Do we need to talk about the history between Georgia Tech and Florida State? We probably should; it’s kinda weird. Before either school joined the ACC, the two teams met nine times between 1952 and 1975. All of these games took place in Atlanta, and the best result the Seminoles could muster was a single tie in 1962. Then, in 1992, they joined the ACC.
First, it can’t be understated how much of a coup this was for the conference. When the ACC was able to lure FSU away from independence they were already five years into the period known in Tallahassee as “the dynasty” - a 14 year stretch which saw the Noles win double digit games every single year. A year after joining, they won a national championship. Six years after that, they won another. They won every single ACC championship from the year they joined to 2000, took a year off, then won three of the next four. They won three Orange Bowls and three Sugar Bowls during that time to go with the two Fiesta Bowls and one Sugar Bowl they won right before joining.
The ACC was still a nine team league at the time, playing a full round-robin conference schedule. That meant the Seminoles victimized every single ACC team, a lot, and Georgia Tech, well..... From the year they joined the conference (1992) until the year the conference expanded to include Virginia Tech and Miami (2004) the Noles met the Jackets on the gridiron twelve times. Georgia Tech lost all twelve of them. Some of them, especially near the end, were heartbreakingly close. But a lot of them were beatdowns. Bill Lewis never beat them, George O’Leary couldn’t do it in seven tries, and not even Chan Gailey could [devolves into a fit of laughter].
(By the way, this - and every other series - is all mapped over at Winsipedia, which is a pretty cool site you all should check out when you get the chance.)
By the time the late aughts were rolling around, some of the shine had begun to wear off Florida State’s football program. Sure, there were still the aforementioned championships, but after the dynasty period ended, the Noles’ win totals started to look a bit more pedestrian. They went 7-6 in both 2006 and 2007, when they lost their bowl game to Kentucky and their biggest win was a road upset of #2 Boston College. (The 2007 college football season was wild, but that’s another story, or a whole series of them.)
All this to say, if you were a freshman at Tech in, say, 2007, you may not have been fully aware of the baggage Tech was holding going into it, or just how big a potential win over the Noles - who had finished 4th in the six team ACC Atlantic the previous year - could be. But FSU was ranked #15 at the time, and Georgia Tech wasn’t ranked at all, so for me, that was enough. I didn’t know Bobby Bowden was undefeated vs. Georgia Tech. I was still excited about this new coach with this crazy, run-heavy offense he brought from Navy.
The 2008 edition was different almost from the start. Florida State scored first, and led 10-3 at the end of the first quarter. But early in the second quarter, Jonathan Dwyer ripped off a 36 yard touchdown run to cap a 3 play, 62 yard, 1:19 drive. Two plays later, Christian Ponder threw a pass that landed in the hands of Cooper Taylor, who returned the ball to the FSU 4 yard line. (Remember that name for later.) Tech only needed two more plays to punch in another touchdown and take a 24-10 lead. The Noles added ten more before halftime to bring the score to 24-20, but Tech put fans’ nerves temporarily back to rest by opening the second half with a 3 play, 80 yard drive taking all of 1:18. 31-20, Yellow Jackets. Things were looking good.
And then they weren’t. On Tech’s next possession, Joshua Nesbitt suffered an ankle injury that took him out for the rest of the game. Jaybo Shaw, replacing him, was tackled attempting a toss on his first play and fumbled the ball. The Noles didn’t end up taking advantage of that situation, but the damage was done. Over the next two possessions, Georgia Tech gained 18 total yards. After FSU scored a touchdown and converted a two-point attempt, Tech’s next play from scrimmage was a pass - which was intercepted. FSU ball, trailing by 3, with 5:49 remaining in the game. The Noles were about to rip Georgia Tech’s heart out for the thirteenth consecutive time.
And the Noles were happy to take their sweet time doing it. It took them nine plays to go from their own 41 to set up first and goal at the Tech 6, by which point only two minutes were remaining. They had guaranteed overtime; a field goal from that distance was a gimme. But with two minutes left, Bobby Bowden was still looking to strike the killing blow. An Antone Smith on first down set up second and goal from the 3. FSU lined up in a tight formation, with Greg Carr to the right and Mario Butler defending. What happened next could only be described as a miracle.
Cooper Taylor, having already made his name known with the interception earlier, almost definitely wasn’t attempting to make the play he actually made. He was just trying to bring Marcus Sims down. Putting his helmet on the ball and knocking it sky high couldn’t have been anything more than dumb luck. Rashaad Reid attempting to pick it up, then dropping it, then still managing to pick it up was even more lucky. But sometimes luck is exactly what you need. Bowden had aimed his shot and pulled the trigger, only for his gun to blow up in his face.
As Tech kneeled out the final seconds of the game, fans began streaming onto the field, celebrating an incredible upset and an even more incredible end to a long losing streak. The Miracle of North Avenue was born. And as the opposing coaches approached each other for a post-game handshake, Bowden could clearly be heard on ESPN cameras, saying “great ball game, Paul!”
It sure was, Bobby.