Date: November 4th, 2000
Location: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, FL
Opponent: No. 10 Clemson Tigers
Bobby Bowden needed to make a statement.
A year after winning the National Championship in 1999, things were looking good that Bowden’s Seminoles would get the chance to defend their title. The team started off the season 5-0 with blowout victories over Brigham Young, North Carolina, Louisville, and Maryland. They had a close victory over Georgia Tech in Week 2, but other than that, it had been smooth sailing.
Then the ’Noles had to go to Miami.
Florida State lost that game to a very talented Hurricanes team in the Orange Bowl and were in serious danger of not getting the chance to win back-to-back championships. This was before the days of the College Football Playoff, and the result of each game carried an enormous amount of significance.
To get the opportunity to play in their 3rd National Championship Game in a row, FSU would have to win out. In fact, winning out was probably not enough, Bowden would have to rack up some serious style points along the way.
Hell hath no fury like a coach who needs to impress the voters. In the team’s next 3 games against Duke, Virginia, and NC State, Bowden unleashed the hounds. The Seminoles would end up winning those games by a combined score of 158-31. However, the ’Noles next opponent was No. 10 Clemson. Surely, they wouldn’t be able to blow out Tommy Bowden’s nationally-ranked Tigers in the second edition of the Bowden Bowl. Right?
FSU smacked around Clemson to a final score of 54-7 and would go on to secure a berth in the National Championship against Oklahoma.
I’ll be honest with you dear reader. Normally, I like to weave my analysis of the top play within the context of the game and the season. With this particular play, I wanted to get that done first, so I could dedicate the back half of this article to the play itself. Aesthetically, this is my favorite pass in Florida State football history, and it deserves something a little bit special in my opinion.
Deception can be one of the most important skills that a college football coach can possess. Make the opponent think you are going to do one thing, and then do something completely different. Your effectiveness increases exponentially against an unprepared adversary.
Don’t believe me? Take it from the legendary strategist, and author of The Art of War, Sun Tzu:
“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”
Football is obviously not warfare, but Tzu’s philosophy on deception can be clearly seen in a play that has been widely effective for decades: the play-action pass.
The idea behind the play-action pass is simple. Make the defense think that you’re going to run so that they overcommit. Once they do, burn them deep with a long pass. Simple in concept, but much more difficult in execution. That’s because coaches know it is coming at some point and have drilled awareness of that type of play into the heads of their defenders.
However, when a play-action is executed well, it is one of the most beautiful plays in all of football. In rare instances, the quarterback orchestrating it can transform briefly from athlete into artist.
For a few moments on November 4th, 2000, Chris Weinke was Michelangelo and Doak Campbell was his Sistine Chapel.
With 7:32 to go in the first quarter, FSU was backed up on its own 2-yard line. In this situation, on first down, the vast majority of coaches would choose to run the ball. You give your offense some space and drastically reduce the threat of giving up a safety. That’s what most coaches would do, but not Bowden. As mentioned earlier, Bowden had ramped up the aggressiveness since the Miami loss and had complete trust in his exceptional quarterback Weinke.
His faith was well-placed.
Weinke took the snap and made what was a seemingly innocuous handoff to running back Jeff Chaney. The defense collapsed and even the cameraman knew that the play was over. The defense was wrong, and so was that cameraman. But, who could really blame them?
Look at that acting job from Weinke. He faked the handoff, and then literally turned his back and walked away from the line of scrimmage.
As Weinke was doing his best to try and become the first Division 1 QB to win an Academy Award, wide receiver Snoop Minnis took the chance to do what he did best, which was get really, really open. Even though Minnis was more wide open than a Waffle House at 2 in the morning, Weinke still hit him with a great pass in stride.
A cleverly designed play, ran at a time when it was least expected, and executed to absolute perfection. Some plays are good, and even less of them are great. This one was a revelation.
In fact a play of this type was so unique, Bowden even had a special name for them:
“That’s called a ‘gym’ play” Bowden said. “That means we don’t work on it outside where someone might see it. We work on it in the gym. It worked, and we had a feeling it would.”
I don’t know how often that they publsh new editions of The Art of War, but maybe they could get Bobby Bowden to write the next foreword.