ST. PETERSBURG — Florida State’s amazing bowl streak, 36 bowls long, could end Saturday with a graveside service and loss to Boston College at Doak Campbell Stadium, or next week against Florida, a seventh loss, wretched punctuation to Willie Taggart’s first year in Tallahassee, a new kind of history.
One more loss and the Seminoles can pack up their equipment for the winter, no roses, no oranges, no Bourbon Street, no desert vistas. This program once owned bowl seasons, with three national championships and two perfect seasons along the way.
Now it’s all over but that seventh loss. Then Taggart hits the road to find his kind of players, presumably offensive linemen. He’ll take anyone that weighs more than 300 pounds. I hear he might hit Sumo wrestling tournaments and circus sideshows. The way it’s going, Willie will come away with three sword swallowers.
This is tough to swallow. The streak began at the 1982 Gator Bowl. A seventh loss would also guarantee Florida State a losing record for the first time since 1976. The first-year head coach back then remembers it well.
“That was me, sure was,” Bobby Bowden said.
But Bobby was also the man who started The Streak in 1982. Beat West Virginia, which he had left for FSU. The Streak went on and on.
“All records were made to be broken,” Bowden said by phone. “If this one gets broken, someone is still going to have a tough time catching it.”
The Streak, which began under Bowden and continued under the late Jimbo Fisher (well, he did go to Texas A&M), has outlasted five U.S. presidents. Bowls were a plaything for Bowden as he built a football empire. FSU won 11 consecutive bowls, from the Gator to the Orange, before losing the national title to Florida in the 1997 Sugar Bowl.
“To me, it was just part of the game,” Bowden said. “When you go through it, you don’t realize. It’s just like breathing.”
Not that the NCAA recognized The Streak. It says Nebraska holds the record at 35 straight bowls. The NCAA forced FSU to vacate wins from 2006 and 2007 because of an academic scandal, and that included an Emerald Bowl win over UCLA. No matter. The Streak remained alive to Seminoles fans. That could end today.
Truth be told, The Streak should have perished last year in Fisher’s final season in Tallahassee. Decency demanded it. But it was saved by a desperate, unseemly FSU rescheduling the hurricane-postponed tilt with Louisiana-Monroe — the Irma game — to get its puny sixth win, which it turned into seven by winning the Independence Bowl. But how the mighty had fallen.
The bigger streak at stake today is FSU trying to avoid its first losing season since the nation’s bicentennial.
“A while back,” Bowden said with a laugh.
He remembers the 5-6 ’76 season. He was earning $40,000. Willie Taggart’s base salary this season is $5 million.
“I was never worried that first year,” Bowden said. “They would have made me mayor then, to win five games. They’d been 0-11, 1-10, 3-8.”
He said, “We lost our first three games. But you know what I remember most about it? No. 1, we won our last three games in the fourth quarter. We were underdogs in every one of them.
“I decided to go with the young guys. We put seven freshmen in the lineup. Then we went and played Oklahoma there and didn’t play half bad. They beat us, but (three) years later, we were undefeated.”
No such light has appeared in the tunnel for Taggart. Bowden spoke with Taggart a few weeks ago.
“He called me just to talk,” Bowden said. “About all you can do is say keep hanging in there, keep trying to improve.
“How about the coach at UCLA? Great coach. What’s he won, two games? How about the fella at Tennessee? How many games has he won? And the coach at Nebraska? He started 0-6. It’s what the material is. That first year, you’re playing with somebody else’s kids.”
As for Taggart …
“I think he’ll get it done,” Bowden said. “Look at his history, slow starts, but he gets them near the top.”
Bobby Bowden won the last game he ever coached, on Jan 1, 2010 in Jacksonville, another win over West Virginia.
“We had our share,” Bowden said.
Once it was just like breathing.
Saturday might be the last gasp.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] Follow @mjfennelly