Florida State

1976 -  Seminoles
(Authentic Reproduction)




If one man finally buried the past image of The Florida State College For Women it was Head Football Coach Bobby Bowden who was hired to replace Darrell Mudra for the 1976 season. After what seems like a lifetime as the Seminoles’ head coach, it might surprise some to learn that Bowden’s intent was not to remain at FSU but instead use it as a stepping-stone to the head coaching position at Alabama or Auburn. A Birmingham, Alabama native, Bowden was a sickly child who was often bed-ridden due to bouts of rheumatic fever. At the age of thirteen he spent six consecutive months in bed, much of it becoming a staunch Alabama football fan as the nearby radio told of the trials and success of his beloved Crimson Tide. Overcoming his illness, he became the quarterback at Birmingham’s Woodlawn High School and then entered the University Of Alabama ready to embark on a football career that would see him in the position of team leadership. Marrying his high school sweetheart forced him to transfer to smaller Samford University (then known as Howard College) where he starred, earned Little All American status, graduated, and began a career in teaching and coaching. Starting at South Georgia Junior College as an assistant, he came back to his alma mater in the same capacity. He first returned to South Georgia as the AD and head football and basketball coach and once again found his way to Samford, this time as the head football coach. In 1962 Bowden made his first appearance on the Seminoles’ sideline, coaching wide receivers with Fred Biletnikoff as his sterling student. A move to West Virginia in 1965 eventually found him first as offensive coordinator, one willing to gamble and change attacks at short notice if necessary, and then as head coach after the 1970 departure of Jim Carlen. As WVU’s head man, Bowden had a solid six year run, compiling a 42-26 record, highlighted by his 1975 9-3 season and Peach Bowl win over North Carolina State, Bowden was seeking a change that would bring him closer to a head coaching job at either Alabama or Auburn, his home state's two major football powers. Soured by the Mountaineer fan response to a sub-par 4-7 in 1974, he planned on being at Florida State only long enough to impress Bama or Auburn and make the jump there. It never happened of course and to this day, Bowden remains the head coach at FSU having become the coach with more wins than any other at the collegiate level.  Bowden, unlike Mudra before him was easily and readily accepted as "one of their own", a good-old-Southern-boy who was easy to relate to, conservative, up-front about his church attendance, and readily accessible to alumni, fans, and players. With an emphasis on the positive, he was able to recruit players that could function under the demands that AD Clay Stapleton had placed upon the program with his aggressive scheduling policy. Eight bowl appearances in his first eleven seasons solidified his place in FSU history but of course, he went far beyond surpassing that landmark. From a 4-29 mark in the years preceding his arrival to 10-2 in his second season and an 11-0 record with a bowl loss to powerful Oklahoma by his fourth season, Bowden succeeded in forever burying the image of the Seminoles as a second rate program.


While many might now say that they viewed Bowden as one who would establish greatness at FSU, the early indications were quite different. The ‘Noles lost their first five games in 1976 and noting a poor attitude on the part of some of the older players who had indeed lost a lot under previous coaching regimes, Bowden flooded the field with freshmen. By the latter part of the season, the youngsters had the hang of Bowden’s system and four ninety-yard-plus plays brought wins in the season’s final three games, including a 21-20 heart-thumper in five inches of snow against North Texas State, for a 5-6 finish. TB Larry Key completed the season with another year of eligibility and had already established the FSU career rushing mark. The defense needed work but had potential in DE Willie Jones and 190-pound LB Aaron Carter. Bowden introduced a new helmet design that was destined for the same type of legacy he built as a coach. The 1975 Indian Head helmet designs were not mirror-imaged and thus according to assistant coach Jim Gladden, the helmets gave a non-uniform appearance between the left and right sides of the headgear. Bowden also felt that the asymmetry of the helmets made it appear as if his players’ heads were wobbling side-to-side so he made an immediate change. The gold helmet was adorned with a garnet and white spear logo, one that became identified with the outstanding Seminole teams, and it was topped off with a red mask. In Bowden’s second season, the ’77 squad brought FSU as their head coach said, “to where they should be” and for most of the following thirty years, they would remain there and that would be toward the top of the national rankings. The 10-2 season was paced by a two-headed QB system that matched Wally Woodham, who had set a national high school passing record at Tallahassee’s Leon High School, with Jimmy Jordan, who had followed Woodham the following year and then broke that same record at the same high school. Both products of Coach Gene Cox’s system, and both sophs, Bowden would go with the one he believed had the hot hand and throughout the entire season, one would bail the other out when needed with neither truly considered the starter over the other. They threw to WR’s Kurt Unglaub and Mike Shumann, yet another former Leon H.S. player who later spent six seasons in the NFL with three teams. TB Larry Key whose every carry would be greeted by joyful fans jingling their keys throughout the stands, became the first Seminole to top 1000 rushing yards in a season. DE Jones again was outstanding and played three seasons with the Raiders but it was stocky, muscular newcomer Ron Simmons at MG that got the headlines. There were games in which the 6’, 230 pound muscle man and former National High School Lineman Of The Year seemed unstoppable. After a huge mid-season 24-3 defeat of Auburn, the squad knew what they could do and they went on to crush Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl 40-17. The ten victories set a school record, the team finished at number fourteen, and the Bowden-Florida State legacy was on its way. Simmons would complete his Seminole career as an All American and have his jersey number fifty retired. He played briefly with the Browns, the USFL Tampa Bay Bandits and Memphis Showboats, and with Ottowa in the CFL. He became a very successful and popular pro wrestler and continues to be seen on television in WWE-sponsored events.


Bowden’s wide-open brand of football, immediately proven ability to post winning squads, and his shrewd hiring and development of assistant coaches, quickly made Florida State the school that was out-recruiting others. Rather rapidly, Bowden had top-ten teams and they could play with anyone. Entering the 2007 football season, his 366 victories were tops among all coaches and the rest of his coaching resume was almost too good to be true: fourteen consecutive top five national rankings, ten consecutive bowl game victories, two National Championships, twelve ACC titles, and the production of two Heisman Trophy winners in quarterbacks Charlie Ward in 1993 and Chris Weinke in 2000. Many of Bowden’s disciples such as current Georgia head coach Mark Richt, Tommy West, Chuck Amato, among many others, have held both head coaching and coordinator positions throughout college football. The list of Bowden coached professional players could stock a successful franchise or two. In addition to the brightest of stars like Deion Sanders and Derrick Brooks, the NFL has been populated with recognizable Seminole names including Amp Lee, Warrick Dunn, Travis Minor, Zack Crockett, Brad Johnson, and Samari Rolle. Honors such as the 2006 election into The College Football Hall Of Fame, having the playing field at FSU’s Doak Campbell Stadium named for him in 2004, and an annual Bobby Bowden Award given by the Fellowship Of Christian Athletes merely hint at the recognition that Bowden’s tenure has brought to Florida State, and the level of excellence they have achieved on the football field.

If interested in any of these Florida State helmets please click on the photos below.