TAMPA — It might be the biggest regular-season football game in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference, meaning it’s slightly smaller than any Duke-North Carolina basketball game ever played. But it’s certainly the biggest game in Jimbo Fisher’s career as Florida State’s head coach.
It’s undefeated and No. 5 FSU at undefeated and No. 3 Clemson under the lights in Death Valley.
Yes, it really has been 20 years since FSU won its first national championship (the 1993 Noles crushed Clemson 57-0 that season) and 14 years since their second title ... those days under Bobby Bowden when greatness and bravado were a given, when FSU hardly ever blinked.
Which brings us to 25 years ago: Sept. 17, 1988, a rainy afternoon in Death Valley, No. 10 FSU at No. 3 Clemson — and an iconic Florida State moment.
To this day, former FSU star cornerback LeRoy Butler can hear the head coach.
“As I’m getting ready to run on the field, Coach Bowden, he says, ‘Run it.’ ” Butler said by phone. “I’m thinking, ‘Does he know where we are? It’s raining. It’s wet ...’ I looked at Coach. He said, ‘We’re going to do it. Run it. Run the puntrooskie.’”
The “puntrooskie” — the signature Bowden riverboat gamble, Seminoles trickery for all time: that fake punt with 90 seconds left in a 21-21 game, from deep in their own end ... LeRoy Butler of Jacksonville racing 78 yards, down to the goal line, to set up the winning field goal.
“We didn’t have brains back then,” Bowden said by phone Tuesday.
They had brass.
“I can still see good old LeRoy running,” Bobby said.
Now comes another Saturday in the Valley, a young, talented Florida State team, its offense clicking at 54 points a game, against a Clemson defense that leads the country in sacks.
Throw in a little Heisman hype at quarterback, for Seminoles redshirt freshman Jameis Winston and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.
The size of Saturday isn’t lost on former Bucs great Derrick Brooks, a two-time All American at FSU and member of the 1993 title team. In the 57-0 rout of Clemson that season, Brooks made a goal-line tackle to prevent a touchdown and also scooped a fumble and went 80 yards for a TD.
Brooks wants only the best for this 2013 crew. Still ...
“They’ve got to create their own history,” he said.
There are still doubters in this, Jimbo Fisher’s fourth year as head coach, despite his 36-10 record, a 12-win 2012 that produced the Seminoles’ first ACC title since 2005 and first BCS win since Bobby and the lads won the 1999 national title. But a ghastly loss at N.C. State, when then-No. 3 FSU blew a 16-0 halftime lead and lost with seconds left, told us the Noles weren’t quite back.
But here they are again, at the door.
Here’s what happened in the Valley 25 years ago: Florida State punter Tim Corlew, in an Oscar-worthy performance, jumped high and reached for the sky to fake that the snap was over his head. The up back on the play, Dayne Williams, snared the ball. He gave it to good old LeRoy.
“And off I went,” Butler said.
LeRoy Butler was an FSU All-American. He played 12 NFL seasons for Green Bay, winning a Super Bowl and making four Pro Bowls.
He was a Packers crowd favorite. In one 1993 game, Butler hopped in the stands and arms of Lambeau Field fans to celebrate a fumble he’d returned for a score. And a tradition was born: the Lambeau Leap.
“It’s the 20th anniversary of the Lambeau Leap and the 25th of the puntrooskie,” said Butler, who lives in Wisconsin, where he does radio and TV. “But people always ask first about the puntrooskie. I was speaking in Seattle and this guy in an FSU cap came up. He just goes, ‘LeRoy Butler ... puntrooskie ... Woooooo!’ It’s like that wrestler, Ric Flair. Woooooo! That’s what the puntrooskie still does.”
Into the Valley goes Florida State, again.
It’s time to create more history.