Spoiler alert: The greatest games of the Florida-Florida State rivalry are connected to Bobby Bowden or Steve Spurrier in some way. Hint: This is true even for games not played when both men were head coaches for the two schools.
At least one of the two figures was either on the field or part of the coaching staff for the most significant moments in a series which began in 1958 at the Division I level.
We begin this series of the greatest UF-FSU games of all time by noting the moment when the antipathy between Bowden and Spurrier reached its height.
The year was 1996. Florida had its best team of the 20th century. The 2008 Florida team would have an argument to make as the greatest Gator team of all time, but the 1996 team also has a place in that conversation.
Florida State was smack-dab in the middle of its glory run of 14 straight seasons with a top-five finish in the Associated Press polls. The Seminoles simply never fell off the ledge, never had a rebuilding year, never had a reorganization or a horrible quarterback who hijacked a season.
They were fierce, formidable and elite without fail Their 1996 team wasn’t the best of all time, but if we had a College Football Playoff back then, there’s no way the Noles would have played Florida in the 1997 Sugar Bowl.
The playoff would have cross-paired the top four teams. Florida State would have played Ohio State in the Superdome while Arizona State would have played Florida in Pasadena and the Rose Bowl. Maybe FSU and Florida would have won those semifinals, but in the system of 1996, it was brutally unfair for the Noles to meet Florida in a rematch without the two teams playing additional games in between.
Why? Florida State thought it had done enough to destroy Florida’s national championship dreams in the Seminoles’ 1996 regular-season finale.
This wasn’t a dazzling game or an artistic game, but it remains the most physical headcracker of a slugfest the Gators and Noles have ever played. Sportswriters are taught to not compare football to war, because war is where people die. A game is not a war. A game is not a matter of life and death.
This 1996 game came close.
Reinard Wilson and Peter Boulware were Florida State’s bookend pass rushers They led an assault on Florida quarterback and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel which netted six sacks and 20 — TWENTY! — knockdowns. It was one of the most savage beatings a quarterback has ever received. Yet, Wuerffel kept getting off the canvas after taking those hits, trying to lead the Gators back.
It’s not as though Wuerffel was inept — anything but. Florida still managed 443 yards against that ferocious pass rush. What Florida State’s pass rush did, however, was make it hard for Wuerffel to hit the deep ball down the field. Florida’s receivers weren’t able to get separation on vertical routes with Wuerffel lacking the time needed to survey the field from the pocket. Florida made the adjustment of putting Wuerffel in the shotgun to gain more spatial separation from Wilson and Boulware… but that adjustment by Spurrier didn’t come until the Sugar Bowl a month later.
On this day — November 30, 1996 — that adjustment didn’t come. Florida State, Bowden, and Mickey Andrews exposed Spurrier’s protections. They created the street fight they wanted and knocked the rhythmic Fun and Gun offense off balance.
Even with FSU’s defensive superiority evident from start to finish, Florida still played the game extremely close. The Gators might have forced overtime — 1996 was the first season without ties in college football, if you remember — had kicker Bart Edmiston made a 41-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. However, Edmiston stepped into a rut in the chewed-up playing surface and missed. Edmiston, Collins Cooper, and other Gator kickers haunted Spurrier in Gainesville, in much the same way that Alabama kickers have made life difficult for Nick Saban and Boise State or Washington placekickers have gut-punched Chris Petersen.
Another man who knew what it was like for kickers to cost him in big games: Bobby Bowden, who watched Edmiston’s miss from the other sideline and knew what it felt like for a team to miss a big kick. This time, he benefited from a missed kick in a rivalry game against another Sunshine State team.
The kicker who didn’t miss when he needed to deliver for Florida State was Scott Bentley. He hit a game-winning kick in the 1994 Orange Bowl game against Nebraska which gave Bowden his first national title in Tallahassee. He was on the 1996 FSU team as a senior. He empathized with Edmiston after the game:
”I felt for him,” said Bentley, who made his only field goal attempt from 26 yards in that 1996 game. ”I’ve kicked here on this field. This field shouldn’t be like this. It’s a disgrace.”
What Spurrier viewed as even more of a disgrace was the avalanche of hits on Wuerffel. Spurrier felt many of them were late. Bowden’s memorable characterization of that game — and what happened to Wuerffel that afternoon — was that his teams hit “until the echo of the whistle.”
Spurrier’s anger was captured in this quote: “He (Wuerffel) is like a New Testament person. He gets slapped up side the face, and turns the other cheek and says, ‘Lord, forgive them for they know not what they’re doing.’ I’m probably more of an Old Testament guy. You spear our guy in the earhole, we think we’re supposed to spear you in the earhole. That’s kind of where we’re a little different.”
Spurrier’s anger at Bowden and FSU was channeled into his preparation for the Sugar Bowl. Florida fans received what they felt was justice after the beating Wuerffel absorbed. Florida State fans lamented the rematch they felt the Gators didn’t earn (caused by Nebraska’s loss to Texas in the first Big 12 Championship Game). This would not be the last time a regular-season game had a championship-game rematch in the Superdome, won by the loser of the regular-season contest. Alabama-LSU in January of 2012 — after LSU won the regular-season game in November of 2011 — replicated that same scenario.
The 1996 Florida-Florida State game was not great because of its style points or its aesthetic qualities. It was great because of the ferocity with which it was contested, the memorable reactions it generated from its central protagonists, and its complicated place in the workings of the Spurrier-Bowden feud which made Gators-Seminoles so irresistibly captivating in its glory days.
FSU and LSU announced two game neutral site series Tuesday
In an effort to continue to beef up their out-of-conference schedules, FSU announced on Tuesday that they will play newly-crowned National Champion, LSU in two neutral site games coming soon in 2022 and 2023.
The Seminoles made the announcement through social media and their website that they will be playing the “Bayou Bengals” first in New Orleans and then, in Orlando:
Noles vs. Tigers set for '22/'23!!!https://t.co/nfLwLGhXE3
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) February 11, 2020
Both teams will be given the benefit of essentially a “home-away-from-home neutral-site game” on Labor Day weekend. LSU considers New Orleans to be their second home and just won the College Football Playoff National Championship game over Clemson there on January 12.
The first game with the Noles will be on Saturday night September 4th, 2022.
FSU will, then play “hosts” in Orlando against the Tigers the following year on Saturday night September 3rd. The Noles recently played a season-opening game with Ole Miss, whom they defeated, at Camping World Stadium in 2016.
New Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell had this to say in the school statement about adding the games coming soon,
“I’m excited about this series,” head coach Mike Norvell said. “Florida State has a rich tradition in Louisiana, the home of many former Seminoles including Warrick Dunn and Travis Minor, and all three of our national championship teams had at least one player from Louisiana. It continues to be an important area for us now. We added two players from Louisiana in our first signing class, and it will be great for them and other future Noles to be able to play back in their home state.
This series matches two of the iconic brands in college football, and I know our fans will have a great time in New Orleans and Orlando. I want to thank our administration for all their hard work on this and for continuing to pursue first-class experiences for our student-athletes.”
These will be the 10th and 11th times that Florida State and LSU will meet. The Noles hold a 7 – 2 advantage, including winning four straight games in the series. It is the first time the two schools will have played since 1991.
Further, Florida State is 9 – 2 in their last 11 games opening a season on a neutral field. The Seminoles were to have played Boise State in Jacksonville last Labor Day weekend, but the threat of Hurricane Dorian moved the game to Tallahasse.
That’s where the Broncos upset the Seminoles and sent coach Willie Taggart into a second year spiral that resulted in his firing in November.
The Noles are also 8 – 2 all-time in games at the Superdome with the most prominent one coming in the BCS Championship Game win over Virginia Tech in the 2000 Sugar Bowl.
Deion tells Dan Patrick he’d consider coaching Hurricanes
NFL Hall of Famer and former Seminoles All-American defensive back Deion Sanders is making the rounds for broadcast outlets at Super Bowl 54 in Miami,. And it’s not just his NFL Network duties that made some news on Tuesday. Rather, it’s an interview, where he expressed more desire for coaching college football and maybe, even in the city where he currently is working this week.
Sanders appeared on The Dan Patrick television – radio show Tuesday in advance of the 49ers and the Chiefs meeting for pro football’s title at Hard Rock stadium Sunday night.
— Dan Patrick Show (@dpshow) January 28, 2020
And, while most of the interview centered around the NFL and the Super Bowl match-up, Patrick naturally turned to Deion’s desire to apparently be a head coach in college football and maybe, as soon as next year.
This subject came up after Sanders was apparently under consideration to possibly be the new head coach at FSU, when they fired Willie Taggart in early November. The school and AD David Coburn did confirm that they had a serious formal discussion with “Prime Time” about building a staff, etc.
That’s when Patrick turn the questioning to Sanders’ son and what might test his loyalty to FSU and possibly, coaching at a hated-rival like the University of Miami.
“What if ‘The U’ called?” Patrick asked.
“You know what is so funny, cuz I saw that when I was watching you on television (earlier in the day when Patrick said he would ask Sanders about Miami). My son is a phenomenal quarterback. My youngest son. He has a plethora of offers. We’re going to visit ‘The U’ on Saturday,” Sanders said.
“But would you coach the U?,” Patrick quickly asked again.
“You know what. You never know,” Sanders replied leaving the door open, like most do.
“Are you a ‘package deal’ with your son,” asked Patrick?
“I’ve never been a package deal with any-body,” Sanders shot back, which drew laughter from the studio audience at Patrick’s Super Bowl show site.
Now, the Hurricanes have obviously floundered for much of the 2010s, including 2019 with first-year coach Manny Diaz struggling mightily down the stretch of his first season. Miami lost it’s final two games to finish 6 – 6, and then, were shutout humiliatingly by Louisiana Tech 14 – 0 in the Independence Bowl.
Miami has swapped offensive coordinators after Diaz fired Dan Enos after just his first season. The Canes have hired former Auburn and SMU play-caller Rhett Lashlee to replace him. And, they secured Houston dual threat transfer QB D’Eriq King for this season.
Sanders was a two-time All-American at Florida State (1987, ’88), and won the Jim Thorpe Award during his final season playing for the Seminoles in 1988. He was selected in the first round of the 1989 draft by the Atlanta Falcons and played in the NFL through the 2005 season.
His elite level of play earned him inductions into both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sanders has been analyst for the NFL Network for the past 10 years and clearly has the desire to try something else.