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On Record with TN: Meet Doug Mannheimer, Keeper of the Sod Cemetery

Ambassador, historian of FSU football discusses his role as Keeper of the FSU Sod Cemetery

Syracuse v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Florida State football has an illustrious history of championship teams, award-winning players and notable traditions. The man behind one of the greatest gameday traditions for FSU football- the Sod Cemetery- is Doug Mannheimer.

Florida State’s Sod Cemetery is a unique area of grass located directly between the triangle of Doak Campbell Stadium, Dick Howser Stadium, and the Florida State football practice fields. The cemetery has buried pieces of the actual field from numerous historic Florida State victories, including national championships, and games in which the Seminoles were underdogs on the road.

As many fans who attend games on Saturdays know, Mannheimer hosts the popular “SodTalk”, where he interviews well-known players live in front of the Sod Cemetery. Conveniently located right next to Doak and near many tailgating locations, fans gather to watch the entertaining trips down memory lane before home football games.

Mannheimer, a Tallahassee attorney who was inducted into the FSU Hall of Fame in 2013, recently sat down with Tomahawk Nation to talk about his time as Keeper of the FSU Sod Cemetery, adjusting to changes to SodTalk during COVID-19, and his memories as a Florida State fan.

Here’s a link to watch the 2020 SodTalk videos, which are uploaded every Thursday of the week of home football games.

You can listen to the interview below as well:

Q: What was it like to have the live aspect and Gameday aspect of SodTalk taken away this fall? I’m sure it has become such a big part of your life on Saturday’s?

A: We started SodTalk because I would go to the Cemetery on gameday mornings when we would put the flowers out, there would be people there, and they started asking questions.

So, a few of us talked and said “well why don’t we try something.” We invited back some former players and introduced them in the cemetery with a small PA system in the beginning. It got a little bigger. Eventually, we got a stage and music. We took it outside the cemetery, and more and more people began to hear about it.

If we had a well-known SodTalk Legend come back, we could have 300 or 400 people. But with COVID-19 and the need to social distance, having a group together in a small area was not smart. The net result is a lot more people have been able to view the Legends online than would have seen them.

Q: You guys really did a great job with the production of the videos this year, talk about what went into that.

A: We contacted Seminole Productions and FSU Sports Marketing. Frankly, I was hoping for an intern with a camera. I just hoped we would have some way to record some Legends there and then get that out to people. But the combination of Seminole Productions, FSU Digital Media, and FSU Sports Marketing, decided to do what I think is a first-class production.

Their ability to take game video and tie it with the player’s descriptions is phenomenal. I have been really pleased with the result.

We recorded all of the SodTalks in August. Each week before a home game, Seminole Productions researches and edits to create the show.

Q: With the production, did you guys kind of have to figure a lot of that out on the fly?

A: People have asked me, “Did you ask your questions to the player knowing there was video?” I remember specific plays, and I was sure we had video of them. Seminole Productions had the ability to find them. We talked about Corey Simon at noseguard making an interception at Virginia. It was a huge play for him. But I knew we had video of that play.

When you have players like Charlie Ward and Warrick Dunn, it’s not hard to know that the highlights are there. But we have some phenomenal former players. You realize this wasn’t just a guy in a gold helmet, this is really a stellar person.

I hope people can feel they have met the former players and understand what great people they are, in addition to being outstanding players.

Q: Is there anyone that you have brought in to do a SodTalk and even you were a little starstruck or intimidated?

A: No, I have never been intimidated (laughs). I’m a fan and I don’t know many players when they are actually at Florida State.

But when I get the cell phone number from a former player, I’ve got about a 98% success rate in getting them to come back and do a SodTalk. Really almost every one have been people who if you ask a question they had a good story to tell. So they have been easy to work with.

Q: What has it been like through the years going to games and seeing Doak Campbell Stadium expand at a rapid pace?

My mother went to Florida State back when it was known as the Florida State College for Women, or FSCW. My father moved here in 1950. My parents took their three sons to ballgames. I first started going to games when I was 5. The last home game I missed was in second grade. I had the mumps. My dad always said, “Why would you miss a home game, it’s the main thing going on in town. And they put out the schedule in February, so you plan.”

So, because my parents always took us to the game and I went to undergraduate and law school at FSU, I’ve just been here. The next game is my 336th consecutive home game. I’ve enjoyed it. I think the games are a wonderful celebration of Tallahassee, Florida State and North Florida. So, to me it’s seeing people having fun. I enjoy the game, but I enjoy the crowd and the atmosphere.

My sophomore year in college we were 0-11. We hit a low then of about 17,000 people, I think. That year in college, you could carry a keg into Doak Campbell Stadium. And the folks at the stadium were happy that people came. So, times have changed a good bit!

Q: On that note like you just said, as the years have gone by, we’ve gotten a little removed from coach Bobby Bowden’s era, I feel like a lot of younger fans kind of don’t have a grasp on how different it was. What would you say is the biggest difference between then and now?

A: Our fans should remember that we were a really good women’s college academically.

The biggest thing our fans ought to know is that there are very few major college powers that have a history shorter than ours. We started playing football in 1947. The Notre Dame’s, Nebraska’s, and Alabama’s of the world had been playing for 60 years. They had a lot of tradition that we didn’t have.

We’re really a young kid on the block, so to speak. Although Bobby Bowden and Andy Miller took us to the bigtime as far as facilities and football, we still had the attitude of the underdog, which wasn’t bad. University of Florida folks always thought of us as little brother or little sister.

So we were the little guys. It’s been a lot of fun to see the little guys come back and do well. We’ve had to fight harder, be a little smarter, try more. That’s kind of what Florida State has been. I think a lot of young people now just have known us when we have been at the top. It’s was a long road to get there.

Q: Probably a lot to choose from, but what’s your favorite football game or memory during your years in school at FSU?

That one is pretty easy. I was in law school in 1977, we hadn’t defeated Florida in 9 years. We went to Florida, and had Wally Woodham and Jimmy Jordan at quarterback. We won 37-9, just beat the tar out of Florida. That was a lot of fun.

A fifth-year wide receiver named Roger Overby caught 3 touchdowns in the game. Larry Key had a great game. Aaron Carter, Ron Simmons had great games defensively for us. But to beat Florida 37-9…we had a big party that night.

Some fans may not know that when the team came back and turned off Interstate-10, the entire way from US-90 into Tallahassee had cars pulled off on both sides of the road. People cheering for the team. We were not far behind in our car, and it was a parade. I’ve never seen that before. It was a great day.

As a fan, I think one of the most fun games would be 1991 at Michigan when we won 51-31. We were ranked #1 and Michigan was #3, with 102,000 at the Big House. Glorious mid-west day weather-wise. It was probably 62 degrees and perfectly clear. Our fast guys just beat the heck out of the slow guys at Michigan.

Amp Lee had a game for the ages. He was a phenomenal runner. If someone wants to have fun watching FSU football, just Youtube “Amp Lee FSU vs. Michigan”. You see his highlights, and nobody could have been better. He was an effortless runner, just glided along. He was always just faster than anybody chasing him.

Q: Alright, I’m gonna put you on the spot here. You’ve got 1 game to win with your life on the line. Which National Championship team are you taking? 1993, 1999, or 2013?

You couldn’t make a wrong choice. I think maybe, because of pure defensive talent, I’d pick 2013. If I’m not mistaken, I think that 10 of the 11 starters on that defense started in the NFL. Jameis usually just was not gonna get beat. But you would win with all three teams.

Q: If you had to pick one, which Sod game in your era as Keeper was your absolute favorite?

The first national championship in 1993. We decided we would put the Sod marker in granite rather than concrete. Most people don’t see that, but in the Sod Cemetery the three national championship markers have a marble base rather than concrete. We decided we would make them a little special.

I think the first national championship in 1993 meant the most. But they’re all good because they’re against the crowd, against the odds when people thought you wouldn’t win, or championships and bowl games. And all games at Florida. All wins at Florida are really good. There are no bad wins at Florida (laughs).

Q: If you were drafting to start a football team and building a team, and had the first pick of any FSU football player in history, who would you take?

Might go with Ron Simmons. Coaches say you win games on the line. You need to control the other team. Ron Simmons was such an uncontrollable defensive lineman. The other team couldn’t do anything with him. He was a wonderful leader, extremely strong, extremely quick. Wreaked havoc. Led the team in sacks from noseguard which is pretty phenomenal.

But a lot of folks say you can’t have a really good team without a quarterback. So, I would take Chris Weinke, Jameis Winston and Charlie Ward, put their name in a hat and pick any one of the three.

Q: What’s the biggest thing or quality about Florida State that captivated you. What was it that made you want to be so involved with the school and athletic program?

I think it was the underdog mentality. If you had been a University of Florida fan that’s great and I respect them. But Florida had always been there. So, the idea of that underdog mentality made it more fun when we succeeded.

Q: What did it mean to you personally to be inducted into the FSU Hall of Fame?

That was a phenomenal honor. Pretty unbelievable. I’m a fan. People say, “What do you do at FSU?” I’m a fan. But I happen to be a fan who has lived in Tallahassee and a fan who Dean Coyle Moore asked to carry on a tradition. If you knew Dean Moore, you didn’t tell him no. You said “Yes sir, Dean.”

He asked me to carry on a tradition, and that is probably the reason that I am in the Hall of Fame, because of the cemetery and some work I did with Seminole Boosters. It meant a lot. You also didn’t tell Andy Miller “No”.

I was asked a lot of times “Doug, can you help with this project.” Or “Doug, can you help us raise money.” Andy had a phenomenal ability to encourage people, and to handle a lot of egos, too. Andy’s ability to bring people together, get them moving in one direction meant a lot.

So if you had Andy and Dean Moore asking you to help, you went to Florida State and enjoyed it, you understood what it meant. It was mainly a lot of fun. But the induction into the Hall of Fame was an unbelievable honor.

Also, I want to mention my wife Cricket, who is a graduate from FSU and a ballet instructor. Cricket has done our SodTalk and Sod Cemetery flowers for nearly 30 years now. She enjoys Florida State, but she mainly does it just to help me. Cricket has helped the Sod Cemetery become a beautiful place on game day, and it’s all her hands and her efforts. She has been wonderful.