Date: September 17th, 1988
Location: “Death Valley”, Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
Opponent: No. 10 Clemson Tigers
He’s Deion Sanders. Yeah, you know his name. And if you don’t, you know he’s not blame.
Deion Sanders’ senior season didn’t start out so hot in 1988. The 31-0 embarrassment on national television in Coral Gables basically dashed the Seminoles national title hopes before Labor Day.
#1 pre-season ranking: Gone
Fun team rap song: Squandered
It would have been easy for Prime Time Sanders to shut things down and focus on his limitless feature in a post-amateur life, but Prime Time goes to work every day. One week later, Brett Favre came to Tallahassee. Favre found the Sander buzz saw less than 20 seconds into the game.
You throw it his way, you know he’ll be there.
Fast forward another week. Bobby Bowden’s squad heads north to face the 10th ranked Clemson Tigers and their 82,000+ fans in ferocious Death Valley. A mid-September weather system was dumping steady rain on the area since Friday. Just in time for Burt Reynolds’ gorgeous all-white pants donation, the first time FSU wore white pants since Stroker Ace’s playing days.
The first half was a rainy, muddy struggle for the visiting Noles, as Clemson played ball control and dominated the line of scrimmage. Outside of beautiful 40-yard wheel pass from Chip Ferguson to Dexter Carter that ended a WHAM-O worthy slip-n-slide into the endzone, FSU was in trouble. Trailing 14-7 at halftime and lucky to be down only 7.
The mud-stained Seminoles came out for the 2nd half needing more than a spark. The rain had stopped, but the wet turf would remain soggy and slippery, not allowing Sammie Smith and the ground game to gain any traction. The Noles quickly went 3-and-out to begin the 3rd. They needed someone to step up big.
You see, he plays his best when the game’s on the line, I guess that’s why they call him “Prime Time”
The Noles defense tightens up to force a Clemson punt with 3 minutes gone by in the 3rd quarter, and Deion Sanders lines up deep for the punt return. He’s celebrating before the play begins, arms outstretched talking smack to the Clemson sideline, including head coach Danny Ford. If you’re a lip reader(pro or hobbyist) let us know what you think was uttered. He appears to say something involving, “....it’s coming back”.
The Chris Gardocki punt chases Sanders back to the 24 yard line. There was no organized wall of blockers, so Deion took the ball right up Monroe Street. Chop steps right, then left, then weaves through middle of field and outraces Gardocki with his literal game changing Fort Myers speed.
Tie game. The Clemson fans were shocked, and a handful tossed styrofoam drink cups towards the touchdown celebration.
Too little, too late, Tigers.
Nothing and nobody was going to stop the Prime Time phenomenon. Not on the football field, not on the baseball diamond, not in the music studio, not even in Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Center.
You may already know how the 1988 Clemson-FSU game ends. It was a wild contest with zero turnovers for either team. Multiple fumbles were recovered by the offense, plenty of passes bounced off defenders’ hands. And the classic ending was made possible by the greatest defender in Florida State history putting the Seminoles on his back and calling his own shot.
This story is dedicated to the Jones family and their unconquered spirit.