Date: January 4th, 2000
Location: Nokia Sugar Bowl; The Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana
Opponent: No. 2 Virginia Tech Hokies
“Pe-ter War-rick! Clap, clap, clap clap clap. Pe-ter War-rick! Clap, clap, clap clap clap.”
The chant echoed through the Superdome. FSU led 39-29 mid-way through the 4th quarter of a wild national championship game and Seminole fans were calling out to their star of stars, hoping the Virginia Tech throat would be stomped on once and for all. However, in order to truly understand the build up to the play that was about to unfold, we must first go back to where it all began.
Fueled by a Loss
Peter Warrick, a star quarterback for Bradenton Southeast High, came to FSU in the summer of 1995. After building an almost mythical reputation for his scout team exploits, Warrick exploded onto the college football radar as a redshirt-sophomore in 1997 against Clemson. The following year, P-Dub (as he became known) torched everyone in his path, closing the regular season with 60 receptions for 1,225 yards—more than 20 yards per reception—and 12 TDs. He even even threw for a touchdown against arch-rival Florida. Yet, as good as the numbers were, they barely scratched the surface when trying to describe the excitment Warrick brought to the field. By the end of the 1998 season, Peter Warrick had become the most electrifying player in college football. A true threat to score every time he touched the ball, he was breathtaking if you were a ‘Nole fan and terrifying if you weren’t.
So when a series of late-season games broke right for FSU, allowing the Seminoles to backdoor their way into the first ever BCS titles game, many fans assumed this would be the last time they’d see P-Dub in garnet and gold. Then the Fiesta Bowl happened.
Between FSU relying on the QB who began the season third string, a great defensive performance by Tennessee, and a predictable Mark Richt game plan that failed to find creative ways to get Warrick the ball, the 1999 Fiesta Bowl turned into a nightmare for number nine. For the game, a 23-16 Seminole loss, the All-American receiver was held to one catch for seven yards and one rush for 11 yards. He did add a 51 yard punt return, but even that ended in disappointment as Warrick, for seemingly the only time ever in his career, allowed himself to be tackled by the punter—FSU would settle for a field goal on the drive.
In the end, it was an opportunity lost for Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles. After the game, SI’s Tim Layden described a somber scene.
The team’s post game locker room that night was funereal. “I remember the sound of people crying,” says senior safety Sean Key. “Nobody was yelling or throwing anything. You could just hear all this crying.” Bowden said he had never seen a team more emotionally crushed.
However, a critical decision was born out of that painful night, a decision that would ultimately be the catalyst for 1999’s championship run. Stating his desire to win a national championship and complete his degree, Peter Warrick announced he would return for his senior season and the disappointment in the desert would fuel his desire for atonement.
A Bulls-eye on their Back
The Seminoles entered the 1999 season as everybody’s title favorite. Peter Warrick led a group of 4 returning All-Americans, plus a boatload of experience at nearly every position. Lindy’s went so far as to say, “Consider that in each of the 12 games Florida State plays this season, the Seminoles will have a better offense, a better defense, and better special teams than their opponent.”
But heavy is the head that wears the crown, especially when that crown has been anointed and not earned.
Starting with week one, FSU found themselves in tougher than expected games. It seemed everyone treated their showdown with the Seminoles as their bowl game. But the ‘Noles had Warrick and he was living up to the hype, turning in a run for the ages against Louisiana Tech, out-dueling Heisman hopeful Joe Hamilton in a shootout with Georgia Tech, and scoring three first-quarter touchdowns in a blowout over Duke.
Just when it looked like the team had found some smooth sailing, Warrick found a sale at Dillard’s that proved too good to be true. The resulting two-game suspension would ultimately cost him the Heisman, and forced the team to deal with even more distractions.
Nonetheless, FSU persevered. After defeating the third-ranked Florida Gators in The Swamp, the Seminoles made it New Orleans without a blemish on their record and had just one more foe to vanquish.
Warrick vs Vick
The time had come. Having navigated a season filled with potential potholes and driven by the memories of the loss exactly 365 days prior, Florida State was back in the BCS title game. And as they so often did during the Dynasty, the Seminoles came out strutting with confidence.
Seeing that kind of swag, it was clear that Warrick was ready for redemption. Boy was he ever. The ‘Noles, led by P-Dub, opened the game with haymakers. A bomb from Weinke to Warrick got things started, followed by a blocked punt/scoop and score, and then a 63-yard TD catch and run by fellow receiver Ron Dugans. By the time Warrick returned this punt for a touchdown, FSU had built a 28-7 second quarter lead and the rout appeared to be on.
But appearances can be deceiving. Rising out of the Tidewater area of Virginia was a challenger to the throne of most exciting player in college football history and the world was about to be introduced to that man: Michael Vick. Arguably the two most electric players in modern college football magically shared the stage for a magical, one night only performance. Those of us in attendance were treated with a show for the ages.
Facing a defense filled with NFL talent, Vick was unstoppable. By the time the third quarter ended, FSU’s 28-7 lead had evaporated and turned into a 29-28 deficit. However, this year FSU wouldn’t fold. Chris Weinke connected with Dugans for his second score of the night to regain the lead early in the fourth and a Sebastian Janikowski field goal made it 39-29 a couple minutes later. But plenty of time remained and Tech still had Vick. VT had scored three times in just over five minutes of game time the previous quarter, and FSU’s defense was exhausted from chasing around the ball of lightning playing QB for the Hokies. Games like 1987 and 1991 Miami taught Bowden that daggers needed to be thrown when you had a championship caliber team on the ropes.
All of which brings us back to the top. Prior to the game, Bowden went to Warrick and told him “you have got to counter Vick’s big plays.” Now, with the crowd chanting his name and the offense huddled on the sideline, Warrick approached his coach and teammates and asking, “y’all want me to finish them?”
It’s one of those plays where you wouldn’t believe it if you hadn’t seen it—merely describing it with the words of mortal men just isn’t good enough. The concentration and sheer force of will to somehow corral the bobbling ball into his belly is almost as amazing as the gravity defying hand-eye coordination on display.
A few years later, I had a chance to ask P-Dub how he made the catch. Unable to fully explain it, he ended by saying he went into the huddle and told “Wink” to just throw it up and he would come down with it.
The Case for Number 1
1)How significant was the play to the program— did it change the direction of FSU football?
Prior to the 1999 season, Bobby Bowden often remarked about an empty picture frame he had in the athletic center. The frame was being reserved for the first undefeated, untied national championship team. This play cemented that legacy. Not only did it seal the deal on a perfect season—something that team down in Gainesville has yet to accomplish—it capped off the first wire-to-wire number 1 season in college football history. It became the defining image of a Florida State Dynasty. Even with two national titles, you’ll still hear people question how FSU was so successful for 14 years but won relatively few championships. Imagine what people would say if that record only included one title, a year in which the team that beat FSU also finished the season with just one loss? Would it even be considered a dynasty? Would Bowden be remembered as a coach who choked on the biggest stage? 9.5/10
(2) How important was the play to the season in which it took place? Did it help shape one of the Seminoles’ more memorable campaigns?
Again, this play became the lasting image of the first perfect, national championship winning season in school history, doing so in wire-to-wire fashion. 10/10
(3)How big was the play to the game in which it transpired? Did it help decide the outcome, or was it merely a highlight in a blowout? Was it a rivalry game? Was it a bowl game, and, if so, how meaningful was that bowl game?
The Catch occurred in the fourth quarter of a national championship game. Stages don’t get bigger than that.
Now, I’ve heard it argued that this play wasn’t really needed because the game was already over, that it was just icing on the cake. To that I say phooey. Anyone in the Superdome that night can attest that with Vick on the other sideline, 10 points absolutely did not feel like the game was over. Heck, FSU led 28-7 earlier in the game and Vick brought them back seemingly in the blink of an eye. There were nearly 8 minutes left on the clock and even a field goal keeps it at a two score game. Imagine a scenario where Janokowski booms another one in (because let’s get real, he wasn’t going to miss late in the game) and Vick gets the ball back down 13 with six minutes remaining. VT’s previous scoring drives took less than two minutes, so let’s say Vick does it again. Now the lead is 6 with more the four minutes to go...does anyone feel comfortable at that point? P-Dub’s catch ended all of that. It simultaneously put FSU up three scores and also demoralized the Hokies once and for all. 9.5/10
(4)How jaw-droppingly spectacular was the play, on its own merits and independent of the above context?
Off the scale. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more impressive catch in FSU history. 10+/10
There you have it, folks, the #1 play in FSU football history. As Sports Illustrated would proclaim a week later, it was simply dazzling.