It’s Florida State week, and I don’t know what to do. Normally, I would be stockpiling booze for Saturday night, fighting with FSU twitter, and convincing myself that we can win in Tallahassee.
This year, I got nothing. I’m just not feeling it.
Sure, I’ll watch the game, because that’s what I do, but it feels like Wake Forest week, and I’m disappointed. I thought I would enjoy our leisurely stroll to the ACC Championship game and College Football Playoff birth, but it feels hollow.
During Clemson’s historic run of dominance, Florida State has been the final regular season trial before our quest for a National Championship begins. Sure, we also have to knock off that little team from the middle of the state, but that’s light work. FSU was another college football blue blood who truly believed they were the better team.
Beating the Noles meant something.
In 2018 the Noles are just another ACC peasant cowering in our shadow, hoping to pick up some crumbs from our inevitable College Football Playoff run. Gone are the days when getting out of Tallahassee with a win was feat of guile, cunning, and strength. If you won at Doak Campbell you didn’t even stop in the locker room to get changed. You sprinted straight down the tunnel to the waiting buses and got out of town because it felt like you had stolen something. Now it’s just a leisurely trip to the North Florida panhandle to handle a little light afternoon business.
Look On My Works, ye Mighty, and Despair!
The question I’ve been wrestling with this week is how the Noles have fallen so far, so fast. Personally, I’m pain and suffering averse, so I like to learn from the pain and suffering and others. But I just can’t put my finger on what has turned the Bobby Bowden statue in front of Doak Campbell into Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias.
At one point, the Bowden Statue marked the opening to a college football Shangri-La. Through hard work, innovation, and a few free tennis shoes, Bobby Bowden raised FSU from the swamps of North Florida and into college football history. The very idea of Doak Campbell Stadium sent chills down the spine of opponents. When Osceola and Renegade took the field and planted the flaming spear, you knew you were in for a long, painful, and ultimately fruitless night. You didn’t go into Tallahassee and come out in one piece. Those Florida State teams did more than just beat you; if you weren’t mentally tough, they could ruin your entire season in one night.
When the opposing team’s offense was pinned deep and War Chant started to shake the stadium, you could see the eyes of their quarterback get as big as half dollars as he attempted to bark out signals that were forced back into his mouth by the sheer force of the crowd. I’m not sure there was a more intimidating stadium in the nation when the Florida State crowd was in full throat and the Seminole defense was flying around the field looking not just to stop you, or to hurt you, but to destroy you on a cellular level.
Now, marginal teams like North Carolina, NC. State, and Louisville routinely walk out of Tallahassee with a win. Osceola and Renegade still take the field, but you can see their heart isn’t in it. Instead of a charge to the middle of the field to relay a direct challenge to the enemy with a flaming spear, it’s just something they do because it’s what they’ve always done. What once was one of the more intimidating spectacles in all of sport is now an empty routine, void of all meaning, an echo of the past. It’s no more intimidating than a chicken in a cage being sprayed down by a fire extinguisher.
In 2018, the fearsome “War Chant” sounds more like a communal cry of sorrow for a once great program. I watched the Florida State vs Virginia Tech season opener, and by the fourth quarter, I couldn’t tell if I was listening to “War Chant” at Doak Campbell or “War Chant” at Sun Trust Field on a lazy Saturday afternoon in June. You could tell the collective psyche of the once devout Noles fan was shattered. War Chant was no longer something in the present, but instead, just a rote recitation with no soul or malice. It was a nod to better days long past.
As I was thinking about the Seminoles this week, my mind kept returning to Shelley and Ozymandias. For those of you less English Major inclined, Ozymandias is a poem about a once fearsome empire laid to waste and swallowed literally (and figuratively) by the sands of desert (or time) it seems apropos to the current state of the Florida State program, so please indulge me. In fact, it’s so perfect that I decided to slightly update Percey’s poem (I hope he doesn’t mind).
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the swamp. . . . Near them, on the mud,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Bobby Bowden, King of Coaches;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and desolate swamp stretches far away.”
Florida State at the Crossroads
While it is easy to see the decaying ruin that the Florida State football program has become, I was still at a loss for the cause. Simply put, Florida State should be good at football. They have the support, talent, and tradition that few programs can match, and yet, here we are, getting ready for a nooner and coming into Tallahassee as a 17 point favorite.
I thought I would be able to easily pinpoint the cause of this precipitous decline, and I was able to identify a few issues, but they all seemed ancillary. I was identifying the symptoms of the malady, but couldn’t diagnose the root disease. Then, with a little help from the spirit blues man Robert Johnson, it finally came to me.
Florida State sold their soul to the devil at the crossroads for Jameis Winston.
At this point, even the most ardent Nole supporters have given up their defense of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s character. The evidence that he is a garbage person is stacked so high, that it’s impossible to ignore. The best things you can say about Winston is that he was a great college quarterback and is currently a marginal (at best) pro quarterback.
At first, I thought it was Jimbo who met with the devil in some dark and murky North Florida swamp to make the deal for Winston, but that falls apart upon closer examination. Once Jimbo escaped Florida State, the curse of Winston seemed to dissipate. In fact, the curse of Jameis may have been the exact thing that drove Fisher to Texas A&M. Granted, Jimbo was a willing pawn in this game. His job was to keep Winston eligible, and he did so by any means necessary, but I don’t think he sold his soul for Winston. Jimbo paid his karmic price at Florida State and was allowed to move on to more lucrative pastures.
The curse of Jameis seems to remain firmly entrenched in Tallahassee, and when you think about it, that’s exactly where it belongs. It wasn’t Jimbo who sold his soul, it was the entire Florida State football program. They knew Winston was trouble, but they didn’t care as long as the wins kept piling up. His rocket right arm made up for his moral turpitude.
At any point in Winston’s two years career, Nole Nation could have come together and demanded action, and I think Jimbo would have listened...but that never happened. Granted, Florida State sold their soul for a National Championship and a Heisman Trophy, and if you’re going to sell your soul, that’s the return you should expect (looking at you Ole Miss, you sold out for much, much less).
Getting back to Robert Johnson, according to the myth, he sold his soul at the crossroads for his prodigious musical talent, and became (arguably) the most influential bluesman in history. At the same time, he died penniless at 27 years old from either a bottle of poisoned whiskey provided by a jealous husband (as is legend) or syphilis (official cause of death). He was buried in an unmarked paupers grave.
The Noles are learning the same hard lesson Robert Johnson learned so many years ago. Selling your soul seems like a good idea until the devil comes with the bill.
The devil has come to Tallahassee to collect.
It’s the only explanation that makes any sense.