SI Vault
Rick Telander
October 12, 1987
Trailing Florida State by 16 points, Miami stormed back to win a state—and, maybe, a national—championship 26-25
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October 12, 1987

The 'canes Were Very Able

Trailing Florida State by 16 points, Miami stormed back to win a state—and, maybe, a national—championship 26-25

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Miami 26, Florida State 25. Seminole coach Bobby Bow-den goes for a two-point conversion with 42 seconds to play in Tallahassee on Saturday and gets zero, and all you can think is: What a pity a game like this had to be decided by a stupid extra point.

Seeing as this game was for the championship of Florida—the Hurricanes had already clobbered the University of Florida, and the Seminoles seem likely to beat the Gators on Nov. 28—the appropriate way to decide the winner would have been to take a notable player from each side—let's say Miami All-America free safety Bennie Blades, who had nine tackles and a fumble recovery, and soon-to-be All-America tailback Sammie Smith of Florida State, who rushed for 189 yards in 30 carries—arm them with their favorite holsters and handguns, stand them on either side of midfield and let them quick-draw at the drop of the ref's flag. Last one breathing, hey, his team wins!

The Florida legislature would love it. Thanks to that august body, a new state law went into effect last Thursday giving citizens the right to wear their handguns in public, a right they hadn't, ahem, enjoyed since 1893. And besides, a shootout at the 50-yard line would have saved Bowden from the anguish of his extra-point decision. He'll be thinking about it only for the rest of his life.

Here's the situation: Second-ranked Miami has come from a third-quarter 19-3 deficit to take a 26-19 lead with less than three minutes to play. Danny McManus, the Seminoles' balding, easygoing quarterback, then takes fourth-ranked Florida State on a 73-yard drive that ends with his gorgeous 18-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Ronald Lewis in the deep left corner of the end zone. FSU (pronounced aif-fay-SHOE here in lovebug country, lovebugs being the insects that decorate every windshield from Jacksonville to Pensacola) trails 26-25, and here comes kicker Derek Schmidt. He has the tee in his hand. He's ready to boot. Granted, he has already missed an extra point and two of four field goal tries, and this is one of the biggest home games in Seminole history, but Bowden is on record as saying he'll go for the tie if confronted with the choice of attempting a one-point kick for a tie or a two-point conversion for a win.

He even called Tennessee coach Johnny Majors during the week to tell him he'd done the right thing in going for a tie the Saturday before against Auburn, a decision that produced a 20-20 draw and got Majors scorched by critics. Bowden says he made up his mind on this matter after the 1980 season, when Florida State lost twice by one point, 10-9 to Miami and 18-17 to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and finished 10-2. Two ties might have given the Seminoles the national championship.

So it's a done deal, right? Kick the point, stay undefeated, beat Auburn and Florida (the only tough games left on the Florida State schedule) and go for it all in a New Year's Day bowl game. But no. Bowden calls timeout. His players are pleading with him to go for two. He wavers. His brain is twitching. Finally, he yanks Schmidt, gives McManus a two-point play, and then watches in horror as a pass to tight end Pat Carter is knocked down in the end zone by Hurricane cornerback Bubba McDowell. Sixty-two thousand people, one of whom is former Seminole halfback (letters in 1955 and '57) and superfan Burt Reynolds, are silent. No national championship this year. Not even a state championship, which just might amount to the same thing.

In the locker room afterward Bowden looks pale. "I started to kick that darn thing," he says in a weak voice, "but I was afraid we were going to miss it. We'd missed those others. The wind was giving Schmidt trouble. I wish I'd gone for one. I'm sorry."

For most of the game Florida State had beaten Miami like a gong. The Hurricanes had rushed for just eight yards in the first half and only 52 in the game. In the first three quarters Miami quarterback Steve Walsh had completed a mere 9 of 21 passes for 138 yards. This was from a team that had been averaging more than 400 yards a game in total offense and had beaten its two previous opponents by the combined score of 82-11.

Indeed, the Seminole defense was so keyed up it seemed the players might implode from restraining their emotions after tackles. All-America cornerback Deion Sanders, a superb cover man, gifted punt returner—he ran back three for 53 yards—and All-World trash-talker, jawboned anything that came near him. And the Florida State front seven, led by noseguard Odell Haggins, tackle Eric Hayes and linebackers Felton Hayes and Paul McGowan, who had a team-leading 10 tackles, moved to the ball like sharks to whale meat. All of which made the loss more difficult to take. "That point's going to haunt us," said Bowden sadly.

A tie would have haunted the Seminoles too. "Everybody wanted to go for two," said McManus afterward. Bowden had even promised to get a Mohawk haircut if Florida State finished the regular season undefeated. Several players already had Mohawks. Not McManus." I don't have enough hair," he lamented. The Seminoles'loss makes one wish for a category beyond win, lose or draw—a gold star for effort, perhaps, just as in kindergarten.

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