Danny McManus’ story is a good one. Bobby Bowden named McManus the starter going into the 1985 season. The Seminoles beat Tulane and then upset Nebraska 17-13 in Lincoln in a game where some say the temperature on the field reached 132 degrees. Sadly, a few weeks after that multiple concussions sidelined McManus for the rest of the season.
In 1986 Chip Ferguson was named the starting quarterback. But after starting 1-2-1 with losses to Nebraska and Michigan, McManus was back in the lineup. The ’Noles went 6-2 the rest of the way and McManus was named the offense’s most valuable player that year.
1987 is the magical year, the one that kicked off 14 straight top four finishes, a feat not even Nick Saban’s Alabama juggernaut has come close to matching. McManus started all twelve games at quarterback for what is one of FSU’s greatest teams ever and led Florida State to a 10-1 record. Their only blemish was a 25-26 loss to Miami in early October that went down as an all-time classic.
This was Miami’s heyday, with Michael Irvin and the Blades brothers and Melvin Bratton and Jimmy Johnson. FSU had Deion Sanders and LeRoy Butler and Sammie Smith. With FSU down one to the Hurricanes after an 83-yard touchdown drive McManus lobbied Bowden to go for two instead of kicking the extra point to tie. Bowden pulled kicker Derek Schmidt off the field to let McManus try. The two point pass attempt failed as McManus’ pass was underthrown, and FSU lost a shot at a national title.
But the story doesn’t end there.
FSU rallied and won the right to face No. 5 Nebraska in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl, a game that also went down as an instant classic. Nebraska blew an early 14-0 lead but was still up 28-24 in the fourth quarter, with the ball inside FSU’s 5-yard line. It looked like they were going to put the Seminoles away. But a fumble recovery gave the ’Noles the ball at the 3-yard line with seven minutes left. McManus engineered a 97-yard drive hitting Ronald Lewis for the go-ahead score on 4th and 15 with three minutes left. FSU would go on to win 31-28. McManus threw for 375 yards - a Fiesta Bowl record at the time - and three touchdowns and was named the most valuable player.
Here are highlights of the 1988 Fiesta Bowl, and below is a video of the game winning drive:
FSU finished that season ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll, their highest finish ever until winning the national title in 1993. McManus also won the College Football Exemplary Player of the Year award by New York’s Downtown Athletic Club following the season. McManus’ toughness and determination in a Seminole uniform still echoes today. So does his hat.
McManus then headed to the NFL, drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 11th round of the 1988 draft. He played two seasons before moving on to the Canadian Football League, where he is also a legend. McManus played in the CFL for 17 seasons, throwing for over 53,000 yards and winning three Grey Cup championships. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest CFL quarterbacks of all time. He is currently the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ assistant general manager and director of U.S. scouting.