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The top 100 FSU football plays: No. 76— ’Noles defense denies Gator Hail Mary

UF QB Jesse Palmer threw up a prayer in 1999. Florida State’s defense made sure that it went unanswered.

Chris Hope #28

Date: November 20, 1999

Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka The Swamp, Gainesville, FL

Opponent: No. 3 Florida Gators

In 1999, Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden had pretty much done it all in the realm of college football. He had won National Championships, beaten marquee opponents, and established FSU as a brand known throughout the country. At this point in his career, Bowden was already a legend of the sport with nothing left to prove. However, believe it or not, there had been one accomplishment that had eluded him throughout his coaching tenure. Bowden had never had a perfect season.

The 1999 FSU football team started off the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. That ranking, and the increased scrutiny that comes with it, can often be a death sentence for some teams. For a recent example of that, refer back to the 2012 USC Trojan football team that started the season atop the AP poll only to finish the year with a record of 7-6.

Luckily for fans in the garnet and gold, the 1999 Seminoles were not the 2012 Trojans and Bobby Bowden was not Lane Kiffin. Florida State used that No. 1 ranking as fuel to propel the team to a 10-0 record coming into their Week 11 matchup against the Florida Gators. At the time, Steve Spurrier’s team was ranked No. 3 in the country. They had a 9-1 record with their only loss coming against Alabama in overtime. As was often the case for this rivalry in the 90’s, the winner of this game would likely be a participant in the National Championship.

This game was going to take place at The Swamp, and Spurrier’s teams rarely ever lost at home. Up to that point Spurrier had coached in 60 games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as the head coach for the Univeristy of Florida. His record in those games stood at 57-3. The ’Noles were in for a fight.

Florida State scored a touchdown on its opening drive of the contest, but the UF defense did a great job of keeping the game close. The Seminoles took a 13-6 lead into halftime that could have easily been much larger. In fact, the Gators even took a 16-13 lead in the middle of the 3rd quarter after a pick-six by Gator cornerback Bennie Alexander. Would perfection slip through Bowden’s fingers once more?

The ’Noles roared back behind the strength of a Sebastian Janikowski field goal, a blocked punt by FSU linebacker Tommy Polley, a Jeff Chaney touchdown run, and a later scoring connection from Chris Weinke to Snoop Minnis. FSU had a 30-16 lead and could breathe for a moment.

That moment was short-lived. UF QB Doug Johnson hit receiver Brian Haugabrook to trim the lead to 30-23 with just over three minutes left to play in the game. Much to the dismay of Florida State fans everywhere, Florida found itself with the ball in the final seconds of the 4th quarter.

Spurrier had been alternating quarterbacks throughout the game to varying degrees of success. With a second left to play, Jesse Palmer was Spurrier’s chosen man under center. Palmer took the snap, dropped back in the pocket, and uncorked a high-arcing pass that was destined for the endzone. The stadium held its breath.

Palmer’s pass was eventually batted to the ground, just out of the reach of UF receiver Haugabrook. The ’Nole defense had done its job once again and helped secure their team a berth in the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans, LA. This was one of the most pivotal points in a historic season of Florida State football.

The Seminoles would go onto beat Virginia Tech in that title game and secure the second National Championship in program history. Many descriptors have been used over the years to chronicle Bobby Bowden’s tenure as head coach of Florida State University. Outstanding. Exceptional. Legendary. In 1999, one more adjective got added to that list: perfect.