The Warhorses

FSU and Miami bring gobs of history when the rivals from the Sunshine State meet on the field

If Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan were to wrestle, they’d still draw a crowd. The same goes for championship veterans Florida State and Miami.

Like those aging titans of the ring, FSU and Miami have seen their better days, and no one would dare claim, when Willie Taggart’s Seminoles meet Mark Richt’s ‘Canes this Saturday, that the rivalry is still in its heyday. Florida State and Miami have enough history between the two schools to fill up books, but with the flux of the last 20 years and the fact that the stakes have not been as high, admittedly the rivalry has lost some of its luster.

FSU receiver Anquin Boldin against Miami in 1996 | Photo courtesy FSU Athletics

Miami, arriving at this year’s game as the odds-on favorite, is riding an angry four-game winning streak into the game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. After the ‘Canes were baptized into big boy football by LSU in the first game of the season, they have gathered themselves in the land of patsies, defeating Savannah State, Toledo, Florida International, and North Carolina in succession. Redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry has replaced Malik Rosier as the Miami quarterback, and the ‘Canes have relied on a stout defense that allows only 244 yards per game.

Florida State also seems to have found something over the last few weeks as well. After getting clobbered by Virginia Tech and Syracuse, and almost dropping a home game against the darling of the Southern Conference, Samford, Florida State has gathered itself on the arm of junior quarterback Deondre Francois, who has averaged 323 yards passing over the last two games. The question for FSU when it travels south for the 63rd installment of the Seminoles and the Hurricanes is whether or not its inexperienced offensive line can provide enough precious seconds for Francois to unleash his aerial firepower.

Rick Stockstill, who was the quarterback at FSU from 1979-81, is now the head football coach at MTSU | Photo courtesy FSU Athletics

Historically, the two teams have played every year since 1969, alternating games between Tallahassee and Miami, but it wasn’t until Bobby Bowden arrived at FSU in 1976 and Howard Schnellenberger at Miami in 1980 that the game began to take on much larger implications.

Before Schnellenberger’s arrival, Miami was a middling football team—a filler game or, with some exception, a fun road trip for college football blue bloods. Across the years, the Hurricanes had gone to a handful of bowl games—mostly under head coach Andy Gustafson—and had produced a handful of All-Americans, including George Mira and Ted Hendricks. But after Gustafson retired to become the UM athletic director, the ‘Canes began years of unrest. Miami had six coaches in the 1970s and posted a 44-67 record. Games were played in the luxurious Orange Bowl but crowds were far from capacity.

Miami’s rise occurred principally because of two men: Lou Saban and the aforementioned Schnellenberger. Saban had experience as an NFL head coach (Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills) and, after spreading seeds on the recruiting trail, was able to harvest a crop of professional-caliber players. If Saban, head coach of the Hurricanes from 1977-78, laid a foundation of talent— including a quarterback from Pennsylvania named Jim Kelly—Schnellenberger proved to be the architect. Miami and Schnellenberger burst onto the scene in 1983 and captured the national championship by defeating the Nebraska Cornhuskers 31-30 in the Orange Bowl.

Terrell Buckley of FSU makes a tackle while Miami receiver Lamar Thomas looks on | Photo courtesy FSU Athletics

Before Miami won its first championship, FSU had tinkered with success, going 11-1 and 10-2 in consecutive seasons. But FSU’s rise to the summit of the college football world was not complete until after Miami had multiple rings. Until 1987, FSU had been a really good football team but was not the same Florida State that would later run off 14 straight 10 win seasons and two national titles.

The Seminoles eventually found their swagger with the recruitment of a highly touted option quarterback out of North Fort Myers, Florida, named Deion Sanders. “I had ‘Prime Time’ on my license plate the first day I arrived in Tallahassee,” Sanders once said, and after switching to cornerback, “Prime Time” made two-time All-American and took six INTs to the house over his four-year college career.

Photo courtesy FSU Athletics

Going 11-1 in ’87, FSU was a two-point conversion away from Bowden’s first national championship. Unfortunately, that conversion attempt fell short against Miami, which took home the title in Jimmy Johnson’s fourth year at the helm. Playing one of the toughest slates in the country that year, the Seminoles defeated No. 6 Auburn in Auburn and No. 5 Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl to finish second in the Associated Press voting. In addition to Sanders, the 1987 Seminoles team included quarterback Peter Tom Willis, running back Sammie Smith and a young volunteer assistant named Mark Richt.

The ’87 FSU-Miami game will be remembered not only as a great one, but that around 50 players from the two rosters combined sniffed the grass an NFL field.

“The U” stamped its imprint on the college football world in the decade of the 1980s by bringing beaucoup talent to south Florida. Players like Vinny Testaverde, Michael Irvin, Steve Walsh, Cleveland Gary, Bennie Blades, Jerome Brown, Craig Erickson and Leon Searcy built “The U” into a national juggernaut. In the ‘80s alone, Miami produced 16 All-Americans and won three national titles.

They dominated FSU, too. In the 1980s, the ‘Canes went 7-3 against their in-state rivals, and after one of the three losses (1989), Miami was able to recover and bring home yet another national championship. Florida State won the series in the 1990s, going 6-4 against the ‘Canes and notching two national championships for Bowden. The series began to decline in the decade of the 2000s, but still produced some memorable moments, including “Wide Left” (2002) and “Wide Right IV” (2004).

Miami has not defeated FSU at home since 2004, but leads the overall series, 32-30.

This year’s game may not feature Jimmy Johnson and Bobby Bowden, Michael Irvin or Deion Sanders, but shoot, this is still FSU-Miami and it takes a lot to kill a warhorse. H&A

Photos courtesy FSU Athletics 

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