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Looking back at the first Spurrier vs. Bowden bout 30 years later

Though not the most memorable Florida and Florida State game, the 1990 Sunshine Showdown is one of the most important games in the rivalry's storied history.
Credit: AllSport, Getty Images

TALLAHASSEE, Fla — For the first time since 1958, the annual Florida-Florida State Rivalry, also called the Sunshine Showdown, will not be played, due to conference restrictions for the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, thirty years ago this week, the historic rivalry would begin its peak years as both schools' most legendary head coaches faced of the for the first time.

In 1976, Bobby Bowden moved to Tallahassee, Florida to take over the struggling Florida State Seminoles. The Seminoles had not had a winning season since 1972 and had not won a bowl game since 1964. Bowden came from West Virginia because, he said, the weather was warmer.

In only his second season, Bowden took the Seminoles to a 10-2 record and won the Tangerine Bowl. The Seminoles finished the 1973 season ranked 11th, tying their highest ever season-ending ranking. 

By the beginning 1990 season, Bowden's 14th season in Tallahassee, Florida State, had finished in the top 5 in each previous three years.

Florida, by contrast, headed into the 1990 season with a new head coach, who, like Bowden more than a decade earlier, promised to revitalize the Gators. 

Steve Spurrier came to Gainesville as a fast-talking hometown hero. Spurrier was the starting quarterback for the Gators in 1965 and 1966. He won the 1966 Heisman Trophy while leading the Gators to a 9-2 recording, including a victory in the Orange Bowl. 

In 1989, Florida head coach Galen Hall was forced to resign in the middle of 1989 due to NCAA violations. In December, the university announced Steve Spurrier as the new 'head ball coach,' who was coming off an ACC Championship with Duke.

Spurrier immediately cleaned up the program and unveiled the fun n' gun, a pass-oriented offense unheard of in the SEC. Though they began the season unranked, the Gators shot to No. 6 in the polls by going 9-1 in their first 10 games, including a major upset of then No. 4 ranked Auburn. The offense averaged 35 points per game, while the defense had given up only 29 points in their four games leading up to their top 10 showdown with No. 8 ranked Florida State.

The Seminoles began the 1990 season at No. 3 in the rankings and climbed to No. 2 after winning their first four games. However, Florida State lost their next two games by a combined 12 points, against rival Miami and Auburn, who were both top 10 teams at the time. The Seminoles followed the back-to-back losses with another four wins to get them back in the top 10.

On Dec. 1, 1990, Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier met for first time as coaches of Florida and Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. The 1990 game also marked the first time both teams met as top 10 opponents in front of then-record crowd of 63,190. ESPN televised the game in primetime.

Before the game, retiring Florida State President Bernie Sliger took part in the most hallowed of FSU traditions by planting the Chief Osceola's spear at midfield before kickoff.

The game could not have started worse for Florida. 

On the second play from scrimmage, Seminole quarterback Casey Weldon, with the ball marked at the 24, dropped back for a pass. Rolling to his right, he launched the ball from the 16-yard-line to a wide open Lawrence Dawsey, who had burned Florida defensive back Richard Fain. The long bomb fell into Dawsey's arms in stride just inside the 30-yard-line before he outran the charging Fain to score the game's first touchdown. The homefield crowd exploded in deafening cheers for the Seminoles.

Then, on Florida's first play from scrimmage, a toss to running back Willie McClendon that was set to gain at least eight yards turned to disaster as the ball popped out several feet in the air. When the ball landed, Florida State's Howard Dinkins recovered the ball inside the Florida 25-yard-line. A field goal three plays later would give FSU a 10-0 lead barely two minutes into the opening quarter.

On the ensuing driver, Gator quarterback Shane Matthews led 13-play drive that stalled on the Seminole 24-yard-line. Kicker Arden Czyzewski kicked a 41-yard field goal that cut the lead to seven.

Florida then held the Seminoles to a three-and-out. However, the Seminoles' offense stayed on the field for 4th and 1 and caused the Florida defense to jump offside, allowing the drive to continue. The drive concluded with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Weldon to Amp Lee for a touchdown.

Following an interception by Matthews, Florida State seemed poised to a score again when Weldon launched another long bomb intended for Shannon Baker, who had slipped passed the defense. Baker was inside the 15-yard-line when the ball fell between the numbers for what should have been a walk-in touchdown. Instead, the ball bounced off Baker's hands and fell to the ground for an incomplete pass. The drive ended in the game's first punt.

With under seven minutes in the half, and the score still 17-3, Florida State lined up for a punt inside their own 15. Punter Scottie McLaren kicked off the side of his foot, which took a sharp right turn and was called out at the FSU 38-yard-line. 

Florida took advantage of the blunder and drove the ball to the 1-yard-line. Shane Matthews went over the top for the Gators' first touchdown of the game to cut the deficit to seven. Florida State once again answered the Gators with another touchdown, this time with Edgar Bennett running for a 2-yard touchdown to cap an 8-play, 78-yard drive.

Florida State stalled the ensuing drive by the Gators to go into halftime with a dominating 24-10 lead. Despite the Seminoles' big lead, only 19 yards separated the two offenses at the half. However, Florida's two turnovers, both of which resulted in scores, and seven penalties, some of which contributed to scoring drives, helped give Bowden's Seminoles control of the game.

Florida received the ball first in the second half, but a three-and-out transferred possession back to the Seminoles. On the first play back on offense, Weldon connected with Matt Friers, who was trapped inside a triangle of white Florida jerseys.

Friers somehow sprang free and reached the 17-yard-line for a 50-yard gain. Only a few plays later, Bennett smashed through the Florida defense for his second touchdown run of the game, extending the lead to 31-10.

After trading possessions, Florida finally scored for the first time in the half with a 14-yard completion from Matthews to Ernie Mills. However, Florida State again answered with a 16-yard touchdown rush by Lee to bring the score to 38-17.

Florida scored early in the fourth quarter with a quarterback sneak on the goal line by Matthews. 

However, on the first play back on offense, Weldon, who briefly left the game due to cramping in his hand, connected with Dawsey that put the ball on the 2-yard-line. It was the second time the two connected for more than 70 yards. The Seminoles scored on the very next play with a two-yard rush by Lee, his third of the game.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Gators scored one last time to bring the score to 45-30. However, they were unable to score on either of their final two drives, sealing the victory for Florida State. The combined score of 75 remains the highest combined score in the Florida-Florida State game ever.

Bobby Bowden's victory of Florida in 1990 marked his eighth victory against the Gators since coming to Tallahassee, and his fourth win in a row. Florida State finished the regular season 9-2. The No. 6 Seminoles faced off against No. 7 Penn State in the Blockbuster Bowl in Miami Gardens. The game marked the last time Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno, who would both go on to be the winningest coaches in major college football, coached against each other. The Seminoles won the game 24-17. 

Despite the loss, the Gators finished at the top of the SEC, though they were not allowed to claim the conference title due to NCAA sanctions. The Gators were also not able to play in a bowl game. 

Though the 1990 game is one of the rivalry's most memorable games, it nevertheless is an important game for the development of both teams and rivalry itself. 

The teams led by Spurrier and Bowden over the next decade would help the State of Florida become the epicenter of college football in the 1990s. Between 1991 and 2000, Florida State would win six games Sunshine Showdowns, Florida won four and the two teams tied in 1994, before the implementation of overtime in the NCAA. In many of those games, both teams were ranked in the top 10.

In the same time span, the winner of the game would compete for the national championship six times. The Gators and Seminoles combined for three national championships in 1993, 1996 and 1999.

The rivalry would culminate in the 1996 season when Florida and Florida State faced off as the top two teams in the country. Florida State carried the game 24-21. However, they met in a rematch in the 1997 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The Gators dominated the game 52-20 to avenge their sole loss of the season and capture Spurrier's only national championship. 

Steve Spurrier became Florida's all-time winningest coach and become one of the most legendary personalities in the history of the SEC. In addition to his innovations to the passing game in college football, he also was known for his one-line trash talk, including naming his rival Florida State "Free Shoes University" in response to an NCAA investigation into the Seminole program. He left the Gators following the 2002 season to coach in the NFL. He finished with a final record of 122-27-1 with six SEC titles to his name. Only Bear Bryant and Nick Saban have won SEC championships.

After an unsuccessful stint in Washington, Spurrier returned to the SEC at South Carolina, taking the program to heights it had never seen before. He retired as the all-time winningest coach in South Carolina history.

Bobby Bowden continued to coach the Seminoles until he retired at the end of the 2009 season, ending his 34-season career at Florida State. He finished with 377 wins, second only to Joe Paterno in major college football. Bowden also led to the Seminoles to 33 consecutive winning seasons, 21 bowl victories and two national championships. 

His final game was in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville against West Virginia. To honor his years of service and success in Tallahassee, Chief Osceola passed his spear to Coach Bowden, who planted it in the grass of Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in front of his team and an adoring crowd. The Seminoles won the game 33-21. At the end of the game, Bowden's players lifted the beloved coach on their shoulders and carried him off the field.

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