I attended FSU for seven years (1989-1996) during the height of it’s football reign and remained a season ticket holder through the 1999 title campaign on to the early 2000’s when it all went wrong. My life is marked by the big wins and gut-punch losses of the Garnet and Gold.
My freshman year started 0-2 with losses to Southern Miss, who had a quarterback named Brett Favre and Clemson led by Terry Allen. I was confused by the lack of success and not so acclimated to Seminole Nation that I wasn’t compelled to root for Miami in Tallahassee that year when the Noles pulled off the upset on their way to a 10-2, bowl-winning, top five campaign, and by root I mean coming close to a physical altercation in the stands during the game.
By 1990, I was converted forever. Noles all day, every day….ride or die….or whatever other verbal tribute to eternal relations one might come up with. I was in the opposite end zone in the 1991 Game of the Century with Miami for WIDE RIGHT I. It felt like a death. I sat frozen in my seat with everyone else. Five minutes, fifteen minutes, maybe thirty minutes before any of us could muster the energy to get up and walk out of the stadium, our soul’s scarred and spirit crushed.
I was taking the LSAT on the morning of our 1992 game with Miami, and missed kick off. Before the last section of the test, the administrator said the simple words, “Vanover brought the kick off back.” Everybody in the exam exploded with guttural joy. I don’t remember a thing about the test beyond that moment, and of course a few hours later when we sent another kick WIDE RIGHT.
In 1993, we seemed to have figured it out. We were for most of that season a great football team. On one late afternoon in South Bend we jumped off sides and missed tackles like a freaking JV team. I was up till 5am that night mourning with friends. It honestly felt like the program was cursed or fundamentally flawed in some way that it would never win a National Championship. Notre Dame improbably faltered against Boston College, and FSU beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to make the world ok again. It was never simple though. Notre Dame and FSU each had one loss, and there was no championship game so the title wasn’t decided until the polls came out the next day. I was flying back to Tallahassee that day, and didn’t sleep with a basketball-sized knot in my stomach until it was official.
There were two dominant feelings from those days. One was the big game. The sense of anxious anticipation that was felt all day and the electricity of the walk to the stadium. And then the enormous sense of pride and fulfillment when the game was won. I would have done nothing but yell and cuss for three hours, but the actions of the players on the field somehow became mine, and it was shared by everyone in the stadium. It has to be experienced to be understood. The other feeling was pride. With the collected talent in Garnet and Gold, a blow-out seemed virtually impossible. Amidst any spell of bad play would arise a fundamental pride in our identity that would bring us to the precipice of a missed field goal, batted pass or fourth down failure that could have won the day. It was strangely comforting.
When things went wrong in the early 2000’s, the feelings changed. There was no standard. Any opponent could get us on the wrong day and win. We were blown-out on occasion and stripped of our pride. T-Shirts and Jersey’s would be hurled into the garage or bottom of the closet not to be worn again during the ongoing disaster of a season. It was a dark time, and made worse by the contrived connection to past glory.Try as I may, I could not bastardize the team. The theme of a return to glory was something I grew to hate. Following each miserable loss, it was inevitable that one crestfallen player or another would say we “need to play Florida State football”, or “get back to being Florida State.”
It was a deceptive and harmful fallacy. As Bill Parcells says, “You are what the record says you are.” For the 2000’s, FSU was a mistake-prone, poorly prepared and thoroughly mediocre football program trading poorly on past accomplishments, and in need of a new beginning more than a return to glory.
Last Saturday night, in Death Valley marked that new beginning. It was a beginning sown through the dismissal/retirement of Bobby Bowden and the growing pains of the Jimbo Fisher era. Pains that had to be endured to live in the now and not the past.
It is again in the feelings. The feeling of comfort watching Jameis Winston play quarterback. That special relationship of trust with the player most responsible for your team’s success that he will make the plays that need to be made, and keep fighting when things aren’t going well so every man on the roster, in the stands or on the couch believes we have a chance until the final whistle. Ward….Weinke….gave us that. From his first start against Pitt, Winston has inspired in me the same feeling, and after Saturday night it is apparent to even the blind that he makes Florida State special.