Why Bobby Bowden’s historic run at Florida State will never be duplicated

Written by on August 12, 2021

On Nov. 30, 1986, Florida’s Ricky Nattiel beat broken coverage from a talented but young Florida State secondary and caught an 18-yard fourth-quarter touchdown. In a driving rainstorm, the Gators won their sixth straight game over Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles. It left a famously talkative coach without answers.

“I thought maybe 8-3 would be the worst we could do,” Bowden told local media the next morning over coffee. “I really thought we’d beat Florida and go into next year with a lot of momentum.”

After charging to back-to-back AP top-6 finishes in 1979 and ’80, FSU had fallen into a rut. The Seminoles were still succeeding massively compared to their history — they would soon attend their fifth straight bowl (the All-American Bowl against Indiana) and seventh in eight seasons — but this was the second time in four seasons they had crumbled in the face of high expectations. In 1983, the Noles began the year seventh in the AP poll but lost to Tulane in September, lost by 39 to Florida and finished 7-5. In 1986, they started out 11th but got manhandled by Nebraska and Miami, tied unranked North Carolina and figured out a way to lose yet again to a .500 Gators team.

“It sure is hard to explain,” he said that Sunday morning. “I can’t explain it. I’m tired of being humble.”

He wouldn’t have to be for much longer.

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