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For Florida State Seminoles and Bobby Bowden, game against Miami Hurricanes always defined drama

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."

Bobby Bowden vs. Miami coaches

Carl Selmer (1976)0-1.

Lou Saban (1977-78)1-1.

H. Schnellenberger (1979-83)2-3

Jimmy Johnson (1984-88)1-4

Dennis Erickson (1989-94)2-4

Butch Davis (1995-2000)5-1

Larry Coker (2001-06)2-4

Randy Shannon (2007-)1-2

Overall: 14-20

Bobby's best

Trying to come up with just five Florida State-Miami games to highlight from Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden's time in Tallahassee (since 1976) is no easy task. ESPN Classic could devote a day to replaying the best from the thrilling rivalry. Here are our choices, listed in chronological order, for fans to remember and relish.

Oct. 3, 1987, Tallahassee

The No. 4-ranked Seminoles jumped to a 19-3 lead only to see UM quarterback Steve Walsh throw three touchdown passes, including two to Michael Irvin in the fourth quarter, to give the No. 3 Hurricanes a 26-19 lead. FSU answered with a touchdown and, with 42 seconds left, eschewed a tie to go for two and the win. UM safety Bubba McDowell batted away a pass for tight end Pat Carter to secure the win. Miami finished 12-0 to give Jimmy Johnson a championship. FSU ended 11-1 and settled for No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll.

Oct. 28, 1989, Tallahassee

The No. 2-ranked 'Canes had the nation's stingiest defense, but the No. 6 Seminoles, who hadn't forgotten the embarrassment of a 31-0 loss in the 1988 opener when they were preseason No. 1, rolled to a 24-10 win. FSU running back Dexter Carter (now an assistant coach) had 142 yards and a touchdown, and UM freshman quarterback Gino Torretta (a future Heisman Trophy winner) threw four interceptions. Miami, however, still went on to win the national title. FSU, which had opened the year with losses to Southern Mississippi (with Brett Favre) and Clemson, finished No. 3.

Nov. 16, 1991, Tallahassee

This game was billed as one for the ages. FSU was No. 1 and had been all season. Miami was No. 2. The 'Canes trailed 16-7 entering the final quarter, but Gino Torretta led his team on two scoring drives for a 17-16 lead with 3:01 left. Quarterback Casey Weldon marched the Seminoles from their 20-yard line to the UM 17 to set up a 34-yard field-goal try. But Gerry Thomas, who had hit from 31 and 20 yards, saw the kick sail wide right (the first of several in the series). Again, UM went on to win the national title; FSU wound up fourth.

Oct. 9, 1999, Tallahassee

No. 1 FSU had more to worry about than its chief nemesis. Receivers Peter Warrick, the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, and Laveranues Coles had been arrested earlier in the week in connection with a shopping spree at a Dillard's. On game day, the Seminoles then found themselves trailing the No. 19 'Canes 21-14 late in the first half. But quarterback Chris Weinke rallied the team, and the defense pitched a second-half shutout for a 31-21 win. FSU went on to cap an undefeated season with its second national title.

Oct. 7, 2000, Miami

The No. 7 Hurricanes surprisingly led 17-0 at halftime against the top-ranked Seminoles before eventual Heisman winner Chris Weinke brought FSU back with three second-half touchdown passes. Down 24-20 in sweltering heat, UM quarterback Ken Dorsey got hot. He hit 6 of 7 passes, including a 13-yard touchdown to tight end Jeremy Shockey, to give UM a 27-24 lead with 46 seconds left. That was enough when FSU's Matt Munyon missed a 49-yard field goal wide right. FSU still reached the national title game, losing to Oklahoma. The game signaled UM's return, however, as it won the 2001 title and played for the 2002 title.

For Florida State Seminoles and Bobby Bowden, game against Miami Hurricanes always defined drama 11/30/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 30, 2009 8:19pm]

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