Dan Whitehurst said he could not believe what he had done, but standing on the sideline at the old Tampa Stadium, Florida State's sophomore linebacker figured he had no choice.
Had he not stuck out his foot during that 1970 Thanksgiving game, Houston defensive back Nick Holm, with blockers in front, would have turned an interception into a touchdown.
Had he not stuck out his foot, the Seminoles, needing a win for any chance at a bowl game, probably were done.
So, Whitehurst tripped Holm at the 50-yard line.
Whitehurst tried to hide among his teammates; Holm threw the ball at him.
"There's nothing in front of me and all of a sudden you're airborne," Holm recalled this week.
"I did it by impulse," Whitehurst said.
He stopped the touchdown as FSU was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. But that merely slowed Houston's 53-21 rout.
It is the Seminoles' only loss in nine games in Tampa, where they haven't played since a September 1979 win over Arizona State and on Saturday face USF at Raymond James Stadium.
It is the first game between the teams since USF's 17-7 victory in 2009 at Tallahassee.
"Paybacks are hell," said Tampa resident and former FSU receiver Barry Smith.
Saturday's game has plenty of other angles. Fourth-ranked FSU can't falter after last week's victory over then-No. 10 Clemson. And USF could use a signature win to rejuvenate a stuck-in-the-mud program.
It also has been 42 years since that crazy game against Houston, which its participants, now in their 60s, recall with high-definition clarity.
"We were all jacked up because we were getting on TV," Smith said. "The big boys only got on TV a few times a year, so it was a big deal."
Only about 18,000 showed up to watch, but about 30 million reportedly tuned to ABC.
It also was the last game for coach Bill Peterson, who in 11 seasons led the Seminoles to four bowls and in 1964 their first win over Florida.
FSU's coaching staff included linebackers coach Bill Parcells (yes, the Bill Parcells).
And Houston's high-powered veer offense featured receiver Elmo Wright, whom many say was the first to do a touchdown dance, something he showed off twice against FSU.
"Once you get into that end zone, it's a chance to have a little release," Wright said from his Houston home. "It's a celebration, not in a hot dog style. It felt good to score, that's all I can say."
"It was kind of funny to us," Whitehurst said of Wright's high-stepping celebration. "We weren't allowed to do that with Parcells. If you scored, you couldn't do any dancing. He'd say, 'Act like you've been there before.' "
Nothing, though, topped Whitehurst, who literally crossed a (side) line.
The game had rapidly gotten out of hand as FSU, which led 21-12 at halftime was down 39-21 in the fourth quarter.
Despite the plan to assign a defensive end to cover the quarterback and a linebacker to each running back, "That veer option was unstoppable," said Whitehurst, who still lives in Tallahassee.
It was about to get worse when FSU quarterback Tommy Warren threw his fourth interception on a ball tipped to Holm.
But as Holm reached the 50-yard line, "All of a sudden," he said, "I'm just flying."
That's because Whitehurst, stuck his foot into Holm's path.
"The guy came right down the line and Parcells was yelling at our offensive line, 'Somebody ought to get him,' " Whitehurst said. "So, I just stuck my foot out and tripped him. … The press asked Parcells what he thought about it. He said, 'At least I know he's paying attention.' "
Not that it helped FSU. Wright scored on the drive that began at the Seminoles 35 after the 15-yard penalty, and Houston scored again after that.
"It didn't do anything to help them win," Wright said. "It just made our team more motivated."
Today, Whitehurst would be guilty of what the rules call an "unfair act" with a touchdown being awarded if the fouled player was unimpeded to the end zone.
That is little consolation for Holm, now a crude oil broker in Sugar Land, Texas.
A junior in 1970, he lost 50 return yards to fall short for the season of beating out roommate Ronnie Peacock, something that still aggravates him. The next season Holm blew out his knee against FSU, ending his playing career.
Understandable, then, that he said of the Seminoles, "They're not my favorites."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]
Florida State is 8-1 in Tampa, including a victory over Wofford in the 1950 Cigar Bowl:
DATE OPP SCORE
Sept. 15, 1979 Arizona St. W, 31-3
Nov. 26, 1970 Houston L, 53-21
Nov. 28, 1959 Tampa W, 33-0
Nov. 30, 1957 Tampa W, 21-7
Dec. 3, 1955 Tampa W, 26-7
Dec. 4, 1954 Tampa W, 13-0
Dec. 5, 1953 Tampa W, 41-6
Jan. 2, 1950* Wofford W, 19-6
Nov. 18, 1949 Tampa W, 34-7
* Cigar Bowl was FSU's first postseason game.