most physical game I've ever played, and the stadium intimidated us," guard Robbie Baker said. Still groggy, FSU lost to Auburn the next week before running the table.
Bowden still says a blown 35-8 lead to Pittsburgh, when he was West Virginia's coach, was his all-timer. And he says he's sleeping surprisingly well this week. "You only lose sleep when you're favored by 60 over Middle Tennessee State," Bowden said. "This game should be fun.
"I think our team has matured. When I talk to them on the field this week, they're not rolling their eyes, saying they've heard this before. They're looking at me. They're quiet."
Could mean that FSU is through evacuating when Hurricanes come up the coast.
Could also mean another tropical depression.