Times are great in Tallahassee, Florida. The Florida State Seminoles (6-0, 4-0) are undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the BCS Standings, the school’s highest BCS ranking since Dec. 3, 2000. Quarterback “Famous” Jameis Winston is a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate, and the Noles are coming off the program’s biggest win in years, 51-14 at Clemson, in a place, Death Valley, at which they hadn’t won since 2001.
By all indications, fourth-year head coach Jimbo Fisher has returned Florida State to football greatness. This weekend, Fisher gets the ultimate stamp of approval when football greatness returns to Florida State.
In many ways, this Saturday afternoon will be like any other during fall in Tallahassee. More than 80,000 people will be crammed shoulder to shoulder in Doak Campbell Stadium. The sun will be shining bright, and all eyes will be squinted toward the tunnel behind the end zone, as fans anxiously wait in anticipation of what’s about to happen.
It’s not 100-plus players and coaches they’re expecting to emerge, but a lone Seminole warrior galloping on horseback with a flaming 8-foot feathered spear raised toward the sky. His eyes fierce. His hair blowing furiously in the wind. His garnet and gold face paint glowing in the sunlight as horse and rider streak toward the 50-yard line, sending fans into a deafening frenzy.
Normally, when they reach midfield, the Appaloosa horse, Renegade, rears back nearly vertical to the ground, and as it thunderously comes back down on all fours, Chief Osceola plants the flaming spear in the turf, prompting a booming “Uhhhhh…Whoooooo!” from the home crowd.
On this Saturday, however, Osceola will instead calmly hand over the spear to an 83-year-old man, who will then carry out The Planting of the Spear. But make no mistake, it will elicit a tremendous response from the grandstands, as this is not just any old octogenarian. It’s the father of Florida State football – Bobby Bowden.
The legendary former head coach will also be honored during a special pregame ceremony before the Seminoles take on North Carolina State. It marks the first time the guy for whom the FSU’s home field is named attends a game since retiring after the 2009 season. Bowden said he originally planned to stay away from the program for five years to avoid being a distraction and allow Fisher to establish an identity as the Noles’ head coach.
”When you’re following someone who’s been there for 34 years and that’s all people know – I felt like I needed to be out the doggone picture altogether and let them accept him,” Bowden was quoted in an Associated Press report.
But he now believes the Florida State football program is in such a good place that he is returning to campus two years before he planned to be back. It’s the ultimate vote of confidence in Fisher, who by all accounts has been accepted by administration, boosters, fans and players.
”Jimbo’s got control real good, now, and has established himself,” Bowden said. ”It’s probably time for me to get back.”
Despite having Bowden’s approval, Fisher still feels the pressure of being the guy after the guy who led Florida State to 31 bowl games, 12 ACC championships and two national titles.
”He made Florida State. He was Florida State. That’s why we have this stadium, the facilities. That’s why we have academics, that’s why we have the school. That’s why we have everything,” Fisher said. ”It’s what’s right for Florida State and it’s great for college football. I’m extremely excited because he was my hero, too.”
Bowden will make his second return as Homecoming grand marshal before the Syracuse game Nov. 16, a day on which the Noles could clinch the Atlantic Division title and a shot at a second-straight ACC championship. With a one game lead over Clemson and the tiebreaker in hand, Florida State could clinch the divisional crown the weekend before against Wake Forest if they win the huge Nov. 2 game against No. 7 Miami.
At this point, it almost seems a formality, since FSU would still be in line to win the division even with a loss to the Hurricanes.
Indeed, the days are sunny in Tallahassee right now. And the sun appears to be shining brightest on the face of Jimbo Fisher.