Despite holding the single-season passing record at one point, Thad Busby isn’t amongst the first names Seminole fans think of when considering past Florida State quarterbacks.
FSU’s three Heisman winners (Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston) would probably be the initial names brought up, likely followed with recent passers like EJ Manuel or, gulp, Chris Rix. If you happened to be born in the mid-90s or are a newcomer to the program, you might not instantly recognize the name of the Pace, Fla. native, who went 21-2 for the Seminoles over the course of two seasons as starter.
Busby served as a freshman on the 1994 team, one year removed from a national championship, and the fanbase had high expectations for him early. During the not-so-fun parts of The Choke at Doak, chants for him to replace Danny Kanell rang out (with Bobby Bowden opting to give Kanell one more drive), but he remained the backup then and during the 1995 season. In his first two years he played in 13 games, throwing for a modest 733 yards and five touchdowns.
He earned the starting nod in 1996, beating out heralded recruit Dan Kendra, and then proceeded to play his role as a game-manager in an offense centered around prolific running back Warrick Dunn. Busby dealt with a nagging arm injury in the initial games, throwing for under 100 yards in two of his first three starts, before getting comfortable and racking up a 300-yard, four touchdown game against Clemson. He’d help lead the Seminoles to what was then just their second undefeated regular season in school history, the cherry on top being an upset of No. 1 Florida in the season finale.
What followed however, a 52-20 loss in the Sugar Bowl (and de-facto national championship game to Florida, may be one of the reasons Busby’s legacy doesn’t get the proper recognition.
Busby then had to fight for his job that spring, again beating out Kendra and recent signee Weinke, with questions lingering around his ability to step up in a pass-heavy offense following the departure of Dunn.
“Even if you are 11-0 in the regular season, people expect the quarterback to be on top of his game,” he said before the 1997 season. “That’s just the standard that’s been set around here. . . . I can’t wait to get started.”
“I’ve been through a lot, and we’ve got the nucleus to have a great team. Sometimes last year I felt the coaches were questioning me, they were doubting me. I don’t feel that this year. I feel like I’m more in control of things. I’m a lot more confident.”
The result? He beat five ranked teams that season (No. 23 USC, No. 16 Clemson, No. 21 Georgia Tech No. 5 North Carolina and No. 9 Ohio State), throwing for a then-school record 3,317 yards, complete with a swan song 334-yard game in a 31-14 Sugar Bowl thrashing of Ohio State. The game vs. UNC was his only sub-200 yard game, and he threw over 330 yards in five games, one of which (a 463-yard, five touchdown game vs. NC State) is No. 6 for single-game passing performances.
In the end, his major fault was falling to Florida twice (the second being the 32-29 loss in 1997), the only school to steal a win from him during his time as starter.
With 5,916 yards and 46 touchdowns to his name, Busby is still top ten in career yards and touchdowns, as well as single-season and single-game.
‘’I think I’ve earned the respect of the fans,’’ he said after the Sugar Bowl vs. Ohio State. ‘’[Winning this game] is even more rewarding after what I went through last season.’’
Busby earned a reputation for being humble and adverse to the spotlight during his time in Tallahassee, something that was on display when he served as one of my coaches at Seabreeze High School (the same school that produced T.K. Weatherall, Sebastian Janikowski and Xavier Lee) in Daytona Beach. Outside of a small picture of him playing in the Sugar Bowl that sat in his classroom, he never went out of his way to mention his time at Florida State: without the information super highway that comes from gossiping high schoolers, I might have never known that at one point, Thad Busby was the lead man for the program of the 1990s.