When Florida State took on Alabama in the 2017 Chik-fil-A Kickoff Game, it marked the end of many long years of planning what was proclaimed the Greatest Opener of All-Time. Once the game ended and No. 1 Alabama came out with a 24-7 victory over No. 3 Florida State, those years of planning and waiting for the spectacle finally came to an end.
The game was first publicly announced in July of 2015, but the first talks between the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game executives and the head coaches from each school started well before that. While the two coaches eventually agreed to play against each other, it was far more complicated than both FSU’s Jimbo Fisher and Alabama’s Nick Saban saying “yes.”
Gary Stokan, creator of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, said getting Jimbo Fisher to participate in the annual contest took some time since their first conversation back in 2010.
In 2010 when Jimbo got the job at Florida State, I asked him if he would play in our Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games, which we started in 2008. So I said, in the future would you play, and he said yeah, we’ll play, but let me get my recruits in, let me set my system, let me get my process in place and then I’ll talk. In 2011, (Florida State) played in our Peach Bowl and I hit Jimbo again about it. He said we’re not ready yet. 2013, they won a national championship I hit him up then, and he said he’s ready.
On the other side, Alabama has been no stranger to Chick-fil-A Kickoff games making four previous appearances heading into its matchup with Florida State. Nick Saban not only wanted to participate for a fifth time, but only wanted to play the best.
After Alabama’s 2014 season, Stokan said,
“I asked Nick (Saban) when could we get him back, and ‘17 was the first opening they had. I want to play, but best opponent we can play.”
The President and CEO of Peach Bowl Inc. wasn’t completely confident that the teams would agree to play each other.
“No. Wasn’t quite sure. But Jimbo told me he was ready, so I went to take a shot at trying to put Alabama vs. Florida State.”
Stokan then went back to Jimbo Fisher with the proposal.
“I went back to Jimbo and said I got Alabama in ‘17. Would you play them because I know you and Nick are friends, he said yeah, we’re ready. And so we had a matchup.”
Coming into Saturday’s matchup, a No. 1 seed and No. 3 seed had never played each other to open up a season. Getting that matchup to open up a brand new state-of-the-art stadium involved more luck than planning, Stokan said.
“Having College Gameday, having a sold out crowd, having the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, having the GOAT game, No. 1 vs. No. 3, we’re better lucky than good. We didn’t know all of that would happen.”
The notoriety of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games have become so prestigious that the 19-year CEO said prior to Saturday’s game that he is already receiving calls from prospective schools wanting to participate in seven years. He went on to explain that it puts the involved teams in good standing to boost their College Football Playoff resume.
“As a matter of fact, I’ve had two calls last week from people that wanna play in ‘23 and ‘24. And I think its because, unlike the BCS era, the CFP selection committee mandates you as a coach and an (Athletic Director) to upgrade your non-conference schedule. And so, if you’re gonna do that, you want to play against somebody good.”
Both Florida State and Alabama already have future commitments to play in a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game with Alabama set to play Duke in 2019 and Florida State taking on West Virginia in 2020.