On one hand, 1993 feels like 100 years ago, not merely 25, for the Florida State Seminoles.
They aren’t in the same zip code — or county, or state, or continent — as the Bobby Bowden teams of olden days. Returning to that position will take time. There is too much to remake at the moment. Coach Willie Taggart’s words about his players this season strike a chord reminiscent of Charlie Strong at Texas. This doesn’t mean Taggart will fail, but it does mean he will require multiple seasons to see if he can get this project steered in the right direction. The world of 1993 is very far away for FSU.
This distance from the past is amplified by the details surrounding that celebrated contest in South Bend, one of the true larger-than-life regular season games college football delivers once in a great while.
Ohio State-Michigan is often a big deal, but only in a very few instances does that game swallow up everything else. Recall the 2006 edition of that game in which the winner would play for the national championship, a game magnified by the death of Bo Schembechler one day before kickoff. THAT was a larger-than-life OSU-Michigan meeting.
Every now and then, one such game appears on the landscape. It is not an annual occurrence, but examples do emerge:
1974 Notre Dame-USC.
You can sort through college football history and identify a select few games which towered above the rest of that regular season and are still talked about today. In the mid-1980s, college football fans in the state of Florida began to experience this adrenaline rush on a regular basis.
Oklahoma playing Miami in the Orange Bowl stadium for a regular-season game was a through-the-roof experience. So was Florida State playing Miami in a 1988 season opener when those two programs were just beginning to dominate the sport. Miami’s 1988 game at Notre Dame might have been the most-hyped regular-season game of the entire 1980s… and the game matched it.
These events help put 1993 FSU-Notre Dame in context. The Miami-Notre Dame game played five years earlier represented the closest comparison. College football owns a special intensity when games of this magnitude emerge. The special part about being a Florida State (or Miami, or Florida) fan in the early 1990s was that a huge regular-season game became a way of life. FSU-Miami games had become annual local Super Bowls in their significance. Florida finally emerged as a rival worthy of FSU’s concern. Florida-Tennessee games began to take on enormous importance, especially when a fellow named Peyton Manning arrived on the scene.
Yet, of any regular-season college football game played in the first half of the 1990s, was any game more hyped than Florida State-Notre Dame?
I don’t think so.
Remember that this game was played on November 11 in an era which had 11 regular-season games for every college football team, not the 12 we have today. There was no playoff, just the “poll and bowl” non-format the Bowl Championship Series replaced five seasons later in 1998. Everyone in college football felt that the winner of this game would play for the national title.
This was viewed as Bobby Bowden’s moment to finally cross the threshold and win a national championship after years of falling just short, often due to a missed late field goal against Miami. This was Notre Dame’s next opportunity to add to its lore and legend, five years after that epic win over Miami in South Bend. This was Charlie Ward’s chance to put a punctuation mark on his Heisman Trophy season. This was Lou Holtz’s chance to win a second national title at Notre Dame and dramatically increase his stature in the larger history of college football.
Colorful coaches. A new-age power against college football’s most famous school.
Florida speed against Midwestern toughness in cold, gray November weather.
This game had everything, and at a point in history when the internet was JUUUUUUUUST beginning to get off the ground, we shouldn’t be surprised this game changed the way college football was covered.
No, I am not referring to the NBC broadcast which had Bob Costas as the anchor and a man named O.J. Simpson as an on-field interviewer, one year before his white Ford Bronco became seared into the American consciousness. The 1993 Florida State-Notre Dame game changed the coverage of college football forever because it inspired a show called “ESPN College GameDay,” to do its first ever road trip.
What had previously been a studio show became a traveling carnival. Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, and — before he became a reviled figure in college football — Craig James went to South Bend to begin an era which continues to elicit intense fan interest 25 years later. College GameDay’s road trips and ESPN’s rise as the central authority in college football broadcasting — and college football media influence over the rankings and Heisman races — emerged together.
Florida State-Notre Dame in 1993 represented in many ways the birth of ESPN as the new kingmaker in college football, starting a process which continuously gained more traction and remains firmly in evidence today.
For all the ways in which Florida State is far removed from its 1993 heyday, the impact of that 1993 game is still felt in the media world. It is also felt on the Notre Dame side of this 2018 matchup, a quarter of a century later.
Notre Dame is acutely aware of the reality that if it loses just one game, Michigan will probably pass the Fighting Irish in the playoff pecking order The larger story of the 1993 FSU-Notre Dame game — a story which transcends the game itself — is that Notre Dame got caught in the “letdown/hangover trap” later that November against Boston College and a man Jacksonville Jaguar fans know well: B.C head coach Tom Coughlin. The Eagles stunned the Irish on a late field goal.
Because the timing of a loss (late in the season as opposed to early) has so often mattered in deciding national champions in non-playoff seasons, Notre Dame slid to the Cotton Bowl to face Texas A&M. Florida State played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. There was no dream rematch in the Fiesta Bowl between the two schools.
When the smoke cleared at the end of the bowl games — with FSU and Notre Dame both winning — the Seminoles won the national title. The Irish, despite their head-to-head win over Florida State, finished second in the polls.
Notre Dame is staring at the reality that it could lose once in the stretch run of the 2018 season, finish with one loss alongside Michigan, and yet fall behind the Wolverines despite a head-to-head win.
So much has changed since the 1993 Florida State-Notre Dame game, and more precisely, so much in college football has changed BECAUSE of the 1993 FSU-ND clash. Yet, for all the things which have changed, and for all the things Willie Taggart WANTS to change in Tallahassee over the next few years, the reality that Notre Dame could lose a big postseason argument despite a head-to-head win over a high-profile opponent remains the same.
You can bet the folks at College GameDay — 25 years after that first traveling road show for the Seminoles and the Irish — will discuss that question this Saturday, before the 2018 reunion of one of college football’s most important games of all time.
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