We return South for the next installment of the Stadium Countdown. Some good distance separates Florida State and Michigan State in our highly sophisticated algorithmic ranking equation. Not surprising that the Tallahassee sun would score higher than East Lansing and the rest of the previously ranked Midwest destinations.
There are no lack of spots to hunker down and enjoy yourself outside of Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium. The surrounding lots and fields all cater to quality, unencumbered tailgating amidst the throng. From personal experience, the reception among FSU fans in 1994 (played in Orlando, so not true Tallahassee hospitality) and 2002 was markedly different. The Orlando crowd was hostile and unwelcoming, which may be attributable to FSU being at the height of their program's arrogance and a bitter hangover effect from the loss dealt them in the 1993 version of the Game of the Century. (Though there really is no excuse for being spit at). The FSU faithful could not have been nicer to us, both around the sprawl of RVs we rocked in the lots, as well as in and around the stadium. I still fondly recall walking out of the stadium, chest puffed a little after the whooping Tyrone administered (his first and only respectable road whooping). A dejected elder man looked at me, contemplated the beer in his hand, then thrust the bottle in my gut like we were running an off-tackle dive. "There's your victory beer." Perfectly played by a proud and generous fan expressing his disappointment.
Back to the game experience itself, there's some pretty good spectacle to enjoy in the Doak, centered around the pre-game ceremonial flaming spear thrown at midfield by Chief Osceola from atop his trusty steed, Renegade. As you can imagine, anything that mixes fire, Native Americans on horseback and a massive, alcohol-inspired crowd is guaranteed to create quite the commotion. Goosebumps all around.
Naively, I dreaded being subject to the Tomahawk chant ad nauseum throughout the game, but it, too, was very cool to behold. 82,000+ people joining in an intimidating and enthusiastic cheer is pretty cool. Thankfully, Notre Dame's success that afternoon probably cut the normal number of chant occurrences in half. In fact, at one point in the 4th quarter when the rout was on, the Florida State band, seated below the majority of the Irish road section, turned and played the chop for us. We were actually encouraged to chop FSU fans in their own place! A surreal moment.
As is usually the case, the dual Jumbotrons add substantially to the experience, getting the benefit of immediate replays and extra motivation for crowd participation. There was one glaring misuse of the screens, though. With some of the tomahawk chants, the screen would flash various people associated with FSU - former athletes and other folk (my memory is foggy if Turd Ferduson, I mean Burt Reynolds, was included) chopping merrily with the crowd. That was all well and good until Jared Fogle's dumb mug appeared, goofily doing the chop. Last I checked, Jared didn't earn an FSU degree (surprisingly, he's an IU grad and North Central, Indianapolis alum). Who were the ad-wizards that thought the Subway guy would be the perfect "celeb" to get the crowd fired up?? A laughable moment for the marketing staff. Who knows - maybe it was a contractual obligation to serve Subway on campus. IF (a ginormous if) the powers that be ever bit the bullet and installed Jumbotrons in ND Stadium, the university should never EVER cave to the almighty sponsor and allow the confluence of sponsorship and crowd participation.
Alas, I digress. A fun fact about the Doak: that ND game in 2002 ranks as the 5th biggest crowd in stadium history. Unfortunately, the Seminoles have lost 3 of those top 5 most crowded games. All in all, just about everything you could ask for from a Southern football powerhouse. Why it's only #6? Well, there's some very good competition to contend with. Florida State couldn't claim any of the top category marks (Tailgate Scene, Campus Vibe, Tradition, Fan Factor, Surrounding Area, Intangibles) from the top 5. Stay tuned...