Fittingly enough, the first banner season of Robinson football was sparked by a banner incident.
Forty-nine autumns ago, the Knights were steamrolling their way to what remains — for at least a few more days — the only unbeaten regular season in program history. Through seven games, coach Holland "Luke" Aplin's team had allowed only 13 points, and was stupefying opponents with an innovative spread-type offense.
Yet Jimmy Smith, then a senior end, recalls he and his 30 or so teammates not being at their sharpest for the Nov. 15 home date with nearby nemesis Plant.
"We were all set to have a flat game, I'll be quite honest with you," Smith said.
But by the time the Panthers galloped onto Jack Peters Field — smack through the Robinson cheerleaders' banner — the Knights had transformed from flat to fired up.
"They spent a lot of time on it, and I think the cheerleaders were all upset," said Smith, whose wife (the former Mary McCormick) was a Knights cheerleader. "I can remember it like it was yesterday, those guys running through that doggone thing."
Forty-eight minutes later, Robinson had inflicted a 42-0 thumping on the Panthers, courtesy of 228 passing yards and four TDs by quarterback Randy Smith. It remains Robinson's most one-sided win in the series.
"Plant showed no respect for our boys when they ran through that paper," Aplin told the Tampa Tribune.
"My boys told me after the ball game that the hardest Plant hit all night is when they went through that paper."
Nearly a half-century later, the 2012 Knights will try to clinch the program's second 10-0 campaign against -- of all people -- Plant. The similarities between these Knights and their crew cut predecessors is striking.
Among the commonalities: scary-good defenses (the 2012 Knights have 12 defensive touchdowns), colorful coaches, and raucous followings. According to The Tampa Tribune, that '63 Plant-Robinson game drew 7,500 fans. Friday's showdown is expected to attract more than 3,000, a massive audience for the modern era.
But while the current Knights veer more toward punishing opponents with a committee of backs and veteran line, Aplin's team — which finished 11-1 and lost 16-14 to Coral Gables in a controversial state final -- threw at will.
"That's pretty much what we did," recalled then-Knights junior Larry Smith, who went on to become an all-American tailback at the University of Florida before spending six seasons in the NFL.
"We weren't a running team. Randy (Smith) threw it all over the field. We were one of the first teams to run a bunch of spread stuff. I played flanker as much as I did running back."
That night, Smith caught passes of 9 and 28 yards from Randy Smith (no relation), while Marty Bray blocked a Panthers punt that teammate John Damron recovered in the end zone. Plant finished with seven first downs.
Clearly, Friday's rematch doesn't figure to be nearly as one-sided on paper. Plant (8-1) has won the last seven meetings.
But if the Panthers decide to run through paper, who knows how that might motivate these Knights?
"I just think the players took it a little personal," recalled Jimmy Smith, no relation to the other Smiths. "Truth is, Plant probably didn't know (the banner) wasn't there's.
"Well, maybe they did."
Times file photo: Former Robinson coach Holland Aplin (left) helped guide the '63 Knights to an undefeated regular season