Salute to Excellence

The memory of overcoming the loss at Notre Dame, winning an emotion-packed game at Florida and then beating Nebraska in a tight Orange Bowl has enabled FSU to cherish its first national title 10 years ago. When Charlie Ward reflects on that season, however, he recalls a team built on unity and cohesiveness. A team that, sure, had its share of superstars -- Ward is possibly the Seminoles' most recognized and heralded athlete in history -- but one that come together and shared a common goal.

The memory of overcoming the loss at Notre Dame, winning an emotion-packed game at Florida and then beating Nebraska in a tight Orange Bowl has enabled Florida State to cherish its first national title 10 years ago.

When Charlie Ward reflects on that dream season, however, he recalls a team built on unity and cohesiveness. A team that, sure, had its share of superstars -- Ward is possibly the Seminoles' most recognized and heralded athlete in history -- but one that came together and shared a common goal.

"The one thing I keep saying over and over, the team that we had was probably not the most talented team that Florida State has ever put on the football field," Ward said Thursday at a get-together with the media at the Seminoles' basketball facility.

"But the one thing we did do was we worked together. We played as a unit. Everyone, as far as outside, looked at me as the quote-unquote superstar. But that wasn't the case. Everyone was a superstar. Everyone played well, together. That was the determining factor on how well we played and the reason we were able to get to where we wanted to be because guys were willing to sacrifice, even the leaders."

Ward is one of more than 60 players from that team who are expected to attend a celebration dinner Friday and get honored during the Seminoles' game Saturday against Colorado at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Ward, 32, who arrived in Tallahassee Thursday, said he's looking forward to catching up with his former teammates.

Eleven members of the 1993 team remain in the NFL, led by Derrick Brooks, of course. The others are Corey Fuller, Sam Cowart, brothers Henri and Zack Crockett, Warrick Dunn, Todd Fordham, Danny Kanell, Greg Spires, Tra Thomas and Peter Boulware. A total of 36 players from that team played at least one season in the NFL.

Of course, Ward, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1993 and helped direct the Seminoles to a 12-1 record and that first national title, opted for the NBA, spending the past 10 seasons with the New York Knicks. He will attend the Seminoles' celebration with his wife and two children, Kaleb (3) and Hope (three months).

"I don't know what it's really going to feel like," Ward said of the celebration.

"I know my son is going to be more interested in looking at the horse (Renegade) because he's into that type of thing. And also seeing some of the guys again because I haven't seen them since we left school. Looking at guys and seeing how big they've gotten and seeing what they've done since we've left school -- are they married, do they have kids? Stuff like that."

Ward says he remains in touch with Dunn and Brooks as well as coach Bobby Bowden and former Seminole offensive coordinator Mark Richt, now Georgia's head coach.

"I am bad about making phone calls (laughing)," Ward said.

"I am trying to get better at it. It's sad to say, but I haven't really kept in touch with too many guys on that team. That doesn't mean I don't like them, and vice-a-versa, but our paths have gone (different paths). It just happens that way. Maybe after this weekend it will get better (laughing)."

Of course, most of the chatter will center on the Seminoles' first national title.

Back then, voting in the Associated Press (media) and USA Today/ESPN coaches polls were the sole determination of a national champion. Notre Dame, which beat the Seminoles 31-24 seven weeks earlier, believed it should have staked a claim with its 11-1 record.

Ward, who ranks second in career total yards at FSU with 6,636 yards and has the highest completion rate for a career (62.3 percent) and lowest interception percentage (2.90), says he doesn't reflect on one game when he looks back at his collegiate career.

Ward enjoyed the entire process, from opening his career as a reserve punter to his rise and struggles as the Seminoles' quarterback to the birth of FSU's no-huddle offense out of desperation at Georgia Tech in 1992 to FSU's national title run and the Heisman Trophy.

Ward also says he keeps a close eye on FSU quarterback Chris Rix and admires his competitiveness.

"I have great memories from the first game through the last game," Ward said.

"You may say that's very broad. You may have one or two. But I don't. I enjoy…even people say the interceptions. I think that's a stepping stone. That's something I remember. You can't enjoy winning a championship if you don't enjoy throwing interceptions or being booed, or whatever the case may be. You always have to remember where you came from.

"When I look back at it, I am grateful I had those experiences because it taught me a lot about perseverance and never giving up and trusting people. Because there's a lot of people who didn't believe in me -- not inside, but outside. I had to trust the coaching staff and trust my teammates to stick with me. My position is a high-profile position at quarterback.

"Even today, with Chris Rix, everyone has been down on him the last few years. But we are human beings and we all make mistakes. I am just grateful he has come back and he has worked very hard to get the team back where he would like for it to be. His standards and expectations are no lower or that much higher than what we expect of him as alumni, writers and fans. I am grateful to see him bouncing back, especially after the other night (against Georgia Tech). I've been there before. Going bad and all of a sudden you turn it on and you are able to win a game. That showed a lot of character. .. I like his attitude. He could have easily given up in a lot of situations but chose not to. He chose to come back and work."

Again, Ward said that quality helped the Seminoles in ‘93, especially following the loss at Notre Dame. When the Irish lost the following week in a stunning upset against Boston College, the Seminoles crushed N.C. State 62-3 later that night, then won at Florida to gain the Orange Bowl spot against No. 1 Nebraska.

Ward pointed to individual sacrifices as the force behind the Seminoles' drive.

"For example, Lonnie Johnson and William Floyd, two guys who were leaders, had to sacrifice time on the field, had to sacrifice touches," Ward said.

"You very rarely heard them complain. They may have complained, which most athletes would do if you get taken out of situations, but they were able to be positive with it. We were able to fit them in. Guys like that. You look back and say all the guys, like Warrick (Dunn) and myself, and the guys who made it in the NFL, you forget about guys who didn't make it. But they were very sacrificial here to help our cause. Guys like that I am grateful for. It's unfortunate we made the changes as far as the offense (shotgun) is concerned, but they made it work. It made my job easier, the coaching staff's job easier and everyone elses' job easier because they were very encouraging."

Of course, Ward can't believe it's already been a decade since that achievement.

"I remember when I was 20 and I never thought that I would be like 30," Ward said. "I am still pondering that deal, that I am 32 and will be 33 next month. But the good thing about it is I feel good. I guess, it hasn't set in that it's 10 years but it is 10 years."


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