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Florida State vs. Clemson: The Sleeper Must Awaken




I have held season tickets since earning my Criminology degree at Florida State University (FSU.) Before then I attended games as a student, and even before I was a student I attended games with friends who were students.


One thing to which we held firm was we always showed up on time for kick-off and we never left early. Of course, in the early days there was little reason to leave early unless, for pity's sake, you simply could not stomach watching our boys on the field win the game by enormous margins. Florida State was in the midst of a great dynasty under head coach Bobby Bowden, and irrespective of your feelings toward Bobby or the team, we as a school played like winners both in the stands and especially on the field.


The energy was unstoppable.


Things have changed over the years with the eye-opening moment standing in the student section at the north end zone when we lost to North Carolina State, experiencing our first ever Atlantic Coast Conference loss at home. A painful loss in which our oft-maligned quarterback Chris Rix marched the team down-field in the last two minutes of the game, from our 22 to N.C. State's 15, and threw a touch-down pass in the last remaining seven seconds.


At least, from our vantage we thought it was a touch-down pass. In reality, P.J. Ward (#24) barely missed the reception due the ball slipping through the hands of N.C. State defender Lamont Reed (#28,) knocking the ball down. With three seconds remaining, under pressure at the 25 yard line, Rix put up one of his beautiful and strong passes to the back-left corner of the end zone to a double-covered Talman Gardner (#21,) who went up for the ball but, as was often Rix's way, the ball was just inches too high.


N.C. State won the game 34-28. Those last two plays so critical and could have meant we eeked out a one-point win against a tough team in a tough game. This, however, was neither the source of my disgust nor what turned me cynical toward my fellow fans.


No, it was how the student section and many of the alumni near us turned their backs on the team as they came off the field to the tunnel below us. Livid. Irate. Furious. These words lack the bite of what I felt that day toward those in the stands with me.


Over the years I have watched a decline in the team and the fans. Fans screeched, howled, and demanded Bobby's head over his reluctance to eliminate his son, Jeff, from a coaching position he obviously could not handle. Before Bobby's retirement we learned he would be replaced by Jimbo Fisher, who the following year rode shotgun to the strength of a young and impetuous quarterback Jameis Winston. As incorrigible as he was, Jameis is also a born leader who lifted the team and held spirits high, eventually winning Florida State the last ever B.C.S. National Championship.


The team became disjointed on the field and made ever-increasingly ridiculous blunders. Without Jameis, Fisher's flaws and lack of dedication to the program began to show. Then, with the glaringly obvious trajectory of the team, previous set-backs in his personal life, and the lure of money he wanted and facilities he desperately coveted, Fisher left Florida State for Texas A & M.


Fisher has since been replaced by Coach Willie Taggart, who came here excited to be a Seminole -- excitement which brought a breath of fresh air to the sport versus Fisher's very closed and blunt business-like presentation -- with a bright outlook and fresh attitude toward the team. Many people expected to be a winning team out of the gate, but I found a more measured outlook understanding this was the first year under a new coach, a rebuilding year so they say. A lot of work needed to be done to bring the team back from the mediocrity which had gripped it under Fisher, and a lot of old bad habits had to be shaken. Habits back into which you can see players falling when under pressure. As with all things, in a crisis you fall back on your training, and these boys had not been well prepared.


Now for the embarrassment that was the 2018 match against Clemson and its frustrating factors.


I spent all day Sunday stewing over the game and the performance of our players which led me to leave a game early for the first time in 20 years. I buried myself in household chores and electronic hobbies, deliberately trying to avoid anything related to the game to prevent both my thoughts being clouded and me from boiling over in both anger and disappointment.


Chances are those who do not "get" the emotional attachment some people have to sports are likely not to get this, either. Fans are an important part of the game and a heartbeat for the team. When the fans have energy so does the team. When the team performs well that energy increases. It is a self-feeding symbiotic relationship. I am not a professional football fan for the reason that I am a college football fan now and was a high school football fan before.


Playing sports as youths we learn to play hard, to give the game more than what we have, and that "losers" only ever "do their best." Play hard and you win big and sometimes you lose big. In both cases, however, you should learn something. As a former manager used to tell me, "the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement."


Our parents told us there is little worse than wasted talent and potential. Your parents, peers, mentors, teachers, coaches, even managers cultivate it. Even with all the positive influences, you have to be willing to be guided and molded, and you have to execute. Some more than others, we all have it within us to overcome adversity and life's obstacles. I enjoy watching these kids grow and advance and transition from wet behind the ears to strong and confident both individually and as a team. I take pride in our mutual love for our school and our desire to be better than the best we can be, knowing that our school provides a supportive and nurturing environment for bettering one's self, and prepares us to continue to grow and mature well past our college years.


The past few seasons of Florida State Football have been a stark contrast to our teams of old. We would many times spend the first quarter or so feeling out our opponents, making a few mistakes as we adjusted to their strengths but also exploiting our strengths to put up points. Sometimes we would be behind later in the game but would pull it out in the end, as "fourth-quarter team."


Now, however, in the face of a strong adversary, offense shuts down toward the end of the third quarter and defense follows mid-fourth. All of this follows little if any exercise of team strengths to put points on the scoreboard.


Even with a new coach, with a fresh attitude, with renewed fan excitement, support, and vigor, we were presented with the mess this last Saturday. For that performance these kids should all be ashamed. If they are not then Coach Taggart needs to make them feel ashamed of themselves. It was clear to everyone watching that these boys flat out gave up, and even the ones who were genuinely trying were up against not only Clemson but their own teammates who had already quit playing.


Shortly after the muffed punt return in the third this fact was all too clear to me. I pointed out that they had given up and there was no reason for us to stay. Never in 20 years of attending Florida State football games had I left early. I was disgusted with the team for its waste, myself for feeling this way, and the team again for making me feel this way.


The team's failure does not rest solely on the players' shoulders. In fact, during the game we witnessed numerous times when plays were taking damn near forever to get called in, leaving already stymied players even more confused and constrained for time. Indeed, the coaches need to step up their game, as well.


To address and not forget, the punches thrown by Noonie, White, and Murray should earn all three bench seats for the rest of the season. There is no room in our game for, and unsportsmanlike-like conduct does not adequately describe, this loser behavior. Period. We certainly do not need to descend into the same thuggish behavior and mind-set we have decried for many years coming from other teams.


All around, it is time for the coaches to be coaches and not players' buddies, time for players to get their heads out of their behinds, and for everyone, including the players themselves, to demand from the entire team all of what it is capable.


I have been complaining for several seasons about the shushing of the crowd while we are on offense, as back-in-the-day we cheered whether we were on defense or offense. The team trained to play in constant noise, loud noise, in particular because some of our competitors are homed in incredibly loud stadiums. Deafening stadiums, even, like The Swamp at the University of Florida. Shutting down the fans' energy during offensive plays, only allowing small outbursts on good plays, is a momentum-killer for the fans. It is difficult to maintain when you have to keep stopping. While I have complained about this, I had it pointed out to me this shushing really gives you an idea of the team's head-space.


Maybe this will not be the year we pull it together to regain our winning acumen, but in the process we should not accept this downward spiral. I will continue to show up and support our boys but only if they give themselves and us 100% or better. While I love my school and I love my team, love is a two-way street and we fans are not getting back what we put in. Indeed, it is time for Coach Taggart and his staff to "Do Something."


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