Gene Deckerhoff came to Tallahassee in the early 1970s with one ambition - becoming the Voice of Florida State football. Now in his 31st season as the Seminoles' radio play-by-play man, Deckerhoff sat down to discuss some of the highlights of his career, including the wire-to-wire run at No. 1 in 1999 for the school's second national championship. A University of Florida graduate, Deckerhoff makes no mistake about where his allegiance lies. He's a Seminole through and through.
Do you have a favorite game looking back on all 31 seasons?
Any win over Miami or Florida are favorite games. Also the 31-31 tie (with Florida in '94) comes to mind immediately. The national championship game of 1999, a classic, capping a wire-to-wire season. A tremendous game between (No.) 1 vs. 2. It's like coach Bowden has said, some of the best games I have broadcast have been losses to Miami. In 1987, the one just the other day in Tallahassee in 2009. The loss to Notre Dame in '93. Those were great football games; just tremendous games, but we lost them. The top of the list would be the '99 championship game.
Which championship do you find more memorable - 1993 or 1999?
'93 because it was the first, but '99 because I broadcast it. In 1993 we were not able to get the radio rights to broadcast the game. To be honest I watched that game on television in Tallahassee, Fla. So, '99 is obviously the favorite of the two because I worked the game, broadcast the game and we beat Michael Vick of Virginia Tech and beat them soundly.
What were your feelings during the time toward the game while you were broadcasting that game in 1999?
It was sort of a see-saw thing. Florida State dominated the first half and then in the third quarter Michael Vick and Virginia Tech came back and took the lead. Going into the fourth quarter Florida State had work to do. Peter Warrick was MVP - he played like an MVP; he had a phenomenal game - and Chris Weinke was only a junior quarterback, but I think the team rallied around those two and got the job done. It was a tremendous victory - wire-to-wire. Everyone can say, 'We've got more championships than you've got' - I'm thinking Florida and Miami - but neither one of those teams ever went wire-to-wire. Now UF has a chance this year, but no team has gone wire-to-wire, from preseason No. 1 to postseason No. 1, except Florida State. The '99 championship game is a phenomenal, phenomenal accomplishment.
Absolutely. I think we're not that far off now. Things just haven't fallen the way you'd hope they'd fall. Football is a funny game; football is a cyclical thing. Notre Dame, they still haven't kicked back to where people expect Notre Dame to be. Michigan - good golly - they didn't go to a bowl game last year. They had the longest running string. It's cyclical. Florida State is on the verge of being back to where cycle is swinging (in its) favor. If we complete a pass on third down or on fourth down in the Miami game and Florida State is ranked in the top 10 right now. That's how close it is. It came right down to the final play of the game.
What are your favorite memories from the '99 season?
A couple things, but the first thing that comes to mind is Florida State beating Clemson at Clemson. It was a rainy, rainy kind of game. It didn't rain hard but it was misty and damp. It was Coach Bowden's 300th victory. It was his first father vs. son match-up and it came right down to a field goal by Sebastian Janikowski. I'd have to say the most memorable moment in 1999, besides the national championship, was the victory over Clemson. Their field goal missed, ours made it and we won 17-14. The second favorite game was the win over the Florida Gators. You knew that was coming. Florida State went into Gainesville, a tough venue. It's amazing. Both national championship seasons that Florida State has played in we had to go on the road and beat Florida at Florida. Wouldn't it be nice to beat them this year and play for a national championship?
From your vantage point from above, what distinguishing qualities set the '99 championship team apart from others and gave Bobby Bowden his first undefeated season?
A tremendous defense - pass rush defense - (and the) secondary play was superb. Defense wins championships, and I think that was true. But on the offensive side of the football you had a game-breaker, a guy that should have won the Heisman Trophy, and that was Peter Warrick. ... Peter Warrick played as good as anybody in the country and should have won the school's third Heisman Trophy. He was the game-breaker, the game-maker. Then you had Chris Weinke. Chris Weinke earned his Heisman Trophy in the 1999 season and continued it in 2000. ... And let's not forget we had the best kicker in college football - Sebastian Janikowski. It all added up to a tremendous team; a tremendous season.
How has it been working with Bobby Bowden? What do you enjoy most about working on the show together?
I think I've been doing Coach Bowden's radio shows, at least the pregame radio show, since he's been in Tallahassee, which began in 1976. I did not do the play-by-play in '76, '77 and '78. I started doing play-by-play and the post-game shows on radio in the 1979 season. By the way, the 'Noles went 11-0 that season, so it was a good job to have. We did lose to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl; our first-ever major bowl. I started doing the television show in 1981 and what you see with Bobby is what you get. There's no better person on this planet to work with in the business that I'm in. I've interviewed a lot of coaches and met a lot of coaches and when it comes to doing radio shows and television shows, Bobby is the best. In 1989 I was offered a job to do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and I called Coach Bowden. ... I talked to him on the phone and I tell him about this opportunity to do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he said, 'Gene, how come you have to call me? I think that's great.' I said, 'Coach, we may have to do your television show at midnight or 3 o'clock in the morning so I can catch a plane and fly to my Tampa Bay assignment. He said, 'Gene, you just keep me awake during the commercials and we'll do it that.' We have been doing it that way ever since. There is not another college football, let alone pro coach, that would agree to do a TV show in the wee hours of the morning just so their play-by-play guy could go do an NFL game on Sunday. That gives you an idea of the relationship that we have.
You are the only person to do the play-by-play for the college football national championship and the Super Bowl. How do you feel about that distinction?
I think it's great to have that distinction if only I hadn't gained weight and my (championship) rings would still fit my finger. ... It's apples and oranges. Even though it is football, it is a different event. It's like saying, 'What's your favorite country-western concert? What's your favorite rock concert?' The Super Bowl championship was a phenomenal experience. To play in San Diego, my favorite city outside of Florida ... Now, New Orleans may be my second-favorite city outside of San Diego. The national championship football game, I was hoarse and almost lost my voice. ... I was spraying chloroseptic between every play. I completely lost my voice the night before. ... By game time I was able to talk, but it was scary, scary. At the Super Bowl, I wasn't hoarse. They were neck-and-neck great experiences, and I will cherish those memories forever.
As a Florida grad, but a long-time resident of Tallahassee and the Voice of the Seminoles, how have you come to consider yourself a true 'Nole?
Let me cut my wrist and see if it bleeds garnet and gold. I moved to Tallahassee in 1974 and I wanted to be the voice of the Seminoles. I don't even know where my diploma is from the University of Florida. It's probably somewhere in my attic. I became a Seminole as a Seminole fan. My first Seminole feelings were at a radio station I worked at in Bradenton. It was owned by the voice of the Seminoles during 1971-72. Bo Mitchell was in the final two years of his tenure as the voice of Florida State. He owned the radio station I worked for. All three of his sons went to Florida State. And our station carried - guess who? - the Florida State Seminoles. The station manager told me, 'I don't want to see you in any Gator colors.' I said, 'That's a no-brainer. I'm a Seminole.' The rest, so they say, is history. Two of my three sons graduated from Florida State. I may have gone to Florida, but I ain't a Gator.
Which Florida State players stand out from your career?
Charlie Ward, Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks, Ron Simmons, Sebastian Janikowski and Peter Warrick, obviously. ... Those names just jump out. The Heisman Trophy winners - Charlie and Chris Weinke. I've got to throw in David Ponder and Paul Piurowski, because they have sons that are both playing football right now. God bless those guys for having boys that are playing football as second generation Florida State (players). Billy Rhodes had two sons that both played football. My favorites would be fellows that had sons who came back here to play football.
Finally, how do you feel about your listeners and fans?
I appreciate all the fans that listen. The ones that like hearing, 'Touchdown Florida State!'