Why the Canes make the Seminoles cringe

by Todd Helmick & Dave Hershorin

The horror…oh, the horror….
For Seminole fans everywhere, this week leading up to the Miami game represents a stomach full of butterflies and memories full of field mishaps that would even make maggot-eating participants on Fox Reality TV cringe. You can just take me at gunpoint, make me put my open mouth on the curb and step on my head…that causes less pain than remembering the heartbreak this rivalry has imposed on Nole fans. The consecutive successful years, high rankings, national championships and dynasties have passed for the garnet-and-gold faithful, but one ideology remains constant: FSU can, and will(!), find a way to lose versus Miami. Ten fingers on two hands are not enough to count the ways. Look no further than one of the most famous Bobby Bowden quotes. "On his tombstone will read…and then he played Miami."


There has been a good bit of chatter all week from people across the college football landscape about how FSU will whip Miami this Saturday. Maybe it has to do with last Thursday's ESPN national audience watching a 1-3 West Virginia team - who could not run, pass, punt or tackle in a lopsided loss to Maryland just one game prior - miss beating four-TD favorite Miami on their own Orange Bowl turf by one 4th-and-13 conversion. "Miami is ripe for getting beat. FSU will kill them." We can hear those sentiments far and wide outside of the Sunshine State. How little they know, how little... And most can't know if something other than a true Nole fan. Seminoles writing this game in as a victory are very young, very forgetful, and/or just very naive. The huge deflating defeats for FSU that made the difference between playing for a national championship and playing in some other New Year's Day bowl game are etched into the pages of this classic rivalry. Much worse are the ways in which they occurred, almost always having it all boil down to one play here or there, where if it had gone the other way, FSU would have another national championship ring(s) on their finger(s).

Count the ways? As tough as it may be for this writer - a Florida State graduate, ex-Nole player, and devoted fan - there's no forgetting. You can't, it's impossible as hard as we may try.

Should I cringe with every fumble inside the red zone, every interception in the end zone, every missed field goal, every direct snap where the holder isn't ready, every 75-yard touchdown bomb and every time Bobby Bowden freezes like a deer in headlights? This just occurs in the fourth quarter alone, huh? You better bet your life, it will cut you like a knife.

1992 - Charlie Ward's junior season. Late in the second half, Miami recovers a fumble inside the Nole 20 that set up a 19-16 victory. On a bizarre play minutes later, FSU punt-returner and hero of the game, Corey Sawyer, fumbled into his own end zone, giving Miami a safety and the 19-16 lead.

2000 - At the close of the first half, Dan Morgan steps in front of a Chris Weinke pass in the end zone, securing a 17-0 half-time lead which marked the first time FSU had been shut out in the first half in over 13 seasons.

Extra Point with two missed FGAs (1987), Wide Right I (1991), Wide Right II (1992), Wide Right III (2000), Wide Left I (2002)…

1987 - On the game's opening drive, Florida State's quarterback, Danny McManus drove the Seminoles in position for a 40-yard field goal, but kicker Derek Schmidt never got a chance to attempt the kick as the snap sailed past the holder when McManus was not ready as the center heard the "set" call and mis-snapped.

1987 - Facing a 3rd-and-seven with 2:22 remaining, Michael Irvin takes a sideline pass and sprints 75 yards for the leading touchdown.

See every missed kick…And then he played Miami.
You just know with under three minutes to play, Bobby is thinking field goal on first down. History repeats itself.

Through all of the painful recollections, obviously nothing stands out more than the 1987 game. founder and president Todd Helmick was on the sidelines that day in helmet and pads. He was there when the burning spear hit the turf while Deion Sanders was bringing his "A" trash-talking game while catching the same from Michael Irvin. editor Dave Hershorin was way up in the NW student section of the ricter set (an old Doak Campbell stadium euphemism), fasting for that year's Yom Kippur, baking in the Indian summer heat of October Tallahassee. He, too, experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows as victory disintegrated before the 62, 561 open-jawed.

Bobby Bowden has been the first to admit, even to this day, his 1987 team may have been his best. Of course, we never had overtime back then, so our option was to go for two points in the end instead of settling for a tie. Forget for a moment that kicker (and the NCAA's all-time leading scorer at the time) Derek Schmidt missed a field goal outright, had a snap go over his head on another attempt, and missed an extra point out right. Make that earlier extra point and there is no need to go for two at the end, and an undefeated FSU (even with a tie, this argument holds with hindsight) goes on to play in the Orange Bowl for a national championship. But there's so much more to this game. One only need read what transpired in the last seven minutes to understand why Seminole fans far and wide cringe with every play during this rivalry, and at just the mention of Miami.

Too often the Noles choose to employ a strategy of "playing not to lose" instead of following the play-calling consistency which originally got them their lead(s). One can easily predict when this shift will occur - including the multitude of Cane coaches over the years, who all have happened to know just what to do when a Nole team conservatively cowers with their prized lead. Knowing Bowden-led squads combine speed, power, and savvy into execution, if the Noles themselves willingly give up their main three ingredients, it is easy pickings for opposing unit's coordinators. Offensively, we've already seen this in the Georgia Tech contest - up 14-13 as time wound down, the offense tucked tail deep in Georgia Tech territory for negative yards on four plays to ultimately turn it over on downs. All Bowden had to do was run the clock out, but Tech got the ball with ample time and successfully drove down to the FSU 46 before sputtering. The point here being just how prevalent this anemic practice still is for Nole coaches. And seeing Miami come back against both West Virginia and (especially against) Florida, proves they too still amply have the metal to pull off such antics. Just knowing that FSU hasn't purged this from their arsenal of chosen approaches is reason enough to believe it will happen again. It is how FSU lost in 1987, how FSU lost last year, and likely how FSU will lose again and again until the jugular is their only aim for all 60 minutes. If you think this Saturday's game is in the bag for the Seminoles, you've got another thing coming. Miami has a recent trend of showing up when they want to show up. You'll find nothing different on the field of battle come high noon October 11th, 2003.

With all the close ones over the years, the 1987 game best enhances this rivalry thesis. Having gone through our collections of time spent at Florida State, we feel it is best explained by the folks at the Tallahassee Democrat. Already burned into the news pages of our mind, and directly from Todd's scrapbook to his scanner to you…the 1987 Florida State versus Miami game.



CB Deion Sanders
TE Pat Carter
LB Paul McGowan
QB Danny McManus
RB Sammie Smith
FB Edgar Bennett
RB Dexter Carter
OT Pat Tomberlin
RB Marion Butts
HC Jimmy Johnson
LB Randy Shannon
QB Steve Walsh
DT Daniel Stubbs
WR Michael Irvin
WR Brian Blades
WR Melvin Bratton
FS Bennie Blades
DE Bubba McDowell