The Florida State Seminoles and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are two of college football’s most prestigious programs. Although governing the college football landscape for decades, on Saturday, they’ll meet for just the eighth time.
Steeped in tradition and accustomed to success, the Seminoles and Irish claim a combined 16 national championships and 10 Heisman Trophy winners. All seven previous matchups featured at least one of the two teams ranked in the AP Top 25. Like this weekend’s matchup, three of the occasions offered a game in which both teams came in ranked.
The most recent matchup in which both teams were ranked came in 2002. FSU was ranked 11th and Notre Dame sixth when the two teams met at Doak Campbell Stadium. Favored to win by double digits, the Seminoles fell 34-24, stunning the FSU faithful.
Prior to that, the 1996 Orange Bowl paired the No. 7 Seminoles and the No. 6 Irish in an epic battle that witnessed Florida State rally for the win with 17 points in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Danny Kanell and running back Warrick Dunn were key players in Florida State’s comeback.
But it was the 1993 matchup that trumped all others, pitting No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Notre Dame and dubbed "The Game of the Century."
"The thing I remember about the game was the setting," former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden said. "Packed stadium, national media there, fans sitting right on top of you. The O.J. interview before game, and FSU was No. 1 and Notre Dame was No. 2."
Featuring quarterback Charlie Ward — the season’s eventual Heisman Trophy winner — and one of the nation’s best defenses, led by Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks, the Seminoles were fully prepared to enter South Bend and leave with a victory.
"It was two top five teams competing, but playing on the road was something we knew would be tough," Ward told FOX Sports Florida. "But our mentality was no matter where we play we have to execute and give good effort to be successful… We had a team that was built to play on the road — a good offense, a solid defense, and special teams that could get us back into game if needed."
Charlie Ward tried to rally the No. 1 Seminoles from a 24-7 deficit against the No. 2 Fighting Irish in 1993, but the comeback fell just short.
A 6 1/2-point favorite heading into the game, Ward and the Seminoles struggled and looked overmatched in falling behind 24-7. The Irish were doing as they pleased on offense, and their defense was making Ward look average.
Late in the game, however, and with the score now 31-17 in favor of the Irish, the Seminoles mounted a charge. With 1:39 left, FSU pulled within 31-24 after a tipped pass from Ward on 4th-and-20 found its way into the hands of WR Kez McCorvey. The Seminoles defense forced a three-and-out on Notre Dame’s subsequent possession giving the ball back to Ward and the offense for a chance to tie. The Seminoles moved the ball down the field quickly, and with three seconds remaining had time for one final play from the Notre Dame 14 yard-line.
Ward took the snap from the shotgun, evaded the rush, rolled left and then unloaded a bullet towards the end zone. The pass never made it to the end zone, however, as Notre Dame defensive back Shawn Wooden knocked it down before reaching the goal line.
"I thought we had just lost the chance to play in the national title game," said Bowden, who at 84 still remembers this game as though it was played yesterday.
Fortunately for the Seminoles, the loss only knocked them down to No. 2 in the pecking order. A rematch against Notre Dame for the championship was still a strong possibility, though Nebraska and West Virginia were trying to make the case that they were more deserving of the No. 2 ranking. But it became moot the very next week after the Irish were stunned by Boston College 41-39 at home to help FSU reclaim the No. 1 spot. The Seminoles would win out and claim their first national championship.
"We were very excited that they had opened the door for us to move up in the rankings," Ward explained. "We watched the ending in our dorm room apartments and it became very loud and full of jubilation when the Notre Dame kicker missed that field goal against BC.
"In every championship season there are defining moments, and a little good fortune during the season, that helps propel you towards your goal of winning a championship."
The 1993 game will go down in history as one of college football’s most memorable. The traditions of the two schools and the players and coaches on both rosters made for a setting and event that may never be replicated again.
"It was a great game, I remember watching," current Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said of the ’93 matchup. "Back then those Notre Dame teams and Florida State teams, there were a lot of great college players and a lot of great pro players on that team. They were two great teams.