TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It’s been 40 years, 499 games and 2,065 exclamations of “Touchdown, FSU!”
Yes, Gene Deckerhoff is counting.
Deckerhoff, the radio voice of Florida State football since 1979 and a member of both the FSU Athletics and Florida Sports Halls of Fame, will call his 500th Seminole football game when North Carolina State visits Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday (7:30 p.m., ACC Network).
“That’s special,” Deckerhoff said. “When you get the job in 1979, number one, do you think you’re going to be blessed to live as many years as I have? And let alone do as many football games as I’ve been able to do?
“Yeah, it’s a tremendous milestone. I thought 400 was big. Now, all of a sudden, it’s 100 more games. I can’t believe it.”
WATCH: Seminoles.com profile of Gene Deckerhoff, before his 400th game
Thanks to his booming voice and iconic calls, Deckerhoff may be as synonymous with Florida State football as anyone outside of a certain few players and coaches.
The Jacksonville native chronicled nearly all of the legendary Bobby Bowden’s career, and over the last 40 years he’s called games for three Heisman Trophy winners, three future Pro Football Hall-of-Famers and three national championship teams.
“He’s an FSU great,” FSU head coach Willie Taggart said. “When it’s said and done, Gene’s a Hall-of-Famer and I’m glad to be a part of it. Can’t wait to talk to Gene after the game on Saturday.”
Deckerhoff has also served as the play-by-play voice for FSU men’s basketball since 1976 (that’s 1,252 games) and in that same capacity for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers since 1989.
“To be honest with you, I thought this was my dream job,” Deckerhoff said. “I thought that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”
There have been a few twists and turns along the way, but, by and large, Deckerhoff was right about that.
In 1979, Deckerhoff was doing TV work for Channel 6 in Tallahassee when the FSU radio job came open. He submitted his resume tape and soon found himself as one of three finalists – a group which, at the time, might have been the most talented to ever go after a college football broadcasting gig:
Deckerhoff, Tom Mees and Craig Sager.
Mees, who had previous radio experience at the University of Delaware, was in the middle of a brief stint at Tallahassee’s Channel 27 and later that year became one of the first on-air personalities at newly-launched ESPN.
And Sager, working at the time in Kansas City, went on to become famous for his work as a sideline reporter during NBA broadcasts.
Deckerhoff thinks his resume tape, which included a Florida State spring game, might have given him an edge.
“I was fortunate,” he said. “We had names like Ron Simmons, Wally Woodham, Jimmy Jordan, and I guess the FSU search committee recognized those names better than Tom’s Delaware Blue Hens.”
Deckerhoff’s career could hardly have gotten off to a better beginning.
On Sept. 8, 1979, Florida State hosted Southern Mississippi and Deckerhoff stepped into the radio booth for game No. 1. The Seminoles scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to overcome an 11-point deficit and win, 17-14.
It was the first of 11 straight victories for FSU, which played in its first Orange Bowl at the end of that season.
A year later, Bowden’s Seminoles went 10-2 and finished with another trip to the Orange Bowl.
“I broadcast 22 games and there was only one loss (in the regular season), and that was by one point,” Deckerhoff said. “So it was a pretty good start.”
As No. 500 approaches, Deckerhoff remains grateful to several people, but two stand out.
First is Andy Miller, the president of Seminole Boosters who hired Deckerhoff as director of electronic media in 1983, then insisted that Deckerhoff remain in his role as play-by-play man when Host Communications later took over FSU’s marketing and communications responsibilities.
And then there’s Bowden, with whom Deckerhoff worked from 1979 until Bowden’s retirement following the 2009 season.
The two spent a lot of time together, whether during pre- or post-game settings, on Bowden’s annual booster tour, or especially during taping of The Bobby Bowden Show.
When the Buccaneers came calling in 1989, it seemed like a perfect fit for Deckerhoff – FSU games on Saturdays and Bucs games on Sundays – except for one problem:
In order to get from Tallahassee to Tampa in time for 1 p.m. kickoffs, Deckerhoff would have to record Bowden’s TV show immediately after games.
Sometimes, after night kickoffs, that meant hitting the studio at 1 or 2 a.m.
That’d be a pretty big ask for anyone, let alone a coach of Bowden’s stature.
“But absolutely without hesitation,” Deckerhoff said, “Bobby Bowden – the legendary head coach of the Florida State Seminoles – said, ‘Gene, I think it’s great. You just keep me awake during those commercials and I’ll do that TV show any time you want me to do it.’
“There’s not another football coach at any level, I promise you, that would agree to do his TV show at 3 o’clock in the morning so his radio guy could go do an NFL game on Sunday.
“The rest, as they say, is absolute history.”
After 40 years and 499 games, there are bound to be some favorite moments, and Deckerhoff has his picked out. Here they are, in reverse order.
Gene Deckerhoff’s Top 10 Favorite FSU Football Moments
10) Matt Frier goes deep to beat Miami in 1993
Florida State entered the 1993 season with a No. 1 national ranking, a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback and the thought that this would be the year that Bowden finally claimed his elusive national championship.
But that thought didn’t turn into full-fledged belief until the Seminoles showed they could beat the Miami Hurricanes. They’d already suffered a lifetime’s worth of heartache at the hands of their rivals – including a pair of wide-right field goal misses in 1991 and 92, as well as a failed two-point conversion that would have beaten the Canes in 1987.
When Charlie Ward connected with Matt Frier for a 72-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, it gave FSU a lead it never relinquished. And, a few months later, the Seminoles were carrying Bowden off the field at the Orange Bowl following an 18-16 win over Nebraska that sealed the national title.
9) Floyd punches it in against Nebraska
Speaking of that Orange Bowl, fullback William Floyd scored FSU’s only touchdown of the game early in the third quarter. Floyd would go on to star with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and, in 2009, joined Deckerhoff in the booth as the broadcast team’s new color analyst. The two have been calling FSU football games together ever since.
(Note: In a strange example of archaic media rights, Deckerhoff did not call the 1994 Orange Bowl, as the exclusive radio rights were held by another company. He called all five of FSU’s other national championship games.)
8) ‘The Foolah from Pascagoula’
Terrell Buckley, a native of Pascagoula, Miss., earned his nickname after catching a punt and hesitating a moment before taking off downfield. Syracuse’s punt coverage unit mistakenly thought Buckley had called a fair catch and, by the time it had realized the mistake, Buckley was already well on his way to the end zone.
7) Ponder connects with Owens for 98
The Seminoles trailed by 18 points when Christian Ponder found Rod Owens for a 98-yard touchdown pass that swung the tide in the Seminoles’ favor on a Thursday night in Chapel Hill, N.C.
That play sparked a comeback win and helped to ensure that Bowden would coach in a bowl game during his final year at the helm.
6) Rix to Sam
After a wild, back-and-forth affair in Gainesville, all hope seemed to be lost for FSU. The Seminoles trailed by three with 2:43 to play, a few moments later faced a fourth-and-14 at their own 24-yard line and, with another raucous crowd in Gainesville breathing down their necks, were staring down what would have been a deflating loss to the Florida Gators.
Junior quarterback Chris Rix, though, had other ideas. He converted that fourth-down play with a 24-yard completion to Dominic Robinson and, just a moment later, did this:
That play helped FSU to its fifth win in six tries against the Gators, and, 16 years later, still stands as one of the most famous of its era.
5) Deion calls his shot
This game is remembered as the “Puntrooskie” game (more on that in a minute), but it also featured one of the most memorable plays in the career of one of FSU’s most memorable players.
As he took his spot deep to return a Clemson punt, FSU senior Deion Sanders could be seen talking – or maybe yelling – at just about anyone he laid eyes on. Particularly at Clemson’s bench and its head coach, Danny Ford.
Sanders had already promised to return a punt for a touchdown, and, in the moment, wasn’t about to let his promise go unfulfilled.
Seventy-four yards later, Sanders was in the end zone, yelling “How ya like me now?” as Clemson’s fans steamed. They would be even madder a little while later.
4) Preston completes ‘The Choke’
When does a tie feel like a win? How about when Florida State rallies from a 28-point deficit to tie the Florida Gators, 31-31, in Tallahassee?
The Seminoles did just that, storming back from a four-touchdown hole to send Steve Spurrier and the Gators home unhappy. Rock Preston, whose fumble earlier in the game set up a UF touchdown, scored the tying TD – and Deckerhoff was so excited on the call that he finished his “3-2-1 …” cadence somewhere around the 2-yard line.
Even better, Florida State and Florida met again a few weeks later at the Sugar Bowl – dubbed “The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter” – and FSU rolled for a 23-17 win that settled the score in 1994.
3) Ward to Dunn
A little less than six minutes from a trip to the national championship game, No. 2 FSU’s title hopes were starting to teeter. After leading No. 7 Florida by as many as 20 points, an uncomfortable feeling had settled on the FSU sideline. The Gators rallied to trim their deficit to 27-21, and, with 5:30 to play, had Charlie Ward and Co. facing a third-and-10 from their 21-yard line.
One more stop was all that UF needed to set the stage for a massive upset, and the 85,507 screaming fans – who had never seen the Gators lose at home in more than three years under coach Steve Spurrier – could feel it brewing.
In a play that all but cemented his Heisman Trophy, Ward took a snap at his 21-yard line, faked a handoff to his roommate, freshman Warrick Dunn, then scanned downfield.
As Ward evaded a Florida pass-rusher and rolled to his left, Dunn slipped across the field toward the left sideline and Ward, throwing across his body, hit the running back in stride. Dunn split a pair of UF defenders then took off down the sideline for a touchdown that hushed “The Swamp” and cemented FSU’s spot in the Orange Bowl.
2) The Puntrooskie
Sanders’ punt return leveled the score with Clemson, but the Seminoles need more to squeeze out a win at Death Valley.
Cue up Bowden, who, on a fourth down deep in his own territory, reached into his bag of tracks and caught the entire stadium off-guard.
It’s probably best to just watch, listen to Deckerhoff’s call and then see Bowden’s explanation at the end of the clip.
Famed sportscaster Beano Cook called it “The best play since ‘My Fair Lady,’” and more than 30 years later, it remains maybe the most famous play of Bowden’s career.
1) Winston to Benjamin
For more than three quarters, one of the most dominant teams in college football seemed destined to finish its season on a sour note.
But the 2013 Seminoles, behind Heisman winner Jameis Winston, rallied back from an 18-point deficit and, with 1:11 to play, needed 80 yards for a touchdown that would earn FSU’s third national title.
A few moments later, Winston had guided FSU to Auburn’s 2-yard line and, after a fake handoff and a harder-than-it-looked throw off his back foot, connected with Kelvin Benjamin for a score that delivered FSU’s third crystal football.
And, as a bonus, he’s a clip of Deckerhoff making the call as it happened.