We have been told, during a week of breathless media reports, that Florida State versus Notre Dame on Saturday is a huge game.
Yes, it is No. 2 (Florida State) versus No. 5 (Notre Dame). It is 6-0 versus 6-0. It is, in the first season with a four-team playoff dangling at the end of it, the best chance yet for a team to pencil itself in to one of the brackets.
But we wonder if the 2014 version of Florida State-Notre Dame can come close to the 1993 version. That was only the second time these two national college football powers played. Saturday will be the eighth.
There have been some overdone media references this week to the game having a “Game of the Century” feel. Before the ’93 game, there was no holding back on that characterization, nor should there have been.
It was No. 1 Florida State versus No. 2 Notre Dame. A nation of sports fans was wide-eyed and drooling. Bobby Bowden coached the Seminoles, Lou Holtz the Fighting Irish. Both were already legends. The teams weren’t bad, either.
As Holtz said then, “They had been good for about 10 years and we’d been good for seven.”
And so, on Nov. 13, 1993, under the ever-watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus — who overlooks Notre Dame Stadium from the side of the library to the north — and with the usual sellout crowd of 59,075 on hand and in full voice, the Seminoles and the Irish put on a show for the ages. Both were 9-0. Both were on 16-game winning streaks.
Notre Dame dominated until just under two minutes remained. Then, a guy who would win the Heisman Trophy that year and go on to play 12 years in the NBA, engineered the memorable closing dramatics. With 1 minute 39 seconds left, Charlie Ward threw a touchdown pass that cut Notre Dame’s lead to 31-24.
Ward was a model citizen. Still is, as coach of his son’s high school football team in Pensacola, Fla. His citizenship often gets lost in the silly morality plays that these games become, especially when Notre Dame is involved.
Even today, people are confusing Notre Dame-Florida State with Notre Dame-Miami, and there is actually a connection. In 1988, the Irish and the Hurricanes, both powerhouses, played each other, and a couple of college students came up with a T-shirt. A few Miami players had had brushes with the law. So the T-shirt read: Catholics vs. Convicts.
It sold a lot, a T-shirt gone viral.
Shortly afterward, when the scheduling process was taking place at Notre Dame for the ’93 season and Miami was a possibility, Holtz vetoed it, saying, “That game brings out the worst in both of our fans.”
So, penciled in for Nov. 13, 1993, was Florida State.
One can only wonder what Holtz thought of that decision when Ward’s scoring pass cut his team’s lead to 31-24. Florida State’s onside kick was recovered by Notre Dame’s Shawn Wooden, who suffered a partially torn knee ligament on the play. Notre Dame’s offense went three and out and Ward had his Seminoles marching again.
With three seconds left and Florida State at the Irish 14, Ward went back to throw one last pass. His previous touchdown pass had been tipped into the hands of his receiver. This time, the Irish sideline was screaming for its defense to forget the interception and “just knock it down.”
That’s what Wooden, hobbling badly with a taped knee, did.
Then, in the swarm of a victory celebration on the field, Wooden’s leg was trampled, completing the tear and finishing his season.
Later, Wooden was drafted by the Miami Dolphins. Making the choice was the Dolphins’ Jimmy Johnson, coach of the Convicts when they played the Catholics in ’88.
Notre Dame sat in the catbird’s seat for one week. The puffed-up Irish chests were deflated that next Saturday. Boston College, ranked No. 19 but a blip on Notre Dame’s radar after Florida State, kicked a last-second field goal to beat the Irish, 41-39. South Bend, Ind., became Gloom City.
Neither Florida State nor Notre Dame lost again that season and the Seminoles were voted No. 1. Wooden ran into Bowden years later, spotted his ’93 championship ring and asked if he could have half of it.
Saturday’s Seminoles-Irish matchup will have to go some to create a similar legend.
To start with, neither team has a golden boy quarterback the caliber of Ward. The travails of the Seminoles’ Jameis Winston has been a weekly distraction. Notre Dame’s Everett Golson is back from a year of sitting and watching after being expelled from school for an academic violation.
This time, the black hat/white hat thing doesn’t fly. No toughies versus choir boys. Writer Michael Weinreb, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, recently warned against calling it a “matchup between the righteous and the sinful.”
In essence, it will simply be a matchup of very good teams, with one, Notre Dame, having a greatly ignored psychological advantage.
Boston College is not on the schedule this year.