Date: November 29, 2003
Location: Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.
Opponent: No. 11 Florida Gators
I have a confession to make. Brace yourself, because it is not necessarily an easy one to acknowledge: I love the 2003 Florida State-Florida game. I’m not ashamed to admit that this game—otherwise known as the Swindle in the Swamp—is not only one of my favorite football games in the Florida State-Florida series, but one of my favorite football games of all-time.
I know, I know. Before you judge me, let me explain myself.
No, this game didn’t feature the national title implications of the mammoth 1990’s match-ups. There were no Heisman winners on the field that day. Ron Zook roamed the sidelines for the Gators rather than a certain visor thrower. Jeff Bowden was FSU’s offensive coordinator. The quarterback battle featured Chris Rix against freshman Chris Leak. The game play itself was actually rather sloppy. The ‘Noles blew a sizable lead twice. I concede that when you compare this game to some others in this series, it’s tough to defend.
But from the perspective of a game that epitomized bare-bone hatred for the University of Florida, this game is a satisfying zenith. That’s why I love it.
Allow me to set the stage. Prior to kickoff, there was nearly a fight at midfield. The opening kickoff not only featured an iffy non-fumble call on Antonio Cromartie’s return, but FSU’s kickoff return team flattened UF’s kicker for talking trash during the week. FSU’s first touchdown came immediately after controversial no-catch and forward-progress calls, and FSU’s second touchdown was a 20-yard completion to TE Matt Henshaw, who caught five passes all year. Pat Watkins later returned a supposedly-questionable fumble for a touchdown. Mick Hubert’s
color analyst sock puppet mocked Jeff Bowden at the most regrettable time possible. Narrowly missing out on the pre-game opportunity, the Gators started a post-game fight at midfield. Angry UF fans cried and booed over missed calls made by the Atlantic Coast Conference officiating crew all night. After this game, the home team’s conference began supplying the officials in this series.
Most importantly, Chris Rix and P.K. Sam savagely ripped the Gators’ hearts out.
The ‘Noles went into halftime up 17-6, but the Gators were able to erase that deficit early in the third quarter. From that point on, the two teams traded the lead or tied the score a combined seven times. Flash forward to the fourth quarter: after converting a 4th and 2 with 2:50 remaining in the game, Chris Leak connected with Ben Troupe to take a 31-27 lead. The Seminoles had one final chance at redemption.
K-Man did a fantastic job reviewing on our No. 66 countdown play back in June. I’ll briefly revisit this play only because it is so important to our play here. With 1:23 remaining in the game, the ‘Noles are facing an improbable 4th and 14 from their own 24 yard line. Gator fans are screaming their collective jorts off. One last stop by the Florida defense and all the missed calls by those terrible ACC officials—all the poorly-veiled attempts to steal this game—will be for naught, they tell themselves. UF will still leave victorious.
Then Florida State QB Chris Rix converts a clutch 24-yard deep square-in strike to Dominic Robinson to keep the drive—and the game—alive. Talk about showing something special.
But that’s not the play that we’re here for. That would be the very next play; the one that features Chris Rix putting a final spear through the hearts of the Gator faithful.
On 1st and 10 from the FSU 48, Rix takes the snap in the shotgun and is immediately flushed to his right. Scrambling to well outside of the tackle box, he looks downfield and sees WR P.K. Sam streaking to the endzone with CB Gus Scott in tow. Rix cocks the arm and lets it fly. Gus Scott gets turned around. P.K. Sam reverses his body and comes down with the catch. Touchdown Seminoles.
In a span of 28 seconds, Florida State completely deflates the Swamp. Well, not quite all of it. In the visiting corner of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium’s drab concrete bowl, garnet pandemonium ensues. Not so much for the Gator faithful. They were stunned. Deathly silent. Sad. The best kind of Gator fan.
Even now, I can’t help but smile every time I hear Mick Hubert spit that throaty, flabbergasted, melancholy “bbbbbCAUWWWWTE!” into his microphone. Oh my, indeed. So satisfying. How did the rest of the Boys from Old Florida handle their disbelief in that moment? Let’s check in.
Chris Rix threw for 157 yards in the fourth quarter alone. To steal that game back from the jaws of defeat, and to do it in such a gut-wrenching, cold-blooded manner in front of 90,000+ Gator fans who just seconds before were so confident of their impending victory, was just an incredible sight to behold.
The Gators, always humble in defeat, didn’t get enough fight out of the game and proceeded to brawl the Seminoles after losing it. It didn’t matter. The ‘Noles came into the Swamp, silenced the place in the most mind-numbingly manner possible, walked all over that big dumb orange F at midfield, carried that Gator head into the locker room, and turned out the lights. The tenth win of the 2003 season notched the Seminoles their fifth win over the Gators in the previous six games of the series and earned FSU a berth in the Orange Bowl.
This game wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t pretty. It certainly didn’t carry the national spotlight or the accolades or many of the superstars of this rivalry. But in that moment, Chris Rix and P.K. Sam made an unbelievable play that will live in Florida State lore forever. A truly beautiful, satisfying, incredible moment. The game itself epitomizes everything FSU fans love to hate about UF. To this day, Gator fans still “work themselves silly” over the 2003 Swindle in the Swamp, to the delight of Seminole faithful everywhere.