From 'puntrooskie' to the present, Tigers & Seminoles have measured themselves against the other

Dabo Swinney: 'This is what they've been wanting, isn't it? They can't talk bad about us now'

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney greets Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher  before the game.

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney greets Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher before the game.

Dabo Swinney was a senior in high school and Jimbo Fisher a rookie in the Arena Football League in 1988, the year Leroy Butler quelled the self-described 'pterodactyls' doing somersaults in his stomach and pulled off one of the most audacious pieces of trickery in college football history.

Tenth-ranked Florida State beat No. 3 Clemson 24-21 on a dark, rainy day at Death Valley known forevermore and after as the 'Puntrooskie' game, a moment that cemented Bobby Bowden's aura as the game's unsurpassed riverboat gambler.

A year later in Tallahassee, Clemson pulled off a less devious but equally unexpected stunner, as the Tigers - powered by twin 73-yard touchdowns by Terry Allen and Wayne Simmons - ran roughshod over an FSU team that went on to finish No. 3 in the nation.

For the past 25 years, both Clemson and Florida State have measured themselves against the other - an arrangement formalized when the Seminoles joined the ACC in 1992 and further strengthened in 2004 when the conference expanded and assigned both schools to the Atlantic Division.

The Tigers' super-hyped matchup against the Seminoles on Saturday is, in a sense - despite the unusually lofty rankings and high stakes, nationally and in the conference - more of a continuation than a breakthrough.

Both teams aspire to college football's highest prize, and this season they've played their way to a mid-season matchup with national relevance.

On Saturday, as they've been doing for a quarter-century, they'll measure themselves against each other.

"It's a danged big game," Swinney said earlier this week. "I hope this becomes the norm - playing in a game in the middle of the season with national implications. You just embrace it.

"It's just one game, and whatever happens, it's not over - you've still got a long way to go. But let's face it, the winner of this game is probably going to win the division, because for the loser, the other team has to lose twice, and that's tough."

Swinney said that when he arrived at Clemson in 2003, Florida State "was just sort of the standard at that time."

"After they joined the league, they had quite a run going there under Coach Bowden," Swinney said. "They had, I don't know, 13, 14, 15 years or so of winning 10 plus games and certainly were one of the best teams in the country, with a couple national championships to go along with it. They were the standard."

During the past decade, Clemson has better than matched the Seminoles, with a 6-4 edge in the series. The Seminoles haven't won at Death Valley since 2001.

Swinney and Fisher may have inherited the rivalry, but both are keenly aware of its implications in the here-and-now.

"I think it's become a rivalry, because it's a very important Atlantic Division contest - there's no doubt," said Fisher. "It's a rivalry because of the importance and how good both teams are.

"When you have a rivalry, it's usually when both teams are very competitive and both teams have success and it will decide something, and this has definitely become that in my opinion."

"It's good for Clemson to be back where we want to be as a program, and that's being one of those top teams every year that's consistently competing at a high level and consistently in the mix," said Swinney.

"We want to be one of those teams that year in, year out, Clemson comes to everybody's mind. Our brand is out there, and when people sit down to write out their top 10, top 15, we're one of those teams that should be there, along with Florida State."

"I think it's a sign that both of us are establishing ourselves back in national prominence again, and it's great for our kids to experience that," Fisher said. "The more times we're in these situations, I think the more successful we have a chance of being."

Both coaches say they're proud to be carrying the banner of the ACC this week.

"Now we're getting the national recognition and the teams, we've won some important games and I think it is very critical and it's great for the ACC," Fisher said. "It brings awareness to it, and I think the rest of the country will be able to see what kind of quality football is played in the ACC."

"This is what they've been wanting, isn't it?" said Swinney. "They can't talk bad about us now."

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