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TGS ACC RETROSPECTIVE... THE NOLES CATCH THE GATORS

                                  by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

(Editor’s Note: One of the challenges of a look back at college conference history is that the composition of most of the leagues has changed significantly. None more so than the Atlantic Coast Conference, which has expanded more than double its original size from the early 1950s. Still, from our perspective, and for these Retrospective pieces, once a team gets absorbed into the fold, it becomes part of conference fabric. Case in point is Florida State, which was already a national brand and as high-profile as a program could be when finally enlisting with the ACC in 1992. Now it’s a flagship of the conference; Seminole history is now co-opted by the ACC. Yet FSU had a colorful story that few might know about long before the Noles hit the ACC or first became a powerhouse in the late ‘70s for Bobby Bowden. Following is a review of the earliest days of FSU, both as a school and a football program, and the wacky tale of forcing a matchup with cross-state Florida, and the birth of that rivalry, which took more than a decade before finally coming to fruition in the earliest days of TGS publishing.)

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One of the highlights of our TGS “Retrospective” series is to dive a bit deeper into college football history and either uncover, or re-live, some tales that might otherwise be forgotten. This story fits into the former camp, and a look back into the time machine at Florida State. It might surprise those of the ESPN generation and many patrons of sports books in Nevada whose sense of history goes back to the previous week that the Seminoles lived colorfully long before the Bobby Bowden era and have a background pretty unique to modern-day college sports. In fact, the Seminoles are almost singular in the specifics of their story, not only as a football brand, but as a university.

When we say singular, it is not necessarily in regard to the newness of FSU, and its sports programs in particular; the modern incarnation of the school dates only to 1947. But it was an institution of higher-learning beforehand. Unique about the Noles, however, was that previous iteration of the school. At a time more than 40 years after Michigan won its first national title under Fielding Yost, and the University of Chicago won a national title for Amos Alonzo Stagg; more than two decades after Alabama won its first national title under Wallace Wade; more than 15 years beyond the Knute Rockne era and after Frank Leahy had already won his first national title at Notre Dame, Florida State didn’t even play sports. In fact, it didn’t even enroll men, instead a women’s college, and called as such (“Florida State College for Women”). So, as college football was thriving and expanding again right after World War II, “FSWC” was about as far away from Leahy’s Notre Dame and Red Blaik’s Army as could possibly be imagined.

FSCW hadn’t always been a women’s school, it only seemed that way into the late ‘40s. The “Buckman Act” passed by the Florida Legislature in 1905 re-organized higher-level learning in the Sunshine State into various levers and tiers that the modern-day America would find hard to fathom. The goal of the bill, introduced by state legislator Henry Holland Buckman, was threefold: it intended to condense the number of state-funded institutions of higher learning, place the consolidated institutions under the authority of the governor-appointed of the Board of Control, and create gender-segregated schools for white students.

The University of Florida was thus created as the merger of four distinct institutions--the University of Florida at Lake City (formerly Florida Agricultural College), the East Florida Seminary in Gainesville, the St. Petersburg Normal and Industrial School in St. Petersburg, and the South Florida Military College in Bartow. The new and consolidated “U of F” was moved to Gainesville where, after a year of transition at Lake City and the other campuses, the first classes would be held in September of 1906. Further, the mandate for the University of Florida was to be the school for white male students in the state.

Meanwhile, the eventual Florida State was originally formed in 1851 as West Florida Seminary, became coeducational in 1858, and relabeled Florida State College in 1901. The  Buckman Act, however, would change "FSC" to a white women’s only institution from 1905, re-christened “Florida State College for Women.”  Meanwhiole, for male and female black students, the State Normal School for Colored Students, which had opened in 1887 in Tallahassee, became the third official school of higher learning in the state. The Buckman Act transferred control from the Department of Education to the Florida Board of Control, which would oversee the schools. (Eventually, the State Normal School for Colored Students would become the modern Florida A&M.)

For those interested in social history, note that these Florida institutions were separated by not only race, but also by gender, through World War II. The only exceptions were rare, and granted to females who could not find specific classes to their liking at FSCW; a handful (and only that) could attend the University of Florida for that specific reason. And no black student would enroll in Gainesville until 1958. For all intents and purposes, however, Florida was all-white male, Florida State all-white female, and Florida A&M all black, each mandated so, into the late 1940s.

World War II, however, had created an imbalance of enrollment between FSCW and the University of Florida, the former still at full enrollment, the latter with half-empty classrooms and dormitories due to young men of the day enlisting in the service for World War II. Like various other schools (mostly all of them all-male) of the day, Florida might not have been able to survive the financial stresses of the war years had it not offered its campus, classrooms and dormitories to the U.S. Government, in Gainesville's case for the training of aircrews for the U.S. Army Air Force.

Post World War II, however, and the advent of the GI Bill saw a sudden rush of enrollment at many state universities...especially Florida. The boys were coming home and going to school, and suddenly the Gainesville campus couldn’t handle the crunch. Just before the fall semester of 1946, Florida President John Tigert informed the Board of Control that because of space limitations, the University of Florida would have to decline the enrollment of over 2500 qualified applicants. FSCW’s President, Doak Campbell (does that name sound familiar, stadium fans?), offered a solution to the situation. He told the Board of Control that FSCW would take 500 of those male applicants on a temporary basis. Florida Governor Millard Caldwell liked the idea so much that he immediately sought extra funding for the endeavor. The Board of Control approved the temporary enrollment of males at FSCW and delayed the start of the fall semester until October, allowing time for proper accommodations for the male students to be readied (men were housed in barracks at nearby Dale Mabry Field, used as an Air Force base during the war years). By the end of the 1946–1947 school year, 954 men were enrolled at the Tallahassee Branch (“TBUF”) of the University of Florida.

The time for change had come. Single gender provisions of the Buckman Act at the University of Florida (UF) and the Florida State College for Women (FSCW) were officially eliminated in 1947. FSCW returned to coeducational status, renamed its previous Florida State College, while UF became coeducational for the first time. In 1953, the former State Normal School for Colored Students, by then known as the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes, was renamed to its current title of Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (Florida A&M, or FAMU), and within 20 years would produce perhaps its most-recorgnizable alum in Olympic sprinter and football star Bob Hayes.

Hence the birth of the modern Florida State. It did not take long for the male enrollment to increase; for a while, you can imagine the appeal of FSU to young men, knowing they would be substantially outnumbered by women in Tallahassee for a few years. Understandably, Florida State immediately became quite a popular place for the guys, who soon flocked to Tallahassee. The end of the Buckman Act also meant that the likes of future Florida enrollees such as Sharyl Atkisson and Erin Andrews could head to Gainesville and become “Gator Dazzlers” if they so desired instead of forced to head far north to Tallahassee.

For a long while, “mixed marriages” between Florida and Florida State alums meant the men were always from Florida and the women always from Florida State. This, too, gradually changed. As would the respected curriculums, which had been carefully designed to enhance the quality of education for the gender-segregated schools. FSCW students had specialized in such areas as Music, Teaching and Home Economics. University of Florida students specialized in Agriculture and Professional services. Coeducation, however, ended that type of specialization. Both schools would offer well-rounded academic menus, which created academic competition between the two state-supported universities.

Then FSU President Doak Campbell dropped a bomb; three months after the “new FSU” had been born, Campbell announced that the school would compete in Intercollegiate athletics, including football, and they would begin play that coming year! Gainesville immediately protested the announcement, demanding that all Florida State teams be considered effective junior varsity teams of the University of Florida. Campbell ignored the protest and demands, stating that Florida State was its own entity and would compete as such in both academics and athletics. Soon the “new FSU” would join the Dixie Conference.

The animosity was just beginning.

For Florida, avoiding the upstarts from Tallahassee on the sporting fields was an understandable reaction. As the established sporting school, Gainesville felt as if it had nothing to gain by competing against FSU. The Gators, members of the prestigious SEC, promptly spent the next several years pretending the Tallahassee bunch didn’t exist.

Meanwhile, the newly-christened FSU did not waste time, quickly recruiting a football team for that 1947 season. It took Campbell six weeks to put a squad together, arrange a schedule and find a place to play. The school colors would be Garnet and Gold; garnet, a combo of the purple worn by FSC back in 1905 and the red worn by FSCW in swimming meets; the gold was derived in much the same manner, a merger of the yellow worn by FSC in 1905 and the white worn by FSCW. The team would play at Tallahassee’s Centennial Field, capacity 2500, for its first three years. (The Noles would move into their Doak Campbell Stadium, shown at left, in 1950). FSU’s gridiron debut came on September 27, 1947, against nearby Stetson; the Hatters prevailed 14-6, and, according to the 1948 FSU yearbook Tally Ho, “The Stetson-FSU game promises to become an annual event of pigskin rivalry.” An end named Charles McMillan scored the first FSU touchdown on a pass reception.

A nickname for the new school was selected after the Stetson game but before the second game verses Cumberland College. "Seminoles" was the name selected by students, defeating five other finalists: Crackers, Statesmen, Golden Falcons, Indians and Senators. Coached by Ed Williams, FSU would play four more times in 1947, and lose each, vs. Cumberland (6-0), Tennessee Tech (27-6), Troy State (36-6), and Jacksonville State (7-0). Winless, but alive and kicking!

And how; the next two years the years, FSU would go 7-1 and 9-1, respectively, under HC Don Veller, and earn an invitation to Tampa’s Cigar Bowl in the latter, defeating Wofford, 19-6. Those ‘48 and ‘49 seasons produced the Noles’ first gridiron great, Tackle Hugh Adams, from Punta Gorda. And the “Tribe” (a label used more often than “Seminoles” for several years) was thinking a lot bigger than merely playing Stetson every season.

About this time, talk was picking up speed about the Seminoles taking on the Gators, who were still pretending that FSU sports didn’t exist. Even though Florida was enduring a bumpy post-war period. Coach Bear Wolf’s Gators lost their first 12 post-war games, and the streak had reached 13 in a row before upsetting NC State, 7-6, in 1947. During those years, it is understandable why FSU would not have much to fear in the Gators.

It was inevitable that the schools would begin to face another...but when?  A half-century ago, a delightful book penned by Julien Derieux Clarkson, Let No Man Put Asunder: Story of a Football Rivalry, would in 1968 chronicle the genesis of what would eventually blossom into one of the nation’s great rivalries between these Sunshine State schools, and provides soemthing of a roap map for the remainder of this piece..

But, into 1950, that possibility of a gridiron matchup still seemed remote. Florida was not showing any interest whatsoever in tangling with Florida State, which one-upped its 1948 and ‘49 marks by going a perfect 8-0. No major teams, however, were among the Seminole opponents in 1950. When FSU finally scheduled one of those, it lost heavily to Miami, 35-13, in the following 1951, it made more news than the other six wins combined. Which suggested the move up the college food chain was going to prove difficult for the Noles, who began to challenge several bigger-name foes (including VMI, NC State, Mississippi Southern, and Georgia Tech) in 1952 while slipping to 1-8-1. Meanwhile, the Gators had made a recovery in the early ‘50s under HC Bob Woodruff. In 1952, Florida went 7-3 and earned the school’s first bowl bid, topping Tulsa 14-13 in the Gator Bowl. Yet, still, no interest, or even acknowledgment beyond derision, from Gainesville for the Tallahassee bunch.

(Along the way, the Gators and Noles finally did meet...on the basketball court, in the 1951-52 season; Florida won, 61-51. But even that turned out to be a one-off until 1954-55, when basketball games and golf matches were scheduled. Football, however, the one battle the state’s inhabitants really cared about, remained off of the table.)

FSU’s hiring of Tom Nugent as its football coach in 1953 would provide the spark to bring the gridiron matchup debate to a full boil, one that would eventually work its way through the Florida Legislature and to the Governor’s office. As for Nugent, he was an innovator, one of the architects of the “I” formation made famous a decade later at several schools, most notably USC under John McKay. Another innovation was Nugent’s “typewriter” huddle in which players stood in two rows rather than the traditional “circle” huddles. Eventually, among those he coached in Tallahassee would include a couple of guys and best friends named Lee Corso and Burt Reynolds (might have heard of them both!).

The Clarkson book provides much context and background for these developments and others that continued into the late 50s.

Nugent got the Seminoles back on the winning track, notching five Ws including a win over NC State and a 59-0 thrashing of Louisville (with a young QB named Johnny Unitas). By 1954, FSU had firmly established itself as a major program. The Seminoles would lose their first two games vs. Georgia and Abilene Christian, respectively, before uncorking wins in 8 of their next 9, only losing to Shug Jordan’s Auburn. That was good enough for an invite to the Sun Bowl, where the Noles lost in El Paso to hometown Texas Western, but a statement had been made, especially to Florida. It was really time to get serious and start up this in-state rivalry.

Florida continued to downplay FSU by insisting the Seminoles were a small-college program, though the results of the 1953 and 1954 Tribe seasons, along with their invitation to the Sun Bowl, had rendered the Gainesville argument moot. Moreover, the populace was getting impatient and wanted the rivalry to commence. Florida's Board of Control was being called daily by fans of both schools insisting that a game be played. Further, the media picked up the baton, demanding that a contest be arranged and questioning the Gators as to why they wouldn't play the Tribe.

About this time, Florida AD and HC Woodruff decided to go on the offensive and initiated a meeting with FSU AD Howard Danford, in November of 1954. Woodruff’s offer was that the Gators would schedule the Noles in every sport except football. Danford reacted as would be expected. Another meeting between the ADs, urged by State Senator James Stratton, who thought Woodruff was obfuscating, proved fruitless in December. Woodruff relented, barely, floating an idea of a game to Danford and Nugent, perhaps in 1956, but the financial offer to Florida State amounted to nothing more than gas money and a meal for the Seminoles to come to Gainesville. We’ll talk again when you’re serious, said the Noles.

FSU’s Doak Campbell was not amused. In a lengthy report on Athletic Relations, taken from passages in his A University in Transition from February, 1955, Julian Derieux Clarkson’s Let No Man Put Asunder would recount Campbell’s published position, the last portion of which appears below.

“The student body at FSU,” said Campbell, “began to press for answers as to why athletic relations were not being given favorable consideration by the authorities at the University of Florida. The president of the Student Body, Coyle E Moore, Jr., instituted correspondence with numerous individuals in high office, including the president of the University of Florida, requesting explanations for the delay.

“The Board of Control also began to express concern over the problem and made special point of indicating its impatience. Whereupon, the Director of Athletics at the University of Florida who was also the head football coach (Woodruff), indicated a willingness to contract for a single game to be played in Gainesville ‘within some 3 to 4 years.’ The conditions stipulated were admittedly impossible, but it was claimed that he had made a generous offer. Even though the conditions were not acceptable, the ‘offer’ served to carry discussion past the deadline for scheduling that year, so the delaying tactics worked.”

Politicians had seen enough; the topic would become public domain in April of 1955 when State Senator James Connor of Brooksville introduced to the Florida Senate “A bill to be entitled an Act to establish intercollegiate athletic relations between the University of Florida and Florida State university in all major and minor sports.”

On April 26, the “House Bill 353" came up on the Senate floor for action, though not until a few amendments were added.

1. That it is not the intent of this Act to require either school to cancel a contract or commitment existing at the date of the passage of this Act.

“2. That all games between Florida State and Florida be played under riues of the Southeastern Confernce.

“3. That financial guarantee for games be made on the same basis of contracts existing at present time between Florida State and Southeastern Conference teams.”

Leave it to the politicians to mess things up; the alterations were considered a slap in the face to Seminole backers, more of whom now wanting the measure defeated. As did Gator supporters, who never wanted the bill introduced in the first place.

The roll call vote failed narrowly by a count of 19 nays to 15 yeas, but the close margin of the vote left the handwriting on the wall. The clamor for a FSU-Florida football matchup was only going to intensify, not abate. Neither school really wanted legislative involvement, however, so the painstaking task of getting together to schedule games vs. one another, especially football, finally began.

Even then, however, the process dragged. And dragged. And dragged some more. With some help from the Garnet & Great website, we can line up and put into better context the subsequent developments.

Enter Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, who was not amused that such a bill had even been placed on the floor of the Senate, believing the Legislature had more important things to do than schedule football games. That outrage boiled over to extreme anger when Collins learned that as many as three other bills were in the process of being written. Collins summoned both school presidents, FSU’s Campbell and Florida’s J. Wayne Reitz, to the Governor’s Mansion. Collins must have persuaded (maybe not so gently) each to act; within a matter of a few weeks both Campbell and Reitz appeared before the Board of Control and asked that the Board initiate action that would result in the two schools competing against each other in all sports.

The Board turned the situation over to the athletic departments of both schools to finalize things, but nothing could be concluded and negotiations dragged on for another 6 months. Finally, a still angry and now extremely agitated Governor Collins ordered both Campbell (a short crosstown ride in Tallahassee for Campbell) and Reitz to return for an emergency meeting with him and the Board of Control.

Collins must have made the school presidents an offer they couldn’t refuse. “There are some things that are better off not being mentioned in the sunshine," said Collins when he was asked why the meeting was held behind locked doors. The only thing known for certain is that when the summit ended the Board of Control announced that Florida will indeed be playing Florida State in football. Though, for contractual issues with other schools, the Gators were granted a one-year grace period from the Board of Control, delaying the commencement of the series vs. Florida State to 1958...our second year of publishing TGS.

(So, hard as it might be to believe, TGSwhich began publishing the previous 1957, precedes the Florida-Florida State series!)

Finally, the Seminoles and Gators were going to get together on the football field, though it should be noted that there never was a law enacted to force Florida and FSU to play. Rather, threat of an inevitable law forced the sides (mainly Florida) to finally relent and get together. But it would be correct to say that the Florida State Board of Control, which oversaw the universities, indeed ordered the Gators to play the Noles.

It did not take long for Florida-Florida State to become the most-heated rivalry in the state and one of the most-heated in the region, and eventually the nation, though in the late 50s the Gators were still negotiating from a position of strength, and wouldn’t travel to Tallahassee for a game until 1964. The long-awaited 1958 series lid-lifter in Gainesville was much ballyhooed; Florida entered at 4-3-1, FSU at 7-2. The Gators, however, were installed as 8-point favorites, and used their rugged defense to prevail, 21-7, all of the points scored in the first half, with two of the Gator TDs scored on runs by QB Jimmy Dunn.

By 1960, the schools had changed coaches...in FSU’s case, twice. Nugent had departed for Maryland after the 1958 season, replaced by Perry Moss, who lasted all of one year before moving to the CFL Montreal Alouettes. Replacing him would be Bill Peterson, he of Paul Dietzel’s LSU staff who would import Dietzel’s famed three-platoon system (you’ve heard of Dietzel's “Chinese Bandits” we’re sure) with him. For Peterson, his platoons were nicknamed the Chiefs, the War Party, and the Renegades (so much for political correctness circa 1960). Meanwhile, Florida’s Woodruff got into the platoon-naming act in 1959, too, a third team of specialists given the regional moniker of “Cape Canaverals” by the coach. Alas, not enough, as the Gators, though an 18-8 winner vs. the Perry Moss Tribe in ‘59, were too stodgy, at least according to the win-hungry fan base (some things haven’t changed at Florida in 60 years, have they?). Replacing Woodruff in 1960 would be a Bobby Dodd Georgia Tech assistant, Ray Graves, who would stay on as coach and win almost 70% of his games the rest of the decade before continuing in his AD role from 1970 thru '79.

Perhaps another time we will recall the best of the Peterson and Graves rivalry, which was beyond lively for most of the '60s; Peterson also doubled as one of the true coaching characters of the past half-century, famous for malaprops and mixed metaphors. But undeniably endearing and successful. It took until 1964 before Peterson and FSU could get Florida into Tallahassee. The Gators, winners of the first six series meetings, were so confident heading into that game that Graves had sewn “GO FOR SEVEN” on the front of all of the Florida uniforms. A superb Peterson team, however, led by QB Steve Tensi and WR Fred Biletnikoff, would score a 16-7 win for the first-ever Nole triumph in the series. To the winner would go a bid to the Gator Bowl, which the Noles would happily accept and where they would whip Oklahoma, 36-19, in Jacksonville, to finish a glorious 9-1-1.

There have been many chapters of the Florida-Florida State rivalry since, and we might revisit the best of those sometime down the road. The series was always a natural, and no surprise that it hit the ground running at full speed, with hostilities high from the outset in 1958 after several years to rev up the hate.

And therein lies the uniqueness about FSU-Florida...this was already a bitter rivalry years before the first game was even played. No wonder the blood still boils the last Saturday of November in the Sunshine State!


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