Adapted from a St. Petersburg Times story by Brian Landman published Sept. 7, 2009
TALLAHASSEE — Florida State coach Bobby Bowden once summed up another gut-wrenching loss to Miami with his unique blend of folksy humor and biting commentary.
"They're going to chisel on my tombstone," Bowden said in the fall of 1991, " 'He played Miami.' "
At a time when other traditional powers were opting out of an annual series with the Hurricanes, Bowden defied that trend, and perhaps conventional wisdom, to continue taking on his intrastate rival in a game that invariably redefined the race for the national championship.
"We were going 11-1 every dang year, and what I was thinking when I said that was, 'Daggum. What we ought to do is drop Miami like those people did,' " he said. "Notre Dame played them and dropped them. Penn State played them and dropped them. Florida, too. I was thinking, 'At least, I played Miami.' "
At the time, it seemed a fitting epitaph.
At this time, too.
Bowden was always reticent to talk about his legacy, but said in 2009 that for some people, the Miami series likely will help define his place in college football history.
"That's probably why the ACC and ESPN insisted we play the game on Labor Day," he said of many later matchups with the Hurricanes. "I think it's because of what that game has meant down through the years."
Since 1983, the Hurricanes have won five national championships and played for three others. The Seminoles have won it all twice. For a while, seemingly every year, they stood in each other's way. Seemingly every year, it was the game nationally.
How could it not be a measuring stick for one's place in posterity? For player and coach alike.
"In college football, if you've got a great team, you're going to have two or three big games a year, and then you're going to have seven or eight that people are going to forget about," said former Miami coach Jimmy Johnson (1984-88). "How you fare in those big games is how your career is defined."
In 1987, Miami needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns and a stop on FSU's two-point conversion try in the final seconds to pull out a 26-25 win. Bowden unabashedly cites that game as the most exciting of his career.
In 1991 and 1992, the 'Canes eked out wins, 17-16 and 19-16, only when FSU missed field goals in the final moments. Those finishes added "Wide Right" to the sport's lexicon.
"We had some really, really great games and great athletes, and it was really fun coaching against (Bowden)," said Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson, who was at UM in the heyday of the series (1989-94). "I'm just happy that I was on the correct side of those wide rights. … I know Bobby very, very well, and he's an outstanding person. I've got tremendous respect for him. But more than anything, his legacy is Florida State football."
How he built it.
What he built it into.
During the Seminoles' run to an undefeated season and their second national title in 1999, they needed to rally to beat the 'Canes 31-21. In 2000, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, Chris Weinke, led a Seminoles comeback only to see Miami score the winning touchdown in the final minute.
"To me, in 30-plus years of coaching, that was the most awesome game I've been around. Ever," said Larry Coker, the Miami offensive coordinator that season and later its head coach. "I don't think it's fair to define coach Bowden by that series (alone), because obviously he's got the Gators down the road, but it is a special game."