by Rich Halten
In 1971, FSU diploma fresh in hand, I was spinning records at WGLF-FM, when a new assignment popped up. It was football season and the station was going to break from its music format for an evening sports call-in show. Because I'd covered FSU for the student newspaper (the old Flambeau) I was going to host the program. And the star of the show would be former Seminole great, Steve Tensi, one half of the famous 1960s pitch-and-catch combo with Fred Biletnikoff.
Wow, a chance to work with a guy that gave me and others so many thrilling moments, and was instrumental in FSU's breakout season of '64. I got an advanced football education as I shadowed Tensi on visits to practices, meeting rooms and coaches offices. And Steve had an instant rapport with fans who called into the show asking about his insights.
Came the week of the Florida game (played in mid-October that year). FSU was 5-0 and heavily favored over the 0-5 gators. Still, we were intent on getting an interview with Florida Coach Doug Dickey. We called their sports information director, got the green light and, packing a battery-powered recorder, drove down to G-ville on the Tuesday before game day.
As I recall, we were told just to show up at the gate outside one end zone of Florida Field (the pre-expansion layout of the stadium) where we'd meet Dickey after practice. But as we approached the gate, we were suprised to see it wide open -- and with no guard to keep people like us out during practice. It seemed like an invitation, so Tensi and I simply walked in.
The gators were in the middle of a hard-hitting full pads scrimmage. Dickey was at midfield as we walked slowly toward him. He turned around and saw us, but it wasn't quite the greeting we expected.
Dickey blew his whistle like it was an air raid alert. The sound reverberated off the empty seats and concrete. Then, silence. Practice came to an instant halt. Players, coaches and managers were all frozen in place, startled and confused.
While I can't recall Dickey's exact words -- though they were loud enough to be heard by everybody on the field -- he was clearly outraged that a Seminole great would intrude on such an important practice. The implication was we were spying, trying to learn what the gators were up to, and rush back to Tallahassee to be debriefed by Seminole coaches.
Though you won't find it in the record books, a game was played that day on Florida Field. Not a football game, but a cunning stunt performed by a coach desperate to shake up his team in hopes of turning a sorry season around. The obvious message to gator players: How good could the Noles really be if they were nervous enough to send the program's greatest QB to eavesdrop on their practice?
Did it work? I think it had something to do with Florida coming out more confident and fired up than an FSU team that was shaky from the start. The Noles coughed up the ball five times, including four fumbles. One was a nightmarish turnover by FSU running back Art Munroe, who took a lateral and bobbled the ball right into the hands of a gator defender who went to the house.
FSU was down 14-0 til the 4th quarter and fought back with 15 points in the final period. But a gator field goal sealed the win, sending Nole fans home with a headache. A game that appeared to be a garnet and golden opportunity to drill the hated reptiles was a day to forget.
Just a simple reminder that again this year -- as trite as it sounds, as heavily favored as the Noles will be, and as much as I'd bet it won't -- anything can happen.