September 17, 1988…..
The Riverboat Gambler. A nickname Bobby Bowden had earned over the years due to his penchant for calling trick plays. A persona he embraced, and one Clemson fans became all to familiar with on this day.
The 3rd ranked Clemson Tigers welcomed Bobby Bowden’s 10th ranked Florida State Seminoles to Death Valley. It was the first ever matchup of top ten teams in the 46 year history of the Tigers’ home stadium, and the Noles were trying to rebound from an embarrassing 31-0 opening week loss to rival Miami.
Seeing his team was in need of an influx of energy, Bowden decided to introduce a trick play he had learned from one of his grad assistants. The high risk, high reward play was called “The Puntrooskie.” Bowden had the team practice it daily, and knowing the likelihood of the play being used in the game was high, it seemed to recharge the team.
Danny Ford had his Tigers in their special “orange britches” on this wet, soggy day, and his teams were 14-1 when sporting the special pants. Clemson would take a 14-7 lead into halftime, a score that wasn’t indicative of how one sided the first half had been. The Tigers outgained FSU 232-71 and had 10 1st downs compared to just 5 for FSU.
The Tigers were forced to punt after they couldn’t get anything going on their first offensive series of the 2nd half. Prime Time Deion Sanders fielded that punt and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown, leaving the Clemson faithful stunned and the game tied at 14. The Noles would take a 21-14 lead a few minutes later on a 1 yard TD run. Clemson would tie it with less than 4 minutes to go on a 19 yard TD run by FB Tracy Johnson.
Florida State’s final possession began at its own 14 with just 2:32 to go. The Noles picked up 6 on 1st down, then threw an incompletion on 2nd. On 3rd and 4, they would catch a huge break when the Tigers had what looked like an interception, but failed to come up with the ball. Then, on 4th and 4 from their own 21, Bowden made one of the gutsiest calls in the history of the sport. If the play is successful, it could possibly give his team a chance to win. If it fails however, he is almost assuredly giving the Tigers the win.
As the ball was snapped, the FSU punter lept in the air as if the ball was snapped over his head. Instead, the ball was snapped to the up back, who then handed it to Leroy Butler between his legs. Butler raced 74 yards down the left sideline before being caught and tackled at the Clemson 4. The Seminoles then kicked a 19 yard FG with 32 seconds left to win it.
It was a bittersweet afternoon in the upstate of South Carolina, and a day that fans old enough to remember will never forget. Announcer Beano Cook would later say it was “the prettiest play since My Fair Lady,” and that’s a sentiment that is hard to argue with.