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Lost tales of Florida State fandom: FSU fans set fire in the Swamp

True confessions of a convicted gridiron arsonist

He did something dumb. He got caught. He has served his debt to society many times over and he has repented.

He gave up his questionable former lifestyle after serving his time. He paid his fines and is now a contributing member of society.

And now after years of self-analysis, he is finally ready to tell his side of the story uncut, raw and unfiltered.

This historical firsthand account from a Seminole, of a regrettable moment in his past, is not meant as a TN approval of this type of mischievous behavior by Florida State University students, but rather a reminder to be more careful and not to get caught.*

(Editor’s note: Seriously, don’t set things on fire guys.)

This is the real story of a Nole who was able to put his troubled past behind him and successfully overcome the stigma of being a Gator turf burner.

———

When I think back to that incident over 50 years ago, it is not the 10 days in jail that bothers me, nor the hefty fine, the one-year FSU probation, the damage I did to my law school plans, or the fact that I almost got killed and took some innocents with me.

No, it is the bad reviews I got from the state press: “the lettering was irregular and unneat,” “The person who did it gets D-minus in penmanship,” and so on.

But I digress.

Let’s rewind to the beginning. On November 18, 1967, two friends and I were arrested for disorderly conduct, and I alone for high-speed chase/excessive speeding (driving over 80 mph through Gainesville in very dense fog). As the judge subsequently wrote: “This started out as a student prank prior to the Florida-Florida State football game November 25, 1967, and it appears that when discovered, these students panicked without realizing that in doing so they were placing themselves in more trouble.”

Perhaps the night would have ended differently had we not made a blunder that is painful to admit. We started off by driving in the middle of the night from Tallahassee to Gainesville with three cans of gas, one for each of us to inscribe our assigned letter in The Swamp.

We were shocked to find the stadium humming and all lit up when we arrived, having failed to anticipate the preparations being made for that Saturday’s Florida-Kentucky game.

Undeterred, we snuck onto the field, wrote FSU with gas, lit our artwork, and watched in dismay as only two letters ignited.

In a ridiculously stupid move that would lead to our downfall, we sought out a gas station and returned to finish our mission, only this time to be met by police advancing from all corners of the stadium.

Diving into my Chevy Impala, I then led campus, city, and state police on a high-speed chase through dense fog, ending up surrounded on three sides at a T-intersection.

The rest, as they say, is history. FSU, led by Kim Hammond and Ron Sellers, went on to win the game 21-16, its first victory in Gainesville.

I drove to Gainesville and spent three consecutive weekends in jail there. After my probation ended, the incident was removed from my file.

Dean Schaeffer wrote a letter recommending me for law school, and Judge Hampton did the same. I subsequently went to law school in Gainesville, and then on to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Not only did I get a prized position at the DOJ, but I also went on to receive every award they offer, and they even started a new one which I was the first recipient of. I ultimately achieved the highest competence and ethical rating a lawyer in the US can have (AV from Martindale-Hubbell).

Editor’s note: One of my favorite moments while putting this together was when I read this quote from Assistant Head Coach Bob Harbison, who observed wryly:

“I sure hope it wasn’t a graduate who did it.” The lettering was irregular and unneat.

***Special thanks to Eric, aka. TN member MexiNole, for this exclusive contribution to Tomahawk Nation.

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