It’s not often that a player’s entire career is defined by one play. One play that lives in a program’s lore so long until it becomes embedded into the very fabric that defines the essence of that program’s identity.
Boston Celtics fans know what I’m talking about. It’s when John Havlicek stole the ball.
So, too, do Toronto Blue Jays fans, thanks to Joe Carter.
Similarly, there is arguably no play in Florida State’s history that better represents the epitome of the Seminoles’ rise from plucky upstart to national powerhouse than Paul Piurowski’s strip sack of Nebraska quarterback Jeff Quinn.
Given the time left in the game, the location, and the opponent it was a truly remarkable play. In fact, you can read the opus I penned on the play last summer when it deservedly cracked the top 10 of all plays in the history of FSU football. (No, but seriously, if you haven’t read it, you should. Including the link to the letter Bobby Bowden wrote to the Cornhusker faithful). Heck, if you want to check out the whole series leading up to that dramatic ending in Lincoln, as Nebraska marched down the field to try and steal a victory, you can do so here:
However, this countdown is about players, not plays. Jimmies and Joes, not X’s and O’s. And while the legacy of Piurowski’s forced fumble will live on for as long as Florida State is playing football, his career was much more than just a single play.
Paul Allen Piurowski arrived at FSU in the summer of 1977 after starring at Sarasota High School as a DB and QB. He was one of the guys who took a chance on a young coach who promised them nothing more than the opportunity to turnaround the culture at FSU and set the foundation for others to build on. Guys like Ron Simmons, Reggie Herring, Monk Bonasorte, Bobby Butler, and Keith Jones, all part of the 1977 recruiting class.
In his first season, Piurowski played sparingly at strong safety (did you see the list of defensive backs above ?!), seeing action mostly on special teams. Going into his sophomore year, he switched to linebacker and the move paid immediate dividends for Piurowski and the team.
Through the first 6 games, Piurowski racked up 84 tackles and two forced fumbles. A knee injury prematurely ended his season, but the first half of the season proved to be just a prelude of what was to come.
Over his junior and senior years, Piurowski wrecked havoc on opposing offenses. In his final 21 regular season games (bowl stats aren’t available, nor counted back then) Piurowski recorded 245 tackles (124 unassisted), 8 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions—including one he housed during a 66-17 demolition of Memphis State.
During those two years, FSU would go 21-3 across 1979 and 1980, making the first and second appearances in the Orange Bowl in school history. Piurowski teamed with Reggie Herring to form a devastating second level on those defenses, with the 1980 defense going down as arguably the best defensive unit ever assembled in Tallahassee. In that 1980 season, Piurowski would be named Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press.
To this day, Piurowski ranks T15th for most tackles in a single game with 18 on that October day in Lincoln, and is T12 all-time with 340 career tackles (and would probably be top 10 if his bowl game stats counted).
After graduating Florida State, Piurowski became an 8th round selection in the 1981 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys. Later, he signed with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL and named second team All-USFL in 1983 when he led the Bandits in tackles. And of course, some years after that the Piurowski name would suit up again for the Seminoles when his son Caz Piurowski started at tight end.
So, while we never forget Piurowski’s forced fumble against Nebraska, FSU fans would do well to remember the rest of his career too.