Dan Whitehurst was a big ol' linebacker from a little South Georgia town. During the 1970 - 72 seasons, Dan brought down many opposing ball carriers with teeth-rattling tackles. But the one that older Noles remember best goes back to Thanksgiving night in 1970. FSU was playing Houston, the final game on the turkey day TV menu. The Noles had a fairly stout defense that year, but Houston took advantage of a key second half injury and...But let's allow Whitehurst himself to tell the story.
"We were ahead 26 - 12 at the half. And then Tommy Warren (QB) dislocated his shoulder and didn't tell Coach Henning (offensive coordinator Dan Henning). So he was throwing wounded ducks out in the flats, and they kept intercepting for touchdowns. And on the third one that was going for a touchdown, the guy (Nick Holm) came down our sideline and (Bill) Parcells said 'somebody oughta get him.' And I go, 'I got him, coach.' So I held onto Parcell's arm and reached out just as far as I could -- I had to lean way out there to get him with my foot to trip him. So I didn't even think, I just did it on impulse."
Were the coaches upset?
"Well, we wound up losing the game 53 - 21, one of the worst defeats we had in ten years or so. But Coach Peterson said he felt like doing it himself. And Parcells's reaction was 'at least I know he's paying attention.' So they didn't give me a real hard time about it."
What was your most memorable game at FSU?
"I guess it would be the inaugural Fiesta Bowl. We couldn't stop Danny White and Arizona State. And Parcells was openly weeping after the game. He just couldn't get the defenses right and Danny White just picked us apart. It wasn't lack of effort, he knew it was coaching, so that's why he was so upset after the game (Note: FSU's Gary Huff threw for 347 yards and two TDs in a seesaw battle won by ASU 45 - 38)."
You played under both Bill Peterson and his successor Larry Jones. Was that a tough transition for the players?
"Jones kept the assistant coaches, so it didn't change too much except that Parcells kind of ran the show. He was a dominating kind of guy. Larry was a good coach, too, a good organizer. But he didn't have an aggressive personality like Parcells did."
What was the discipline like under Coach Peterson?
"He could make it difficult for you back then, making the practices long and hard. Probably more so than now. But he was just a prince of a guy. I mean, a great coach and a great friend. I actually handled his Gadsden County farm for him, when he came back to Tallahassee and I'd gotten into the real estate business. You know, all that stuff where people made fun of Coach Pete. He was so smart, but he had a hard time with cliches and got crossed up once in awhile. But he was a gentleman and quite a man."
Who were some of the other coaches that stick in your memory?
"Wayne McDuffie and Gene McDowell were about as hard-nosed as they come. Gene was my freshman coach. And we had like 110 players come out, and we ran 43 forty-yard sprints that first practice and seven guys quit that first day."
Talk about the intensity today compared to back then.
"Today, I think they've gotta pick the intensity level back up. I heard the off-season program got the intensity back. Kids now, they're just more talented than we were. But I don't think they'd put up with the verbal abuse we had back in those days."
Who was the player you remember best from your time?
"Rhett Dawson was the best leader we had. He was a receiver and led by performance. I don't think he really got credit for his leadership and what he did, like leading us to the Fiesta Bowl in '71. But he was my best friend then and still is."
You had offers from other schools. Why did you choose FSU?
"I'd watched the team all through the 60s. I knew Florida State was on the way up and I wanted to be part of that program. I think people have kinda forgotten about the glory days of the 60s and up through '71 when we went to that first Fiesta Bowl. But that's what put Florida State on the map. I was recruited real hard by a lot of big universities, including Alabama and Notre Dame. But I just never considered anything but Florida State."
Did you play any pro ball?
"I had a short stay with the New England Patriots in (Chuck) Fairbanks first year there -- he came from Oklahoma in '73. I was on the payroll for about a year and a half. But then I got into real estate and was making more money than I was playing football, which would hardly be the case these days. The average salary back then was a lot lower than it is now."
Any final words on your days at FSU?
"I was glad to be a part of it and still love all those guys that I played with, and am real proud to be a letterman there." (Note: Dan was instrumental in founding the Florida State Varsity Club, which has grown to be one of the largest among major universities. He's currently a member of the club's Board of Directors.)