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The top 100 FSU football plays: No. 35— Butler picks off Torretta on first play from scrimmage

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DBU strikes again.

LeRoy Butler and Lawrence Dawsey celebrate after Butler’s opening play interception

Date: October 28th, 1989

Location: Tallahassee, Florida; Doak Campbell Stadium

Opponent: No. 2 Miami Hurricanes

A few weeks ago we illustrated how Florida State’s style in the late 1980s and early ‘90s took on the characteristics of the baddest man on the planet at that time, Iron Mike Tyson. Like Mike, the Seminoles came out swinging early and often, frequently landing a hay-maker to the chin before the broadcast completed the starting lineups.

Perhaps no game better defined this era than 1989 Miami.

The 1989 season was one of transition for FSU. After finishing 11-1 in both 1987 and 1988 (the first ever back-to-back top 5 finishes in school history), the Seminoles were facing a bit of rebuild. Gone were NFL talents such as Deion Sanders, Sammie Smith, Pat Tomberlin, and Marion Butts. Gone, too, was senior QB Chip Ferguson.

Make no mistake, there was still truck loads of talent in Tallahassee. Enough talent to garner a preseason number six ranking in the AP Poll. But much of that talent were being asked to lead the team on a game by game basis for the first time. Two weeks into the season, Florida State had lost as many games as they had in the prior two seasons combined and no longer had any number next to their name at all.

The Seminoles started to show signs of life with a 31-21 victory in Baton Rouge over #21 LSU. A couple weeks later, FSU dominated a top 20 Syracuse team in the Carrier Dome, 41-10. The pieces of an elite team were starting to come together. Two weeks after that, FSU beat an Auburn team that would finish the year 6th in the country. Left for dead after week two, the ‘Noles were back in the top 10 and looking to make a statement with the second ranked Hurricanes coming to Doak Campbell.

Senior QB Peter Tom Willis was putting up big time numbers through the air, tallying three 300-yard passing days in the last five games. Dexter Carter, Amp Lee, and Edgar Bennett were developing into a terrific trio out of the backfield. Sophomore Kirk Carruthers had a breakout year, on his way to a team-leading 145 tackles. And while replacing a legend like Deion is impossible, senior LeRoy Butler was doing his best to continue the DBU tradition, anchoring a young secondary while playing at a 1st-team All-American level.

Of course, Miami wasn’t just another highly ranked opponent. This was the program that single-handedly prevented Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles from playing for national titles in 1987 and 1988. This was the program that was 9-1 all time in Tallahassee, with 3 of those 9 wins coming by a single point and a 4th by two points. This was the only program in the country that match the speed, physicality, and bravado of the players wearing Garnet and Gold. This was the program that had won four straight games over FSU, including a 31-0 white-washing of the #1 Seminoles the prior year. This was the smack-talking, self-promoting, 2 Live Crew blaring, Cocaine-Cowboy era Miami Hurricanes.

On a picture perfect October night, with a palpable electricity in the air, Florida State and Miami met in a primetime showdown back when college football fans around the country could only watch one game on a Saturday evening. And the Seminoles were determined not to disappoint.

Before we get to the featured play, allow me a brief digression. When the topic of “loudest games ever at Doak” is brought up, 2011 Oklahoma seems to have become the trendy pick. Having been in the stands for that gallant effort, I can attest that was, in fact, extremely loud. Other people will typically chime in with some individual moments such as the Miami Muff in 2005, Rock Preston’s game tying touchdown against UF in 1994, or P-Dub’s magical touchdown against the Gators in 1998. All deafening moments for sure.

However, do not be misguided. Having been in the stadium—in the exact same seat, in fact—for every single one of those moments, I assure you that none of them meet the bar set by 1989 Miami. Despite Doak Campbell holding scantly more than 60,000 fans at that time, I’ve never attended an FSU home game with a louder peak volume, nor a more sustained, intense roar throughout the entire contest. In fact, Frank had to turn off his hearing aids after the left one cracked an eardrum.

But more on the jubilant noise later in the countdown. For now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The night’s fireworks actually started prior to kickoff. The confident ‘Canes decided they were not going to allow Renegade to gallop down to mid-field. FSU players and fans did not appreciate this. On the game’s first play from scrimmage, FSU’s defense voiced their displeasure.

(***Editor’s note: the featured play starts at the 3:22 mark. However, to fully grasp the totality of circumstances leading up to the game, it’s best to watch it from the beginning. That is where I’ve linked it. Oh, and you probably should put in some ear buds if you’re watching at work...)

Future Heisman Trophy winner, Gino Torretta, took the snap and was immediately flushed to his left by pressure off the corner from senior linebacker Shelton Thompson. Thompson is soon joined in pursuit by Odell Haggins and Carruthers. Torretta, making his first road start, lofts the ball up just before being annihilated by Carruthers. Butler, having dropped back into a soft zone, reads Torretta the whole way and is waiting for the interception.

Doak Campbell, still an erector set back then, goes nuts. But what the crowd didn’t know at the time was, they ain’t seen nothing yet...

We’ll check back in on this game after the calendar turns to August.