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After quarterback Charlie Ward had slipped away from the last defender and coach Bobby Bowden had pulled his last rooskie and Florida State had, at last, defeated Miami—after all that, the Seminoles' victory was still only partial. On the field receivers Tamarick Vanover and Kevin Knox held up a sign that read NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, PART ONE.
The record crowd of 77,813 at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee scarcely had time to roar last Saturday before reality kicked in. For Vanover and Knox's sign was cautionary as well as celebratory. As significant as the occasion was—the Seminoles had preserved their No. 1 ranking and gone to 6-0 by beating the very team that had so often deprived them of national-title hopes—the fact remains that Florida State is less than halfway to the national championship.
The Seminoles have another seven games to play. More to the point, they must forge on to a meeting in South Bend on Nov. 13 with Notre Dame, which is 6-0 and ranked No. 3. Then it's on to Gainesville for a Nov. 27 date with archrival Florida, the nation's fourth-ranked team. And then the Seminoles must win a bowl game on Jan. 1. In other words, to be national champion, Florida State may well have to defeat four Top 5 teams, counting Miami. "Games of the Century One, Two and Three," Bowden said of his team's schedule. "And Four and Five and Six," added fullback William Floyd, perhaps mindful of, among other opponents, unbeaten and 15th-ranked Virginia, which the Seminoles play at home this week.
Thus Miami-Florida State was just Act I of a drama that promises to be as long as Nicholas Nickleby. Not that this act wasn't deserving of spotlights. After dismissing the Hurricanes from the stage by a score of 28-10, the Seminoles wore their smiles like mink stoics, luxuriating in a victory that did wonders for their self-esteem. Too often the Seminoles had been observers in the wings while Miami waltzed away with titles and statuettes. This time, though, Ward gave a performance—including a 72-yard scoring pass to Matt Frier and a two-yard touchdown run of his own—that was worthy of the Heisman Trophy. In supporting roles tailback Sean Jackson turned Florida State's third offensive play of the game into a 69-yard touchdown dance, and in the fourth quarter safety Devin Bush scored on a showy 40-yard interception return.
Florida State's victory over Miami, which had gone to Tallahassee ranked third and riding the nation's longest regular-season winning streak (31 games), lent credence to many analysts' belief that these Seminoles are one of the greatest collegiate teams ever. They better be, if they are to get through their schedule. "Write this down," said defensive back Clifton Abraham, who made a game-high 10 tackles. "Miami was the final obstacle. We're not going to beat Miami and lose to someone else."
Perhaps Florida State is foolish to place so much stock in one win. However, it's hard to understate the immensity of the victory to this team. As an event of national importance, the Florida State-Miami game is nouveau, a matter of the 1980s and '90s, but in that span it has shaped the college football picture more than any other contest. Since 1987 the Seminoles have finished among the top four teams in the country every year, but they have almost always ended up ranked behind the Hurricanes, who in the last 10 years have acquired four national titles and a habit of flashing large gold-and-diamond rings in the Seminoles' faces. Before Saturday, Florida State had lost seven of its last eight games with Miami, the last two having been burned into the minds of all who saw or took part in them as Wide Right I and Wide Right II.
In 1991 a field goal attempt by Gerry Thomas with seconds remaining tailed off to the right, ensuring a 17-16 Seminole loss. Last year Dan Mowrey's 38-yard attempt was again wide right, sealing a 19-16 defeat. Florida State fans can tell you where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot, where they were during the first moon walk and where they were for the wide rights. "I don't hardly ever forget about them," Bowden said last week.
That the two teams have been so similar in both style and skill has made the defeats even tougher for the Seminoles. The Miami-Florida State game is not a hate-fest on the level of Florida-Georgia or a class war like Alabama-Auburn. But it has an element of humiliation that those other games lack. The Seminoles and the Hurricanes don't despise each other—quite the opposite. Many of them know each other, some grew up together, and a few are close friends.
This year 78 Seminoles and 54 Hurricanes are from Florida. Losing the game is like losing to a brother. The losers never hear the end of it. Bush went to Hialeah-Miami Lakes High with his good friend Ryan Collins, the Hurricane reserve quarterback. "I'm so glad I don't have to go home now and listen to all that trash," said Bush after Saturday's game. "I hated going home."
Who else but the Hurricanes and the Seminoles would telephone each other's dorm rooms at all hours to boast, taunt and dis? The shenanigans began on Sunday evening, six days before the game. Rap artist Luther Campbell, a member of the group 2 Live Crew and a Miami fan, organized a conference call in Miami with a dozen or so Hurricanes. Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, roughly the same number of Seminoles gathered to take the Hurricanes' call in the dorm room of defensive end Toddrick McIntosh. The Seminoles put a Florida State highlight video on McIntosh's TV and blasted a Phil Collins tune, In the Air Tonight. Miami receiver Jonathan Harris vowed he would score a touchdown on Florida State defensive back Corey Sawyer, who swore he would give Harris his Seminole jersey if he suffered such an embarrassment.