In 1971, FSU diploma fresh in hand, I was spinning records at WGLF-FM, when a new assignment popped up. It was football season and the station was going to break from its music format for an evening sports call-in show. Because I'd covered FSU for the student newspaper (the old Flambeau) I was going to host the program. And the star of the show would be former Seminole great, Steve Tensi, one half of the famous 1960s pitch-and-catch combo with Fred Biletnikoff.
Wow, a chance to work with a guy that gave me and others so many thrilling moments, and was instrumental in FSU's breakout season of '64. I got an advanced football education as I shadowed Tensi on visits to practices, meeting rooms and coaches offices. And Steve had an instant rapport with fans who called into the show asking about his insights.
Came the week of the Florida game (played in mid-October that year). FSU was 5-0 and heavily favored over the 0-5 gators. Still, we were intent on getting an interview with Florida Coach Doug Dickey. We called their sports information director, got the green light and, packing a battery-powered recorder, drove down to G-ville on the Tuesday before game day.
As I recall, we were told just to show up at the gate outside one end zone of Florida Field (the pre-expansion layout of the stadium) where we'd meet Dickey after practice. But as we approached the gate, we were suprised to see it wide open -- and with no guard to keep people like us out during practice. It seemed like an invitation, so Tensi and I simply walked in.
The gators were in the middle of a hard-hitting full pads scrimmage. Dickey was at midfield as we walked slowly toward him. He turned around and saw us, but it wasn't quite the greeting we expected.
Dickey blew his whistle like it was an air raid alert. The sound reverberated off the empty seats and concrete. Then, silence. Practice came to an instant halt. Players, coaches and managers were all frozen in place, startled and confused.
While I can't recall Dickey's exact words -- though they were loud enough to be heard by everybody on the field -- he was clearly outraged that a Seminole great would intrude on such an important practice. The implication was we were spying, trying to learn what the gators were up to, and rush back to Tallahassee to be debriefed by Seminole coaches.
Former Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward will be among the Seminoles returning to Tallahassee today when the school honors the 1993 national championship team. FSU will hold a pregame ceremony to honor the team before the 3:30 p.m. kickoff with Syracuse.
Ward talked about the 1993 season, the 2013 team and quarterback Jameis Winston:
When you think about the 1993 season, what memories do you have?
WARD: The one thing that I am reminded of is that we had a collective group that was willing to sacrifice for the benefit of the team. We had talent, we had great coaching. When you have that combination the only thing that gets in the way is attitude.
How much fun was it to play in an offense that was putting up 40 or 50 points almost every week?
WARD: Whenever you get a chance to throw it around, catch it, run the ball, we had a great offensive line, we had talent. It’s always fun when you are able to execute what you’ve put together. … It was fun. To have guys to be able to throw to and do what they were capable of doing.
The Orange Bowl win over Nebraska was such a defensive game. What do you remember about that night and the celebration?
WARD: You like to be able to score, however, but it wasn’t the case. We were able to put together enough drives. We didn’t turn the ball over. That was huge in being able to keep us in the game.
Our defense played well all year, that’s why we were very good. When we got an opportunity to put a drive together (at the end of the game to set up a Scott Bentley field goal), all the time and work that we had put in paid off. We were confident that we were able to put a drive together. We were able to make that happen when we needed it most. The confidence that we had over the course of the year played a big part in that last drive.
What are your thoughts on the 2013 team?
WARD: The team actually is very similar to our team. One of the things that coach (Jimbo) Fisher mentioned to me is that the group that he has now is two deep … it breeds competition. It pushes both sides, the offense and the defense. It pushes them in practice to get better. There’s not a talent gap. That’s the most encouraging thing.
I see a lot of similarities because of the talent but more importantly the quarterback is able to facilitate, get the ball to his guys, he’s very accurate and he’s a great leader as well.
When you watch Jameis Winston, what do you see that makes him successful?
WARD: You feel confident that he is going to make the right decision every time now that he has done it time and time again. Coming in, you weren’t right sure how he would do. But the first game kind of put him over the top. Being able to facilitate the offense, make good choices with the ball, not turn it over in key spots, and use the talent around him. … Now that I’ve seen him play, he’s the real deal.
You have Heisman vote. Where does Winston stack up on your ballot?
WARD: If there’s a guy from Florida State that’s worthy, I’m going to vote for him (laughing). I like (Alabama QB) A.J. McCarron, (Oregon QB Marcus) Mariota -- he kind of lost a little bit there with the Stanford loss. Johnny Manziel, of course. His numbers are great but his team has lost two games.
“From an individual perspective, my freshman year we were playing against Florida in a big rival game at the end of the year. We were in the locker room and I was starting that game because Greg Jones got hurt. Bobby Bowden was like ‘We need you to get it done tonight, and if you don’t, we’ll need to pull Lorenzo Booker out of his redshirt.’ That motivated me to have a great game.” (From ESPN's Boston blog)
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