Date: October 28, 1989
Location: Doak Campbell Stadium; Tallahassee, Florida
Opponent: No. 2 Miami Hurricanes
It’s been said that unlike the intense loathing that permeates through the Florida State/Florida rivalry, the FSU/Miami rivalry is one shaped with mutual respect for the high quality talent and independent spirit shared by both programs. And for much of my experience with Seminole football, I would agree with this notion. Miami and Florida State were so far and away better than the rest of college football some years that players, coaches, and fans of each program, in a masochist sort of way, relished the opportunity to go up against the other, knowing it was the ultimate measuring stick.
This did not apply in 1989.
For four long years the Miami Hurricanes lorded over their talented, but ill-fated rivals to the north. In fact, as crazy as it sounds, Deion Sanders never did taste victory against the ‘Canes.
1985 saw FSU jump out to a 24-14 halftime lead, only to be outscored 14-3 in the 4th quarter and lose 35-27. That loss would keep the Seminoles from a major bowl appearance and relegate them to a top 15 finish instead of potentially top 5 or 10. In 1986, Miami again overcame a 4th quarter deficit, outscoring the ‘Noles 20-0 in the final stanza on their way to a 41-23 victory.
Then came 1987 and 1988, with the Seminoles finishing both years with only one blemish on their record, both at the hands of the Hurricanes. 1987 was particularly painful. In a game that has been called the greatest collection of talent ever assembled on one college football field, FSU led the eventual national champs 19-3 before a furious Miami comeback and a failed two-point conversion with less than a minute to play resulted in a 26-25 UM win and nothing but an off-season of “what ifs” by Seminole faithful. Horseshoes and hand grenades.
This brings us to 1989. Back-to-back losses out of the gate dropped FSU out of the top 25 and into unfamiliar territory. For just the second time since 1979, national title aspirations evaporated before the official start of fall. But then a funny thing happened. A young Florida State squad started rounding into form. Starting with a road win over a ranked LSU Tigers squad, the Seminoles rattled off five consecutive wins. Along the way, a freshman phenom fooled his way into Garnet and Gold lore, while the defense sacked Reggie Slack seven times and held on for another thrilling victory over the SEC co-champion Auburn Tigers in the first of a newly minted 10-game series* between the two schools. Check out this video to see what a brutal beating Slack endured at the hands of Kirk Carruthers, Eric Hayes, Shelton Thompson and company.
(*FSU is still waiting on the remaining 7—if you count the 2013 BCS Title game—as Auburn canceled the series after 1990 citing SEC expansion).
Up next, a visit from Miami—and this time FSU was out for blood. With title dreams dashed, ‘Nole fans and players embraced the role of spoiler, hoping to keep the Hurricanes from a title just as they had done to Florida State the previous two seasons. Playing in primetime, Doak was at full capacity long before kickoff and a vengeance seeking crowd buzzed with electricity. With Miami players refusing to let Renegade race across the field, a pre-game brouhaha ensued and the atmosphere grew even more frenzied.
As detailed earlier in the countdown, FSU came out swinging like Iron Mike. On the game’s first play from scrimmage, senior All-American LeRoy Butler picked off Gino Torretta. What happened next was pure Seminole ecstasy.
A perfectly executed play, followed by a spectacularly imperfect explosion of emotion and celebration. Let’s look at the play first:
A. The Seminoles lined up in the classic FSU I-formation, dotted by senior running back Dexter Carter who begged Bobby Bowden to let him start despite a lingering injury. Carter takes the simple handoff and bounces to his left.
2. Fullback Edgar Bennett gets a devastasting block on All-American linebacker Maurice Crum. Crum then tumbles into another future NFL linebacker, Bernard “Tiger” Clark, taking him out of the play as well. (Keep Tiger in mind...)
D. Carter sprints to the sideline and picks up another magnificent block, this one by Fab Four member Terry Anthony.
FMFFM. Carter turns the corner and blazes down the sideline, outracing a defense that led the nation in opponent’s scoring and was billed as the fastest defense college football had ever seen.
In all, the TD sprint was the longest run from scrimmage Miami had allowed up to that point and stamped Carter’s legacy as one of the school’s all-time greats.
Now let’s breakdown the accompanying jubilation (put in your ear buds and crank up the noise).
1. Already ebullient after the Butler interception, the crowd somehow reaches another decibel level as soon as Carter turns the corner and heads for daylight.
B. Carter starts raising his arms mid-stride around the 6 and half yard line, gliding into the endzone Usain Bolt style. The crowd crescendos into a deafening, space shuttle launching roar.
4. A series of chaotic camera jumps encapsulates the scene well. A person dressed as a gorilla raises the roof. Fans are falling over themselves, jumping in the aisles, and waving giant flags that have long since been banned (Those in attendance share stories of ending up three or four rows down from their actual seats when the mania finally subsided. And I can personally attest to seats and clothes getting doused with cokes, popcorn, and boiled peanuts).
FMFFM. A wild dog-pile, complete with Carter stop-drop-and rolling, takes place along the old chain-link fence. Seminole coaches are 10 yards out on the field pleading with guys to come back to the their sideline, while the Hurricane defense stares at each other dumbfounded and shaken by what just occurred.
In a rivalry filled with big plays and crushing hits by some of the greatest college football players ever, no play has stood the test of time in the minds of Seminole fans better than this touchdown run. Buoyed by the thunderous 1-2 combo that gave FSU a 7-0 lead just 23 seconds in, Florida State would go on to pull the upset 24-10. With the perspective of time, it’s arguably the only truly elite Miami Hurricane team that Bowden ever beat.
As for Dexter Carter, the Baxley, Georgia native went on to become a 1st round selection in the 1990 NFL Draft and a Super Bowl Champion with the San Francisco 49ers. Some years later, he’d return to Tallahassee and coach running backs under his mentor, Coach Bowden.
Now, back to Bernard Clark. The ferocious linebacker struck fear into nearly all of his opponents. All except for Carter. Nicknamed Tiger before a certain golfer coined the moniker, you may remember Clark from getting sideswiped on the opening TD run. He certainly remembered. Later in the game, Tiger spotted an opportunity for a clap-back. Clipping Carter in the back, Tiger then lays on Carter and taunts him while he was on the ground. Well, as the ‘ol saying goes, Tiger might have started the fight, but it was Carter who finished it.