Date: September 28, 1991
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Opponent: Michigan Wolverines
The 1991 Florida State Seminoles began the year atop the AP poll, but still couldn’t shake the feeling of disrespect from the bluebloods of college football. At this time, no school that had started playing football in the last 50 years had won a national title. But having easily dispatched of No. 19 BYU, Tulane, and Western Michigan to open the year 3-0, the hungry yet confident Seminoles looked to flip that narrative when they traveled to Ann Arbor and the Big House to take on No. 3 Michigan on September 28, 1991.
The Seminoles and Wolverines had only met one other time prior to this game. The lone previous meeting was a 20-18 home victory for QB Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines over FSU in 1986.
The fourth-largest crowd in Michigan Stadium history at the time were rowdy at kickoff. All week, the talking points swirled around FSU being a finesse team that couldn’t hold up to Michigan’s tough, gritty style of football. The Michigan faithful fully expected to see Michigan smash-mouth their way to a victory over an upstart program that, in their minds, wasn’t quite ready for the national spotlight. What they would be entertained to was a game that saw FSU score more points in Ann Arbor than any opponent in the Wolverines’ 113-year football history. What Florida State fans would be entertained to is a game for the ages.
As K-Man described so well in the No. 51 play in the countdown, the field was littered with ridiculous talent on both teams that day. But perhaps the biggest individual spotlight was the eventual Thorpe Award winner Terrell Buckley lined up against the eventual Heisman Award winner Desmond Howard to start the game.
On the second play from scrimmage, Michigan QB Elvis Grbac took a three-step drop and immediately looked for his star wide receiver. In what has become a lasting, iconic image of the early glory years for FSU, Terrell Buckley reads the play, jumps the pass, easily intercepts it, and returns it 40 yards for a touchdown, taunting the Michigan players pursuing him. He even finished it off with a Lambeau Leap into the FSU fan section for good measure. Without a doubt, it set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
The ‘Noles, clearly not intimidated—to the demise of the Michigan crowd—took a 31-23 lead into halftime. FSU would further entertain those fans in maize and blue with trick plays, fake field goals, and even return another interception for a touchdown to seal the 51-31 final score.
Although the 1991 season would later fall apart, the King of the Road Seminoles would make this win in the Big House one for the ages. As was the case with so many important wins in FSU’s glory years, the willingness of Coach Bowden to take his team on the road and play anyone, anywhere, anytime was key in FSU’s rise to becoming a respected powerhouse in the broader college football landscape. Yet on this particular day, coming into the Big House and leaving with a commanding victory was extra memorable, even to Bobby.
“This game not only means as much as Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska,” Bowden said after the game, “but it’s bigger because Michigan was ranked No. 3.”
Or, as FSU linebacker Kirk Carruthers, who grew up in a Michigan State family, put it so elegantly to a group of downtrodden Michigan fans on their way to the exits, “Now you know why we’re No. 1! We earned it!”
As for Terrell Buckley, he would leave for the NFL after the 1991 season, but not before becoming the school’s all-time leader in interceptions (21) and interception return yards (501). He would finish his FSU career with four touchdowns off interception returns and three punt return touchdowns. As previously mentioned, he won the 1991 Thorpe Award and was named a first-team All-American. He finished seventh in the 1991 Heisman voting, which is impressive for any defensive player. The Green Bay Packers took him fifth overall in the 1991 NFL Draft, and he would go on to haunt those same UM/Detroit Lions fans for years to come. His jersey number is one of the ten (soon to be eleven) retired by Florida State.
The Big House interception will live forever in Florida State football lore as one of the most important and celebrated plays in FSU’s ascension to dominance.