Date: January 6th, 2014
Location: BCS National Championship Game, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Opponent: No. 2 Auburn Tigers
“Art imitates life.”
It’s a phrase that is used often to describe just how closely fictional endeavors are able to mimic the realities that you and I face every day. The best authors are able to craft stories that make you feel real emotion and suck you into their desired narrative. I’m sure there are numerous examples that you can think of where a book or movie has stayed with you long after you first experienced it.
So, it is very true to state that, at its best, art can imitate life.
However, when life wants to, it blows art out of the water.
The 2014 BCS National Championship Game was one of these events, as it had all the characteristics of a classic novel. It was a night filled with drama, suspense, shock, adversity, and triumph. I’ll never forget where I was that night, a sentiment that I expect many of you reading this article will echo fully.
That game affected me in a way that no work of fiction ever has…because it was real.
Florida State came into the game against Auburn as an unstoppable conqueror. They were the expected favorites and experts across the country picked the ’Noles to steamroll the Tigers in the same fashion that they did all of their other opponents. To put it mildly, that did not happen.
In a night full of surprising events, the most unexpected was arguably the way that Auburn handled FSU at the beginning of this game.
Down 21-3, with the pressure dialed up to an all-time high, the Seminoles found a way to endure.
It all began with an unexpected dose of trickery from a head coach that could feel a perfect season slipping through his fingers. The team used that moment as a catalyst to jump-start one of the most astonishing comebacks in college football history. Unbelievably, especially to observers of the game’s opening moments, the ’Noles cut Auburn’s lead down to 1 point
The Tigers responded with a field goal to make the score 24-20 in their favor. At this point, the contest resembled a heavyweight boxing fight as much as it did a football game. It was a war of attrition, and the eventual winner would need contributions from every player possible.
In a moment so poetic that it could have flowed from the pen of Robert Frost, Florida State found an unlikely prince that just so happened to be named after a frog.
Euphoria ensued for the Seminole players and fanbase. It was a herculean effort on special teams from one of the most diminutive players on the roster. FSU was on the verge of its first National Championship in 14 years…if only Auburn would cooperate.
Gus Malzahn’s Tigers were a worthy foe and had the mettle of champions themselves. Most teams would have been rattled by what they had just witnessed and been unable to recover their composure. If it wasn’t clear up to this point, this version of Auburn was not most teams.
Led by outstanding running back Tre Mason, the Tigers marched down the field for one of the more demoralizing touchdowns ever scored against FSU. The elation of Whitfield’s return rapidly turned to despair. At many points during the year, Auburn had been deemed as the “team of destiny.” After taking a 31-27 lead in the final minutes of the 4th quarter, it seemed to be an appropriate moniker.
In most books or movies, this play would have signified the ending, as it would be too unbelievable that a team could recover from that type of devastating blow.
Life, as it often does, had other plans.
FSU QB Jameis Winston received the ball on his own 20-yard line with 71 seconds left to play. The task ahead was near impossible, but Winston had the constitution for such an immense challenge. Luckily, he also was surrounded by teammates that were built of similar stuff.
In a play that is absolutely incredible in its own right, Winston connected with receiver Rashad Greene for a 49-yard catch-and run. Greene caught the ball and although he fell short of the Auburn goal line, he crossed through to the realm of immortality as an everlasting part of the legacy of Seminole football.
The game, and the story told by the players on the field, had been magical up to that point. But, as we all know, every great story must have a worthy ending. This night would be no disappointment in that department.
With 17 seconds left to play, Winston took the snap and delivered a play action fake to running back Devonta Freeman. The ball then left his hands in the direction of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
The ball was launched at a high trajectory to take advantage of the physical specimen that Winston had in Benjamin. The catch, like everything else that the ’Noles earned that night, was hard-fought.
Draped in Tiger defenders, Benjamin pulled down the ball, and with it, history.
The Seminoles were National Champions and a participant in one of the greatest athletic contests ever witnessed by human eyes. In reality, there were no true losers that night, only members in a real-life drama of the highest quality.
This play is not the bookend to our Top 100 series (that comes tomorrow) but it does serve as the period to one of the greatest stories ever told in the lore of Florida State football. A tale so epic with a conclusion so fitting, that I challenge any artist to match its grandeur.
They may be able to imitate it somewhat, but we all know what the real thing looks like.