Date: November 7, 1987
Location: Jordan-Hare Stadium; Auburn, Alabama
Opponent: #6 Auburn Tigers
Out of all the great teams in Florida State football history, only a handful get tossed around in the “best ever” conversation. The 1987 team is one of those and truth be told, I’m one of those people who believe that team has a rightful stake to the claim. My guess is, Pat Dye agrees.
There will be a deeper look at the 1987 edition of the Garnet and Gold and its accomplishments later in the countdown, but for the younger fans just know that this team was absolutely stacked. The backfield alone consisted of Sammie Smith (1st round draft pick), Dexter Carter (1st round draft pick), Edgar Bennett (4th round draft pick and Green Bay Packers HoF), Marion Butts (7th round draft pick and 2x Pro Bowler), Victor Floyd (11th round draft pick), and Dayne Williams, who scored as many rushing TDs (15) during the 1987 season as all those NFL draft picks combined.
The Seminoles made the short drive up to Auburn, Alabama ranked 4th in the nation and on a three-game winning streak, having outscored those three opponents 166-33. In fact, FSU had dominated every team on its schedule up to that point, including the eventual national champion Miami Hurricanes, outside of one ill-fated quarter of play. Needless to say, Bobby Bowden’s bunch was confident.
But Coach Dye also had himself quite a team down on the Plains. The Tigers, led by All-American and soon-to-be number 1 overall draft pick Aundray Bruce, entered the contest with a record of 7-0-1, ranked 6th in the country, and fresh off a 29-6 strangling of UF the week prior. Add in the fact that Auburn defeated FSU three straight games from 1983-1985, including a 59-27 beat down in 1985, and the Tiger fans had reason to believe War Eagle would walk away victorious in what was being billed as a clash of titans.
That belief lasted less than two quarters.
In striking resemblance to a game against a different set of Tigers more than 25 years later, the Seminoles quieted the 85,000+ fans by forcing a fumble on Auburn’s first play from scrimmage. Williams would make it 7-0 a few plays later on a three yard TD plunge.
FSU made it 14-0 later in the first quarter after a fake punt kept alive a drive that led to a scoring strike from Danny McManus to Herb Gainer. Two Derek Schmidt field goals in the second quarter made the score 20-3 with 2:30 left in the half. The Tigers were clearly wounded, but if they could just get to halftime perhaps their defense—ranked 2nd in the nation coming into the game—would stiffen.
But with Auburn on the ropes, the Seminoles looked to end the fight now.
Stan Shiver picked off a Tiger pass on the next possession, giving FSU great field position once again. After an 18 yard pass from McManus to 1st team All-American tight end Pat Carter, Florida State had the ball just inside the redzone.
McManus took a deep drop and fired a laser to the front corner of the endzone. Gainer, coming out of his break after the ball was already thrown, made a beautiful, diving grab for his second score of the game. The fat lady began to warm up her vocals.
And here’s the kicker—literally. Not only did this play deliver the knockout blow in Jordan-Hare, it was immediately followed by Schmidt becoming, at the time, the highest scoring player in the history of college football.
With the 27-3 halftime lead, Florida State cruised to a 34-6 thrashing. After giving up only 23 points in the previous three weeks combined, FSU gashed the vaunted Auburn defense for 223 yards rushing. Meanwhile, the Tiger offense, ranked 10th in the country coming in, could only muster 227 total yards against the ‘Noles and also committed six turnovers.
After the game, when asked about FSU having choked on the big stage before, McManus quipped, “Well, I still have my throat. I didn’t get a tracheotomy.”
Auburn would go on to win the SEC Championship and finish 7th in the nation. The 28 point loss was their only defeat of the season. In fact, from 1986-1989, Auburn only lost seven games (three of the seven were against FSU), with the other six losses coming by a total of 27 points.
Gainer, a 6’2 receiver out of Sarasota High (he actually attended high school with Schmidt and Pat Carter), would earn AP All-American Honorable Mention honors after the 1987 season. Always a big play threat, he finished his career with over 1,100 yards and 11 TDs, averaging 16.3 yards per reception for his career.
The Gainer legacy will continue at FSU this fall with Herb’s son, star linebacker recruit Amari Gainer, looking to carve out his own space in FSU history.