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Clemson Football

Reversing History

November 20, 2020
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As we close in on the kickoff of Clemson’s 2020 matchup with Florida State, I'm always reminded of the most significant play I ever witnessed: The Punkrooski

Back in 1988, I was an eleven-year-old Tiger fan, too young to remember the ‘81 National Championship team, but old enough to be hopeful for another crack at the title. 

On September 17, in Death Valley, the No. 3 Clemson Tigers had a chance to solidify themselves as a contender-- the opponent former No. 1 Florida State. The Seminoles had opened the season as the top team in America, but a 31-0 loss to Miami to open the season wasn’t the start Bobby Bowden and crew were looking for.  

After a win over Southern Miss the week prior, the Noles ventured into Death Valley ranked No. 10 and under nasty conditions, the poncho filled crowd watched what would become an all-time classic.

As I’ve noted in the past, the college football theme on CBS, followed by the voice of Jim Nance or Brent Musburger cutting through, would give you chills just before the start of a big game. This was before ESPN’s College GameDay became the measuring stick. Being an afternoon contest on CBS was the place to be, bar none.

At the time, FSU was becoming a college football power. The Bowden bunch would finish No. 3 that season with an 11-1 record for a second consecutive year, just the second in a line of fourteen seasons wrapping up inside the Top 5.

FSU was led on defense by Deion Sanders, but the flashy cornerback would have one of his signature collegiate moments with a 76-yard punt return in the  3rd quarter to tie the contest at 14-14. 

When “Primetime” crossed into the endzone, the orange-clad faithful chunked a drink or two in his direction, as Sanders spread his hands apart and looked towards the heavens. From that moment forward, many never liked Sanders, as for me, I was captivated and followed his career closely, noting in the past he became ‘one of my all-time favorite players to imitate’. 

While Sanders’ punt return was a significant moment, it wasn’t the pivotal special teams play of the day. That would come thanks to Leroy Butler and an iconic call in college football history.

With the score tied 21-21 with just 1:33 left in the game, Bowden reached into his bag of tricks. Facing a 4th down deep in their own territory, the Seminoles lined up to punt. 

The formation wasn't overly unique, but the deception would have made Houdini proud.

The ball was snapped to the up-back Dayne Williams, father of former Clemson tight end Garrett Williams (2015-18), who then placed it into the waiting hands of Leroy Butler, underneath his butt no less. All the while, punter Tim Corlew leaped high as if the ball had been snapped over his head. 

Everyone on the Seminoles punt team started to run to the right, pulling Clemson's defenders that direction while Butler was sneaking out to the left and up the sidelines for a 78-yard run. Only Clemson's punt return man Donnell Woolford had a chance, and he managed to push Butler out of bounds inside the five-yard line.

A Richie Andrews field goal would give FSU a 24-21 lead two plays later.

Legendary Florida State play-by-play man, Gene Deckerhoff was on the call that day and when Clemson arrived in Tallahassee to seek revenge a year later, ESPN re-played the Puntrooski with Deckerhoff's call. 

Looking back, had that moment not taken place, would that have set Clemson on a similar track? The Tigers lost only one game the rest of the season, a 10-3 loss at NC State. Win both of those games and the ‘88 Tigers potentially face Notre Dame for the national title. 

Could Clemson have put together a similar run? Instead, FSU joined the ACC in 1992 and dominated the conference, walloping the Tigers the majority of times the two met, including the first 11 conference meetings between the two teams. During that stretch, Florida State would win the national championship in 1993 and 1999. 

The Tigers finally eclipsed Bowden’s teams in 2003, ironically led by Bowden's son, Tommy, and beating a No. 3 FSU squad 26-10.

Now the shoe is on the other foot as Clemson is the national power on a regular basis, finishing in the Top 4 every season since 2015.

Tomorrow Swinney and the Tigers are also chasing their 6th consecutive win in the series. A victory would also make Clemson only the fifth program ever to win three consecutive road games against Florida State in Tallahassee, joining Florida (six straight from 1966-76, three from 1982-86 and 2004-08), Houston (four from 1966-78), Memphis (three from 1969-75) and Miami (Fla.) (five from 1957-77 and four from 1981-87).

The script has now been flipped in the series, but what if the Puntrooski failed? What if Clemson won 24-21 that day? What would the 1990s have been in Tiger Town?

We will never know if a magical stretch would have come Clemson’s way, but Tiger fans do know HOW it would have felt because you are currently living it, just 30 years later than expected.

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Reversing History

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