Salute To Excellence

Has it really been 10 years? A whole decade has passed since <b>Charlie Ward </b>scampered, <b>Matt Frier</b> pleaded, <b>Scott Bentley </b> kicked the championship-winning field goal and finally, yes finally, Bobby Bowden got that nagging gorilla off his aging back. But there were times it appeared Bowden was as likely to get an Oscar, Emmy or Grammy before his team would win that prized crystal trophy. Several times following one-loss seasons, it appeared it just wasn't meant to be.

Has it really been 10 years?

A whole decade has passed since Charlie Ward scampered, Matt Frier pleaded, Scott Bentley kicked the championship-winning field goal and finally, yes finally, Bobby Bowden got that nagging gorilla off his aging back.

Remember how that 1993 college football season ended?

With Bowden anxious to run toward midfield of the historic Orange Bowl to shake good friend and Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne's hand, as he was doused with a huge bucket of water.

But the game wasn't actually over when Bobby got his dunking, and he had to wait a few more moments until the Cornhuskers' final field goal floundered wide left.

He had waited a lifetime to win a national championship, after several close calls, so what was another few seconds?

"It was a long wait," Bowden quipped then. "And I've never been very patient."

But over the years, he learned to be, often saying that entering retirement without a national title in his hip pocket wouldn't haunt him any more than a losing streak to Florida, or a prominent player getting into trouble off the field.

But there were times it appeared Bowden was as likely to get an Oscar, Emmy or Grammy before his team would win that prized crystal trophy. Several times following one-loss seasons, it appeared it just wasn't meant to be.

"It really won't bother me," he often said pre-1993. "If I don't get one, I don't get one -- and it won't keep me awake at nights. But will I keep trying?"

His question was rhetorical, of course.

In 1987, the Seminoles likely had the best team in college football, but a heart-wrenching 26-25 loss to Miami at Doak Campbell paved the way for the Hurricanes, who never stumbled down the stretch. FSU, which dominated the first three quarters on the way to a 19-3 lead, probably had the better team that season, but the Hurricanes ended up with their second national title. At the end of the 1988, ‘89 and ‘90 seasons, the Seminoles fielded if not the best, at the least the hottest teams in the country, but early losses prevented championships.

As proof of their strength in those years, they handed the SEC champs (Auburn), the Big Eight champs (Nebraska) and then Penn State season-ending losses in the Sugar, Fiesta and Blockbuster Bowls, respectively.

Then in ‘91, Casey Weldon led FSU to a 10-0 start until another kicking debacle left the Hurricanes celebrating in Doak Campbell. The Gators soon handed the Seminoles a second straight loss.

"That was the year, I really thought we had it going," Bowden said. "But we put so much energy into it, that once we lost (to the Hurricanes), it was a big letdown and we weren't mentally right (to beat Florida)."

A couple of years earlier, however, I remember when current defensive line coach Odell Haggins finished his playing career, and I asked what he would miss about playing at Florida State.

"I'll tell you what I won't miss," he shot back, shaking his head, "...Chasing around Charlie Ward. He could hit the light switch and get into bed before it gets dark."

Odell would prove to be somewhat clairvoyant about the then redshirt freshman who ran the scout-team offense. By 1993, after a few years of growing pains that every young quarterback experiences, Ward blossomed into one of the best double-threat quarterbacks that college football has ever seen.

To say he was a great scrambler who had a good arm would be unfair. To say he was a drop-back passer who could run well wouldn't be completely accurate, either. But since I began watching college football closely since 1972, Charlie was the best I ever saw at combining the two skills. During that season, he was Barry Sanders when he scrambled and Dan Marino when he stood in the pocket.

Behind Ward, the Seminoles jumped to No. 1 and stayed there by blowing everyone out. That is until one of the 10 most-anticipated matchups in college history -- a meeting in South Bend against No. 2 Notre Dame.

And we all know how that game ended, with Ward (who won the Heisman Trophy that season) scrambling left and throwing incomplete toward the Irish's end zone. Afterward, Frier pleaded with the media not to drop the Seminoles too far in the polls.

A week later, on that same field, Boston College shocked Notre Dame, and the Seminoles never stumbled again, winning in Gainesville against a very good Florida team that won its first official SEC title.

Then the Seminoles came from behind to edge Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl, ending the season back where they spent most of it – at No. 1.

To this day, Lou Holtz maintains his once-beaten Irish deserved the national championship instead of FSU because of the head-to-head result and their identical records. But the BCS wasn't even a gleam in Roy Kramer's eye a decade ago, so it was left to the two polls.

Whether Florida State did or didn't deserve the title that season, Bobby Bowden coached what was perhaps the nation's best team on as many as four other occasions but never received enough lucky bounces to win a championship.

So those who begrudged him one then missed the point. Of course, 10 years later, now has another title on his half-century-old resume, and that one (1999 season) has no detractors.

But it was the ‘93 team and its accomplishment that put the FSU coach into another category, joining the Paternos, Bryants, Royals and Hayes in the Coaches' Legends Club. Until then, he had the wins, he had the respect and he had the reputation, but he never had the championship. As I categorize the milestones for the FSU foot ball program, I would say that 1947 was its birth, 1976 was the year it found its identity, 1987 was its maturation and 1993 was its coronation.

Has it really been 10 years?


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