TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With just 150 miles separating campuses, the nation’s most fertile recruiting ground within driving distance and the heat of a national spotlight seemingly every year, the Florida State-Florida rivalry has been personal since the moment it was born more than 60 years ago.
And that rings especially true for a group of four FSU coaching staffers – one interim head coach, two assistants and one analyst – who first made their mark on the rivalry as players and on Saturday will put their fingerprints on the game from the sidelines.
Odell Haggins (1985-89), Ron Dugans (1995-99), Mario Edwards (1995-99) and Stanford Samuels Jr. (1998-2003) all know what it’s like play against the Gators and, more importantly, how to beat them.
That foursome boasts a combined lifetime record of 9-6 over UF as players, and on Saturday will look to lead the current Seminoles (6-5) to an upset victory over No. 8 Florida (9-2) that would likely rank among the program’s most memorable in recent history.
It might even be enough to supplant some of the favorite memories that each of the four shared earlier this week:
Odell Haggins: Dawn of a Dynasty – Nov. 29, 1987
The overall records and final score paint a misleading picture of the 30th meeting between Florida State and Florida. The Seminoles, with a 9-1 record and No. 3 national ranking, went to Gainesville to face 6-4 Florida and emerged with a relatively comfortable 28-14 victory.
But the game didn’t come easily. For one thing, the Seminoles entered the contest riding a six-game losing streak against their rivals. And Florida, with the help of freshman running back Emmett Smith, built a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter.
“We had to come back and win that football game,” said Haggins, who at the time was a redshirt sophomore. “And that was an intense, hard-hitting game,”
The Seminoles came back and won thanks to four Derek Schmidt field goals – including a 53-yarder – and a pair of touchdown runs from Dayne Williams. Herb Gainer, whose son, Amari, is a redshirt freshman on the current FSU football team, caught a two-point conversion to provide the final margin.
Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles went on to beat Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl and finish ranked No. 2. It was the first in a run of 14 consecutive top-four finishes that would later be known as the “Dynasty Era” at FSU.
“They had one of the all-time great running backs at the time – we didn’t know it back then – Emmitt Smith, and that was a battle,” Haggins said. “I’ll never forget that.”
Ron Dugans: Ridin’ the Riverboat – Nov. 23, 1998
Leading by a point early in the fourth quarter, the No. 5 Seminoles were looking to pull away from the No. 4 Gators and seemed to have done just that when Travis Minor struck for a 46-yard touchdown run.
A holding penalty, however, nullified that play and gave UF a brief spark.
Make that a very brief spark.
On the very next play, Bowden – often dubbed “The Riverboat Gambler” for his penchant for taking risks and calling trick plays – dialed up a call that caught Florida’s defense napping.
It was a perfect play-call at a perfect time and Warrick, a former high school quarterback, made a perfect throw to Dugans who finished off a 46-yard touchdown reception that effectively sealed the game.
“The Riverboat Gambler, he called the reverse pass,” said Dugans, who joined FSU’s staff as receivers coach for the 2019 season. “Pete got it. I was free. He saw me. He laid it on me, and it was a house call. That was the biggest moment, just our crowd going crazy. That’s one of my biggest memories, because every time we played that game, we wanted to win for our fans.”
It’s not as if the play came out of nowhere, either. Dugans said that the Seminoles had practiced it all season, and that Bowden had actually called it earlier that season – only for Warrick to misfire on the pass.
But he was right on target against the Gators and, a few weeks later, the Seminoles were off to the Fiesta Bowl, where they’d square off with Tennessee for the national championship.
Mario Edwards: A front-row seat for ‘The Choke at Doak’ – Nov. 26, 1994
Mario Edwards, who recently assumed an on-field coaching position after several years as a support staffer, has plenty of memorable moments from his playing career, including a pivotal interception in that 1998 game.
But his favorite came a year prior to his arrival in Tallahassee. In 1994, Edwards, then a blue-chip defensive back recruit from Pascagoula, Miss., took his official recruiting visit to Florida State, where he was set to watch the No. 7 Seminoles take on No. 4 Florida.
As fans of each school remember, the first three quarters were effectively a showcase for Steve Spurrier’s Gators. UF made easy work of FSU, built a 31-3 lead after three quarters and signaled to Edwards that maybe his best move would be to follow his friend, UF star Jack Jackson, to Gainesville.
What followed, of course, is one of the great performances in FSU football history. Twenty-eight points in a single quarter that led to a 31-31 tie that felt an awful lot like a win in the home locker room.
“My fondest memory, honestly, was on my recruiting official visit,” Edwards said. “I came to a game and it was 1994, Florida Gators against FSU, right here at home. …
“The resilience and the fight and determination that the Noles had to come back and tie that game after being down so far, that right there let me know that I wanted to be a part of what Florida State was doing. I wanted to be a part of something special.”
Safe to say that he was. In his five years at FSU, Edwards was a part of five ACC championships, played for three national titles and was on the 1999 team that went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country.
Stanford Samuels Jr.: Great escape in Gainesville – Nov. 29, 2003
Stanford Samuels, a defensive analyst, has a hard time picking a favorite game against the Gators.
After all, as he’s quick to point out, he went 5-1 against them in his six years with the Seminoles. And he even won a high school state championship at Florida Field during his time at Miami Carol City.
But Samuels’ last game against Florida, in which the No. 10 Seminoles escaped with a 38-34 victory over No. 11 UF, stands out.
The Chris Rix-led Seminoles trailed by three with about three minutes to play, and things seemed nearly lost when FSU faced a fourth-and-14 at its own 24-yard line.
But Rix converted with a pass to Dominic Robinson, and then followed that up with a what stands as one of the most iconic plays of its era:
Rix’s 52-yard touchdown pass to P.K. Sam lifted the Seminoles to an improbable victory, secured FSU’s first 10-win season in three years and secured a place in the Orange Bowl.
It also left the Gators and their fans feeling most unpleasant.
“What I remember is the crowd being excited, thinking the game was over with,” Samuels said. “That play happening, P.K. coming down with the ball, the dog almost biting P.K., then the fight that ensued – that we also won. We won a number of ways that day.”