As shining gold helmets and white jerseys swarmed young Corey Robinson in the corner of the end zone, my eyes flashed to the scoreboard. Notre Dame 33 Florida Sate 31 – 13 seconds remaining. My hands moved instinctively to the top of my head and clasped on top of one another as my gaze then wandered to the visiting sideline which sat just before me. As Notre Dame players sprinted in all directions, expressions of pure jubilation plastered upon their faces, thoughts that had not run through my head in quite some time suddenly presented themselves. How long would I sit in the stands of Doak Campbell Stadium contemplating the Seminoles demise that night? What would it feel like to have the streak end at 22? How terrible was it going to be to lose again? Memories from recent years of FSU struggles began to resurface. Marcus Sims fumbling on the goal line in the final seconds at Georgia Tech in 2008. Jarmon Fortson dropping what would have been the game winning touchdown as time expired against Miami in 2009. Mike Glennon throwing a 4th down and goal touchdown to take down the previously undefeated Seminoles in 2012.
These were the thoughts that invaded my brain as Everett Golson dumped the ball off to his most prominent receiver for a touchdown in the closing seconds of the epic clash between top 5 opponents this past Saturday. The thoughts that ran through Jameis Winston’s mind at that same moment were utterly different and incredibly composed. “When they had the touchdown, we were like ‘It’s 17 seconds. They gave us too much time. We about to go down here and score,'” Winston said in a post game press conference. “How crazy that would have been if we would have scored in 17 seconds.” Although he overestimated the amount of time that would have been on the clock had that drive ever taken place, Jameis Winston’s mindset in that moment was unfaltering. As the Seminole faithful slumped in shocked silence, Jameis Winston stood tall and filled with resilience.
And then came the rumble of the crowd. It started with the student section and slowly began to ripple outwards. Noles fans who had planted their faces into the depths of their palms just seconds earlier now lifted their heads with hope. Nearly 83,000 breathlessly looked towards the corner of the field where the referee stood ready to inform the crowd of why Notre Dame’s touchdown was being taken off the board. Offensive pass interference.
It had not been a pretty first half for Florida State. Notre Dame had come out of the tunnel with focus and precision. From the opening moment of the game til the clock struck zero at the end of the second quarter, the Seminoles had been outplayed by the Irish. Golson had been on point. The ND offensive line had been staunch. The Domers’ defense had been unrelenting, pressuring Jameis Winston to no end and allowing a measly 15 rushing yards from the Seminoles. Brian Kelly’s extremely aggressive play calling had paid off in almost every situation, and when it hadn’t, the Noles couldn’t turn the opportunities into points. Jameis Winston had played quite poorly and FSU had been dominated. The Seminoles were fortunate to only be down 17-10 at half.
When the teams came out for the second half, however, something had changed. Jameis Winston seemed to be on a mission. There was a determination within his being that he put on display for the entire nation to see. Winston knew that if the Seminoles were going to defeat the Irish that night, he would need to be nearly perfect. And that he was. In a second half performance for the ages, Winston completed 93.75% of his passes. He had 181 yards and a touchdown, and went 13 for 13 before throwing his first (and only) incompletion of the final two quarters. Jameis Winston looked every bit the role of the Heisman Trophy winner.
Winston was not in this alone, however. Although the Seminoles only mustered 50 total rushing yards by game’s end, the running backs were running with blind rage in the second half. They were hitting the holes with fury and putting forth a second effort that led to several drives ending in touchdowns. The offensive line came out and played an incredibly inspired second half, making the adjustments necessary to give Winston the extra second he needed to find his open receivers. By the end of the 3rd quarter, the Florida State defense had also transformed into an impressively difficult unit to surpass.
Despite the vast improvement across the board for FSU, Notre Dame did not drop off. For every punch Florida State threw in the second half, Notre Dame punched back. For the first time since the 2013 National Championship, FSU faced an opponent who could stick with them when they were competing at their highest level. This was a match up of titanic proportions. Two teams were playing their best ball and were making it clear that they were about as evenly matched as two squads can be.
For all the credit that is due to Jameis Winston for his flawless second half, Everett Golson deserves an equal amount of credit for his ability to put a team on his back and carry them to the finish line. If there ever was a QB who is a clutch and impressive winner, it is Everett Golson. No matter the amount of pressure that was placed on Golson, he was completely devoid of panic. Even in the most desperate of moments, when he was forced out of the pocket on 4th and 18 with the game on the line, Golson was able to complete a nearly impossible pass to keep his team alive. Everett Golson heroically drove his team down to the goal line and was on the verge of putting the Irish ahead with little time left. But then, offensive pass interference.
After Everett Golson’s final pass of the game on 4th and goal from the 17 yard line sailed into the arms of an FSU defender, Jameis Winston took a knee to seal the victory for the Florida State Seminoles. The Seminoles’ sideline rushed to the middle of the field, where they converged with anxious members of the media. As ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi approached Jimbo Fisher for a customary post-victory interview, an incredible scene unfolded in front of the eyes of the 12 million viewers who were watching the game on TV. Jameis Winston, who had just just been celebrating with his teammates in the end zone, made a beeline for his head coach. When he reached Fisher, he immediately embraced him and excitedly exclaimed “Let’s enjoy this one right here, baby! Let’s go! I love you man. I love you.” Jimbo Fisher, though also happy to be within the victorious moment, quickly saw the situation for what it was. He pulled Jameis in close and gave him some incredibly relevant advice:
“Now here’s what you’ve got to do. Calm down. Don’t give them that over exuberant look. Act very passive right here and get people back on your side. You understand what I’m telling you? Humble. Humble pie.”
After hearing this sentiment, Jameis Winston, the young man who supposedly cannot seem to take advice from anyone, nodded his head understandingly and went off to congratulate his teammates and do his best to stay out of the spotlight. Jimbo Fisher, on the other hand, was immediately engaged by Tom Rinaldi. Just before the formal interview with Rinaldi began, Jimbo looked at the reporter and confidently told him “Never count us out.”
In another corner of the field, the always humble Rashad Greene was interviewed by a different reporter. He was notably excited, but also perfectly collected, the exact way a team’s non vocal leader should be. He was asked about the emotional pregame speech that he had given to the team. True to the star wide receiver’s form, he did not divulge too much or make any effort to take credit. Greene finished the interview with class, and made his way to the locker room.
In the background, the Warchant boomed resoundingly as the Seminoles present at Bobby Bowden Field rejoiced. The players made their way through the tunnel, where they were applauded by adoring fans of all ages. The post game scene in Tallahassee that night was one of pure joy, and it was all made possible by one call. Offensive pass interference.
Offensive pass interference. The catalyst. The savior.
Offensive pass interference. The reason for the #2 Seminoles victory over the #5 Fighting Irish that night.
Except for the fact that it wasn’t.
Since the clock hit triple zeros on Saturday, all that anyone has talked about in relation to FSU’s victory over Notre Dame is offensive pass interference. No matter the topic of the FSU v ND discussion, it always comes back around to the call that changed the outcome of the game. It is not just the media who is guilty of this unwavering focus. It is not just Notre Dame’s head coach Brian Kelly. It is all of us, Seminoles fan included.
Florida State did not beat Notre Dame on Saturday night because of a “controversial” offensive pass interference call. Florida State beat Notre Dame on Saturday night because it is a team composed of winners. Florida State beat Notre Dame on Saturday night because they have the heart that is necessary to become a champion.
In 2013, the Noles had championship caliber heart, but did not have a need to put it on display until they faced Auburn in the national championship game. Up until the national championship, the Seminoles were doubted by everyone because they “hadn’t been tested.” The college football world feared that the Noles did not have the heart of a champion. And then, on the grandest of stages, the 2013 Florida State Seminoles football team proved to the world that they had all the heart that a team needs to win a championship, and then some.
In 2014, the Seminoles have not been as fortunate as to be able to mask their true strength until the final game of the season. The Noles have already had to display the incredible amount of heart that they have on several occasions. Against Clemson, and without Jameis Winston, FSU fought back for an overtime victory when any chance of a win looked to be implausible, if not impossible. Against NC State, the Seminoles clawed back from a 17 point 1st quarter deficit to blow the doors off an NC State team who was playing at a level far above their norm. And most recently, the Florida State Seminoles found a way to win against a Notre Dame team that was every bit their equal. The Noles were outplayed for the majority of the game and had their back pressed against the wall. But when it counted most, when the outcome of the game hung in the balance, FSU rose to the occasion and came out victorious.
In 2014, the Noles have been “tested.” They have been taken to the brink and have shown us all that they can win no matter the circumstance. They have shown heart. Yet, all we can talk about is offensive pass interference. In the aftermath of the Notre Dame game, the doubt surrounding this Seminoles team has only grown stronger. Florida State remains at #2 in the polls behind Mississippi State despite having just beaten a top 5 opponent in Notre Dame who showed themselves to be a true contender worthy of the nation’s respect. Experts everywhere continue to doubt if the Seminoles could beat an SEC West team in the College Football Playoff. FSU message boards and forums are in melt down, panicking mightily over the prospect of the Noles even beating Louisville, let alone winning a National Championship .
In 2013, when the Auburn Tigers found a way to win close like no other team had ever done before, we all lauded them as a team of destiny. The Auburn Tigers were winners. They had heart. In 2014, when the Florida State Seminoles win close game after close game under similar circumstances, they are doubted. Rather than talking about the fact that Jameis Winston has put himself back in the Heisman discussion due to his incredible winning mentality, we talk about a flag that took away Everett Golson’s shot at glory. Rather than focusing on the entire team’s ability to rally together during the toughest moments and come out on top, we target in on the fact that the Seminoles are just not as good as last year. Rather than singing the praises of Jimbo Fisher for intensely supporting his players and inspiring them to fight for the victory, we analyze the conduct of Brian Kelly as he remains adamant that his team deserved to win.
In a season where there is clearly no dominant team in college football, we are all looking for Florida State to perform like they did last year. We are not focusing upon the team’s ability to win, but rather focusing on the fact that we want them to “win better.” The 2014 Florida State Seminoles are not the 2013 Florida State Seminoles. They do not dominate the competition in every aspect of the game. They do not make it look easy. But they do win.
In the end, winning is all that matters. It is not about how you got there, it is about if you got there. It is not about offensive pass interference, it is about the final score. In a season where there seems to be an incredible amount of balance between all of the contenders, it is certainly not a sure bet that the Seminoles will repeat as champions. That being said, when you have a motivator like Jimbo Fisher, a talent like Jameis Winston, a leader by example like Rashad Greene, and a squad of winners like FSU does, as the head coach said himself: “Never count us out.”