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The top 100 FSU football plays: No. 4— Ward to Dunn shocks the Swamp

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“Call off your party and just mail it to him”

Game, Set, Match
thegruelingtruth.net

Date: November 27, 1993

Location: Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.

Opponent: No. 4 Florida Gators

You are now entering the Top 5 Play Zone

Setting the Stage

With a preseason #1 ranking and Sports Illustrated cover stories, the 1993 season was a Title-or-Bust quest for Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles. Between 1987 and 1992, Bowden’s elite level teams fell short of playing for all the marbles and earning Saint Bobby his first championship. Upstart independent status was long gone, and pressure to win it all had built to a crescendo. Early on, those expectations were met with spectacular results:

-The unforgettable goal line stand in the Kickoff Classic

-Clemson shutout in epic fashion to usher in renovated Doak Campbell

-Derrick Brooks outscoring opposing offenses through September

It wasn’t just a title run, it was a dream season.

Until November 13th on a chilly afternoon in South Bend when the dream died. Or did it?

7 days later, Florida State was gifted a Mulligan courtesy of the Irish. More specifically, a slicing knuckleball field goal off the left foot Boston College’s David Gordon.

New life! Later that evening, in the pre-Twitter primordial days of 1993 A.D., Seminole fans filed into Doak Campbell Stadium with news fresh off the telegram:

  • Notre Dame has fallen. Stop.
  • FSU back in national championship conversation. Stop.
  • NC State fans urged to retreat to their bunkers. Stop.

On an extra crispy evening in Tallahassee, FSU was playing with gobs of House Money on Senior Night. Hard to describe the general mood of elation, but Doak was figuratively skipping and humming zippity-doo-dah in similar fashion to head coach Odell Haggins’ cathartic debut against ULM in 2017. And with house money in hand, senior quarterback Charlie Ward & Company ran the Wolfpack out of the casino and captured the ACC championship in a resounding 62-3 stomping.

The voters noticed, and FSU’s temporary dip to #2 ranking was restored back to #1 the following Monday. The last thing standing betwixt the Seminoles and a Fedex Orange Bowl appearance for the title was a 300-mile round trip to face the #4 Florida Gators.

The Stars of the Show

If you’re worth your salt as a Seminole fan, you know the heartwarming story of senior Charlie Ward rooming with young Warrick Dunn during his difficult freshman year, but it’s worth rehashing. Nobody can tell the tale better than Bobby himself, and here’s an excerpt from his book “Called to Coach”, co-written by ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and reprinted with permission from Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.:

We recruited Warrick while he was a senior at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On January 7, 1993 -- about a month before Warrick signed a scholarship to play football at Florida State -- his mother was murdered while escorting a grocery store manager to a bank to make a night deposit. Betty Dunn Somers, a corporal in the Baton Rouge police department, was thirty-six. Two days after his eighteenth birthday, Warrick and his grandmother were left to raise his five siblings.

After Warrick left for college, his brothers and sisters moved in with his grandmother, Willie Wheeler. I was not sure how Warrick would react to being away from his family. He was still dealing with the grief of losing his mother. But Warrick became a roommate with Charlie Ward, our quarterback, and that was the best thing that could have happened to Warrick. Both were very quiet and very much alike. Charlie is from Thomasville, Georgia, which is just across the state line from Tallahassee, and his parents adopted Warrick in many ways.

Warrick was a quarterback and a defensive back in high school. We recruited him to play defense, but Warrick wanted to play running back. He was pretty small, only about five feet nine inches and 173 pounds, and we weren’t sure he could take the punishment of running the ball some twenty times a game. But his mother wanted him to attend Florida State, so he was going to sign a national letter of intent to play for us. “Warrick, we have all the running backs we can take,” I told him. “If you come to Florida State, you have to play defense. Will you do that?”

”Yes, Coach Bowden,” Warrick told me. “But will you promise me you will at least give me a chance to play running back?”

”I’ll give you a chance to run the ball,” I said. “But if it comes down to it, you have to agree to play defense.”

We opened preseason camp in August 1993, and Warrick was playing defense. Before one of our scrimmages, Warrick came to me and reminded me of my promise to let him try out at running back. So we put him on offense, and no one could tackle him. After that day, Warrick was a running back for the rest of his career, and I am not sure we ever had a better runner at Florida State. Warrick will always be one of my favorite players. From time to time, he came to my office and talked about one of his brothers or sisters getting into trouble or having problems in school. “Coach, what should I do?” he asked me. I always told him to go home and get it straightened out. He drove all the way to Baton Rouge, worked things out with his family, and then came back to Florida State. It was just so much for a nineteen-year-old boy to handle, but Warrick never complained and helped his grandmother raise his brothers and sisters well.

This living situation was a match made in football heaven, as 2 of the finest human beings in school history shared quarters during a magical season.
C. J. Walker, The LIFE Images Collection - Getty Images

The Showdown in the Swamp

Message received loud and clear, Gator artists
University of Florida marketing squad

“Just about 5 or 6 minutes ago, Florida State was on the sidelines thinking this was going to be a laugher, up 20 points. Now they’re out there and they’ve got to be careful, one mistake...” -Bob Griese, shouting into his microphone over deafening crowd

Leading 27-21 and facing a 3rd & 10 from their own 21 yard line with 5:30 left in the 4th, FSU had carelessly wandered onto the brink of absolute disaster. How did this happen? Rewind.

The ferocious ‘Nole defense throttled the 2-headed QB monster of Danny Wuerrfel and Terry Dean all afternoon, and ultimately held Eric Rhett and the Gator ground attack to negative 33 yards. NEGATIVE 33. Spurrier was almost better off taking knees every rushing attempt. After Kez McCorvey’s second TD of the game, FSU entered the 4th quarter leading 27-7, having out-gained Florida 401 yards to 156 and running an absurd 70 offensive plays to Spurrier’s 39. It was almost a laugher.

However, what happens so often in the fierce UF-FSU rivalry began to play out: The home team and home crowd refused to roll over. Terry Dean put together an aggressive drive and narrowed the lead to 27-14 with 11:48 left to play. The ball goes back to aspiring Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward with a chance to grind the clock and escape the soggy swamp. With both his legs and through the air, Ward did exactly that, leading a methodical drive deep into UF territory. FSU faced 1st and goal from the Gator 9 yard line with the dagger clearly in hand...until William Floyd fumbled at the 6 yard line. Was this really happening?

Now it was time for the #1 scoring defense in the country to pick up their offense, and the Seminole D sacked Terry Dean along the goal line, forcing a 3rd & 15 from the 2-foot line. Laugher? Nope. Clutch conversion on a dangerous pass. Spurrier capitalized on the free chance, and called no less than 7 chuck pass plays to test the Seminole secondary. Just enough were successful to keep the chains moving, including a pair of 4th down conversions. And with 5:58 to play, the home field luck swung massively on Jack Jackson’s brilliant juggling touchdown catch. In double coverage, the football went across Jackson’s hands, ricocheted off his face mask, the was tipped twice back into his own hands for good. The stadium erupted.

Gut check time. With the momentum wildly in UF’s corner, Spurrier decided to kickoff to Tamarick Vanover, despite Vanover having burned UF’s kickoff team for 156 yards on 2 returns in 1992. The result this time was a meager 12 yard return. Now the house money was in Spurrier’s pocket and he let it ride. In the most hostile moment of the most hostile environment of his career, Charlie Ward had indescribable pressure placed upon his shoulders: Don’t let the championship slip away twice in 14 days.

The Sound

The secret to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium’s ear piercing acoustics lies in the strategic placement of racquetball courts in the corners of the facility.
scolinssportsvenuesrevisited.blogspot.com

1st & 10

As the stadium comes alive, Charlie Ward’s pass to Kez McCorvey is batted up by Gator lineman William Gaines and nearly intercepted. The crowd can taste blood now.

2nd & 10

Circumstances are now becoming particularly uncomfortable. As the sound reaches painful levels, looking back towards top of stands the author sees ominous things. Empty paper drink cups are being thrown wildly into the air, as the lower section resembles a popcorn popper at full song.

From the shotgun, an attempted swing pass to roommate Warrick Dunn is easily swatted by future NFL star Kevin Carter, and falls back to Ward’s feet incomplete.

3rd & 10

....ABC’s Keith Jackson makes the understatement of the game:

That’s a lotttt of noise.

Indeed, Keith. Indeed. Like a child gazing down at the Pacific Ocean from his window seat and observing, “That’s a lottttt of water”. Equally accurate.

Doak had the Spirit Spear. Ben Hill Griffin had the Ribbon of Obviousness
Youtube

Myth Buster #1: 1993 in the Swamp was loud, but (insert FSU game here) was even louder.

MYTH.

I’ll now switch to 1st person in an attempt to accurately describe the noise event that took place between the incomplete 2nd down pass and when Andy Crowe somehow snapped the 3rd down play with 3 seconds left on the play clock. While I agree with leading scientists that we exist in a universe with only 3 spacial dimensions, the inhumane noise reverberating through the Swamp for 35 seconds opened up a temporary 4th dimension. Was I actually able to “see the sound”? Hindsight/sound being 20/20, there was likely harmonic distortions causing serious disruptions to the inner ear and other sensory centers which caused a strange illusion of dancing airwaves. The pitch and tone of 90,000 screaming maniacs fluctuated with otherworldly variance, and perhaps an alien race several solar systems away mistook the Gator crowd’s 3rd down stand for a distress signal. We may never know.

“It was just a 3rd down stand. We’re done here”
hollywoodfile.com

Somehow, Charlie got the play off and received yet another shotgun snap. UF’s defensive end bullied past fullback William Floyd’s attempted block, and a defensive tackle came free on a twist stunt. With bodies flying everywhere, #17 narrowly avoided the game changing sack, squared back up to the line of scrimmage, and found his roomie isolated on a linebacker and waving for the football. Ward flips the ball 15 yards to Dunn in stride, and Warrick briefly hesitates and stumbles past Vanover’s pseudo-legal block. From there, it’s off to the races for the freshman phenom down the sideline. He starts strutting at the 5-yard line, knowing he’s holding the football for proverbial checkmate.

(you’ve finally arrived at Play #4)

and now for Gene & Vic’s version...

Myth Buster #2: I’ve never heard a stadium go from so loud to so quiet that quickly.

MYTH.

While it’s true the Gator collective exhaled their final screams a moment earlier, as Dunn streaked down the sideline the 10 to 12 thousand visiting FSU fans stole the thunder and instantly transferred that energy to an impressive noise level for such a small brood. It was a pandemonium swap.

Give it to Charlie, go ahead...Mail the Heisman to Charlie Ward. - Bob Griese

While Bob’s cost-cutting idea was not adopted by the Downtown Athletic Club, the result was correct. Florida State wins 33-21, escapes the Swamp, Charlie earns the most coveted trophy in college football, and Bobby Bowden scores his elusive 1st title 5 weeks later.

Ward-to-Dunn as the #1 Play in FSU History: Making the Case

Although this memorable moment ultimately lands at #4, let’s discuss the Top 100 criteria and why this play received a 1st place vote:

(1)How significant was the play to the program— did it change the direction of FSU football?

The author argues the alternate outcome where Charlie Ward doesn’t play hero and Florida completes the improbable comeback would have devastating program effects in Tallahassee. You could imagine a scenario where Bowden never recovers and exits with zero titles. 9.5/10

(2) How important was the play to the season in which it took place? Did it help shape one of the Seminoles’ more memorable campaigns?

Hard to score much higher on this criteria. The play itself is one of only a handful of FSU famous plays known by its own nickname. 25 years later, variations of “Ward2Dunn” are still manipulated into vanity license plates and online screen names. 10/10

(3)How big was the play to the game in which it transpired? Did it help decide the outcome, or was it merely a highlight in a blowout? Was it a rivalry game? Was it a bowl game, and, if so, how meaningful was that bowl game?

Ward-to-Dunn is limited by transpiring in the regular season rather than a bowl, but the rivalry game aspect is off the charts and the play in context of game was so big it literally solidified the QB’s Heisman. 9/10

(4)How jaw-droppingly spectacular was the play, on its own merits and independent of the above context?

This play scores high, but not the pinnacle. Point guard/quarterback Ward’s moves to elude a sack and toss a perfect pass in stride was exceptional, and Dunn’s breakaway speed was superb, but may not register as “freaky” spectacular athleticism like some other plays. 9/10

#1 play in FSU football history? I’ve made the case, now you decide.

What a play.
Youtube

The beauty of this countdown is the highly subjective nature and “no wrong answers”, but it’s fascinating how the Top 5 plays are almost universally agreed upon now...though in varying order.

Note from the Author

As this marks my final piece in the countdown, it’s been an honor to participate in the fantastic series all summer with our team of talented and dedicated writers. And it wouldn’t be possible without the reader participation and engaging comments on a daily basis. As Seminole Nation is prepared to turn an exciting new page on Labor Day, it’s important to collectively look back and value the past chapters that lead us here.

And if you’re wondering “how the heck did they rank all 100 plays? That seems like a tall task if you’re actively weighing all 100”...

For the K-Man, it started with 150 separate pieces of paper on a hotel floor. Narrowed down to the remaining 100. Then sorted into thirds(top third, middle third, bottom third). And then each third separately ranked and sorted the following night on a different hotel floor. And then finalized at home on the 3rd night. Totally worth it.

I have a feeling Buzzfeed doesn’t go to these lengths for each and every numerical list they publish.
The K-Man’s iPhone

Thanks, everyone.

-The K-Man