Every game, every play.
I've been using this as my signature on posts on the message board for several years. To me, it epitomizes what FSU football is all about. And, what set the Noles apart from other teams for years. It states, better than any other short phrase I can think of, why FSU was able to create and sustain the longest and most successful dynasty in NCAA football history.
Two scenes that demonstrate this attitude are indelibly embedded in my mind.
The first is Bobby on the sidelines during a game. I don't remember exactly which one, but I think it was one of those thrilling Miami games back in the late 80's. The defense had just come off the field. Bobby was pacing up and down in front of them. He was extremely animated. He kept repeating, "Somebody has to make a play! Who's gonna make a play? Somebody has to make a play!"
That has always been Bobby's philosophy: Great players make great plays. Great teams have great players.
The second is an interview with Chuck Amato. It was done about a month before he was hired by North Carolina State. The subject of the interview was recruiting for FSU. The reporter asked him how he evaluated talent and what he looked for when recruiting a player for the Seminoles. He said he looked for three things. And, the player had to have all three. Two wasn't enough. These three were the MINIMUM requirements to be considered for a scholarship to play football in the garnet and gold. I'm paraphrasing, but using quotes because I don't want anyone to think that these are my ideas. They came straight from Coach Chest.
"First, they have to be fast. It doesn't matter what position. If you don't have speed, you can't play at the level we play. You've got to be able to get to the ball, and get there in a hurry.
Second, when you arrive you have to be in a bad mood. I see a lot of kids are fast, but when they get to the ball they don't want to hit the guy, they want to play patty-cake. If you want to play for FSU, you better arrive in a hurry and slobberknock somebody when you get there.
And third, you have to play hard – EVERY PLAY. I see a lot of great athletes in high school. They will play hard for a couple of plays, then take a play off. I'm not gonna lose my voice yelling at a guy like that. If you aren't willing to go all out - in every drill, in every game, on EVERY DOWN – then you can't play at Florida State."
That sums it up. That attitude is the difference between good and great, between all-conference and all-American, between top ten and playing for the Sears Trophy. That attitude epitomizes the dynasty.
I have a philosophy about big plays in football games. I think most big plays go unnoticed. Everybody knows that Hudson and Pope made a big play on the last play of the game. And Quan had one on his TD catch. Of course, Zo's interception was a big play.
But, I think there were at least two plays in the game that were every bit as big as those three. A lot of big plays really don't seem big at the time. And, just as often, they become big because they weren't made. If they had been made, hardly anyone would consider them as big plays. They are plays that – if made – can change the momentum of the game, or keep the momentum of the game from changing.
Here are the two plays from last Saturday that I think were as big as any two in the game: The first occurred in the second quarter. Noles up 31-7. Seemingly in complete control. ISU gets the ball with under two minutes to play. 70 yards from paydirt. It's third and long (8 yards or so).
If ISU doesn't convert, they punt, FSU runs out the clock and goes into the locker room in great shape. We will never know for sure, but I think that if that happens, ISU never gets back into the game. What happens? ISU completes a 12 yard pass for a first down. It was a big play that wasn't made. If it had been made, no one would notice. Didn't have to be an interception returned for a TD. Didn't have to be a bone jarring tackle creating a turnover. All it had to be was good coverage in the secondary, causing an incompletion. But, it wasn't made. And, looking back, it was a big play.
The second occurred in the third quarter. Noles up 31-14. ISU backed up inside their 10 on a nice punt by Gwaltney. Two plays later, it's third and about 12. Once again, we'll never know for sure, but I believe that if ISU goes three-and-out and punts, FSU will get the ball around the 40 yard line and probably drive for a TD. I think a three-and-out means that ISU never gets back in the game. What happens? ISU completes a 25 or 30 yard pass for a first down. I am not an expert. I don't know for sure whose fault it was. But, I do no this: It was a big play that wasn't made. All we needed was good coverage and an incompletion. But, we didn't get it. And, because we didn't get it, ISU goes on a 19 play, 10 minute drive that completely changed the momentum of the game.
Now, back to my original thesis.
Why is it so important to play hard on every down? Why put forth 100% effort on every snap? Why not save your energy for those obvious important situations? Why was coach Amato so emphatic about a player NEVER taking even a single, seemingly unimportant down off?
I think the reason is obvious. You never know which play will be the big play. It might be a second and six from the 40 yard line in the first quarter. It might be a break up of a pass on third down in the second quarter. It might be picking up a blitz and giving the QB time to throw the ball on a first and ten from your own 25 yard line. As a player, you never know when it will be your turn to make – or not make – a play that will change the entire complexion of the game.
I do know this. I know I saw two plays last Saturday, that changed the complexion of the game. Neither was seemed especially big at the time. But, in my mind, they were huge. And, I'm betting they were huge in the eyes of the coaching staff when they reviewed the tapes.
....Every game, EVERY play!
It really is important. It could be the difference between the Peach Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl.