Date: November 21, 1964
Location: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
Opponent: Florida Gators
At the personal request of Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, Florida and Florida State began a contract to play each other annually starting way back in 1958. However, the first six games in the series were all played in Gainesville because Doak Campbell Stadium was at the time deemed too small a venue. Bill Peterson took over as FSU’s head coach in 1960 and in just a few short years he would change the program forever.
In 1961 FSU tied Florida 3-3, causing Florida head coach Ray Graves to call the result “a death in the family”. The rivalry, well, was perhaps not quite yet a rivalry but the series became noticeably bitter after that. Still, after their first six meetings FSU still had yet to beat Florida. During Peterson’s tenure renovations to Doak were being made and in 1964 FSU finally got to host the Gators.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit. The Seminoles opened the 1964 season by traveling to the Orange Bowl and beating Miami for just the third time ever (and for the first time in back-to-back games) to the score of 14-0. Over 51,000 fans attended the game and Fred Biletnikoff had nine receptions for 165 yards.
After that FSU traveled to Texas and beat TCU 10-0. For an encore they hosted and crushed New Mexico State 36-0, meaning they opened the season against their first three opponents to the combined score of 60-0.
Florida State then annihilated No. 5 Kentucky 48-6; two days later FSU made their first ever top ten ranking, coming in at No. 10 in the Associated Press poll. The Seminoles followed that up by beating Georgia between the hedges 17-14. Unfortunately, the following week Florida State couldn’t maintain their momentum and they lost to the Virginia Polytechnic Institute Gobblers (is that bettor or worse than “Hokies”??) in Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia to the score of 20-11 and fell out of the top 10.
Undeterred, they threw another goose egg on the scoreboard by blanking Southern Mississippi 34-0, and then tied Houston 13-13. On November 14th FSU beat North Carolina State 28-6.
And so FSU stood at 7-1-1, suiting up at home against Florida for the first time ever and having never beaten the Gators in six attempts. Florida practiced that week with stickers on their helmets that said “Never FSU Never” and came out of the locker room on game day with “Go for Seven” stitched on the front of their jerseys. It made the Seminole players mad. (It is here I feel compelled to note the Gators’ sophomore starting quarterback was none other than Steve Spurrier.)
In front of whooping crowd of 43,000, they kicked it off. The first quarter ended with the score still 0-0, but in the second quarter Florida State blew the game open:
The game was largely a turnover-fest, but FSU would lead 13-0 until nine minutes left when Florida would finally punch it in for a touchdown. The Gators made one last attempt to rally late but Spurrier was intercepted with just minutes to go. Florida had one last chance after that, down two scores, but couldn’t make anything of it and FSU won 16-7, dropping the Gators to 5-3. The following words appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat the next day, courtesy of Bill McGrotha:
The girls’ school did it!...Oh, did it ever do it!
What it was was like absolutely and positively and emphatically and decisively.
Florida State University, clearly the best football team on the field on this sunny Saturday afternoon, whipped what was supposed to be the University of Florida’s best team ever. The score was 16-7.
Tensi was 11-22 for 190 yards against what McGrotha wrote was the top-rated pass defense in the country. Biletnikoff was held to just two catches for 78 yards, but his second quarter 55-yard touchdown reception made history and Biletnikoff was later named a consensus All-American. Two days after the game Florida State again made the top ten of the AP poll.
After the game FSU accepted its first ever major bowl bid to play the Oklahoma Sooners in the Gator Bowl on January 2, 1965. FSU would go on to win 36-19 and finished the season ranked 11th in the Coaches Poll, its highest-ever finish, with the second-best record among all independents at 9-1-1 behind just No. 3 Notre Dame.
The 1964 season was special for many reasons. Not just because they beat Miami or Florida or Kentucky or Oklahoma, but because it showed FSU could belong among the nation’s elite. Peterson could never quite recapture the magic of the 1964 season but he helped put Florida State football on the map, and the foundation he helped lay all those years ago made possible FSU’s eventual meteoric rise under Bobby Bowden as it took its place among college football’s blue bloods.