Next in a Road to CFB series of first-hand matchday experiences at stadiums across the country:
A day of football in Florida State exudes tradition and excellence. The atmosphere is passionate, sometimes hostile, and exciting as hell.
A sold-out crowd brings down the house!
#9 Notre Dame 41, Florida State 38/OT
There’s a strategy for finding a Florida State game to go to. The Seminoles are a historic powerhouse in college football, but they’ve had better seasons lately. When expectations aren’t met, FSU fans turn fast. This leads to wasted crowds and a less than exciting atmosphere.
That’s why I chose the opening weekend to go to Doak Campbell Stadium. For one thing, I was already in the area (ish, southeastern US) and my pre-season analysis of the ‘Noles told me they would still struggle.
The stars aligned for this one – the game took place on a rare Sunday (the NFL had yet to begin) and Florida State was hosting a Notre Dame top-10 team. Tickets weren’t cheap, but $110 was a reasonable price to pay for the seat and circumstances. Even before kick-off, I got what I paid for.
Florida State Football Game Day: Arrival
I headed to Tallahassee after my dad got home from Charlotte. The seven-plus-hour drive passes through truly beautiful, rural American lands. I avoided the highways for the most part, opting to take Georgia State Highways through Macon rather than Jacksonville. It only adds a few minutes, saves the rush hour nonsense, and I can’t recommend this route highly enough.
One thing to know about Florida State game days: parking is an absolute nightmare. If you’re not ready to leave several hours before kick-off, hookers grab every available seat. Don’t park on side streets – although the signs don’t tell you, your car will be towed to make room for team buses (I asked an officer). I shot for almost 40 minutes.
Easiest parking is at the State Capitol building, which cost me $2. It’s a hike and a half, but it’s cheap and traffic is much easier.
Although Florida State is in the ACC, they party like an SEC school. Hatchbacks are flashy, widespread and exciting. The Greek lodging is on the State Capitol Drive in Doak Campbell and you get the full experience of what those parties are like. I didn’t participate this time, but if you get the chance, make sure you’re on your A-game.
There is plenty to see and do around the stadium itself. The most popular photo spot on campus — potentially in the country — is the Unconquered statue on the southeast side of the stadium. Queues often form, so you’ll have to wait your turn, but it’s 100% worth it.
Team rides are great fun and I try to do everything I can – inside and outside. I saw a lot of great ones along the trip, namely Mississippi State, but the one in Florida falls into the elite category. Hundreds of fans gather to see their team enter the stadium. Among the crowd ready for the team march was ESPN’s Marty Smith. He is a friendly and engaging person who asked about the trip.
I think he’s a fan now?
There is another notable statue around Doak Campbell Stadium of legendary head coach Bobby Bowden. Bowden sadly passed away during the offseason. Flowers and tributes were laid around the statue, a really cool gesture from the FSU faithful who watched Bowden lead their Seminoles to national prowess. More on Bobby later.
Florida State Football Game Day: Doak Campbell Stadium
Fun fact, Doak Campbell Stadium is the largest continuous brick structure in the world. It is a well appointed facility with the most spacious halls outside of the big house I have ever been to. Movement and mobility in the hall are often overlooked but very important elements of a stadium. Crowded lobbies cluttered with logs can lead to frustration and missing gameplay actions. For examples of these, see Ohio State and Georgia.
The stadium isn’t this hulking juggernaut of a facility, so traversing the “upper decks” isn’t difficult. Like a few other places — Michigan Stadium, the Rose Bowl, Jones AT&T Stadium — Doak Campbell chooses to build over build. This gives the whole place a more intimate feel despite having nearly 80,000 people.
It epitomizes Florida, with a unique canopy overhang in the southeast end zone. All in all a polished and convenient stadium.
Chief Osceola and the Spear Factory
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Florida State has two of my favorite traditions: the controversial tomahawk chop and Chef Osceola’s spear plant. FSU’s living mascot and his horse gallop into midfield where the horse rears up on its hind legs and Osceola insistently thrusts his spear – to spooky fire, mind you – in the midfield logo with a BOOM echo! a crowd.
With the abandonment of problematic portrayals of Native Americans in sports, Florida state traditions are constantly under the microscope. Differing opinions exist around the tomahawk chop and its meaning, but how native culture is represented in the state of Florida couldn’t be further from offense. You don’t have fans wearing headdresses or shouting stereotypical “Indian songs”. It’s a strong homage and a weak one for some, but I truly believe it’s done well here.
Florida State Football Game Day: The Vibe
Electric. Explosive. Hostile, sometimes. Tense. Exciting.
I won’t go into too much detail about the fans, but it was an exuberant group. FSU fans are bleeding brown and they are letting everyone know it, especially Notre Dame fans. You could have led me to believe that the FSU-Notre Dame rivalry is as strong as the FSU-Florida rivalry. There were some seriously hateful words exchanged during this game.
Don’t bring your kids and I’m not kidding at all.
What this led to, however, was the loudest match I have ever been in. LSU, Penn State, and Texas A&M claim the loudest stadiums in the world and that’s definitely backed up by my experiences, but I’ve never heard louder crescendos than at this game.
Running back Jashaun Corbin snatched a 90-yard touchdown run and the place got so loud my ears were trying to muffle the noise. Headache inducing in the best way imaginable.
Florida State lost an absolute heartbreak in overtime after erasing a huge deficit. McKenzie Milton, a former UCF star who hadn’t played football in two years due to one of the worst knee injuries I’ve ever heard of, made a triumphant return. The game itself rarely steals the show from me throughout this trip, but Florida State vs. Notre Dame did.
Everyone in the sports world knows who Bobby Bowden is and the lasting impact he had on college football. It was Florida State’s first game since his passing and it was truly special. A logo commemorating Bowden was put up in the end zone next to my section. They made the standard moment of silence and video acknowledging his accomplishments.
However, the halftime show was something else. The FSU group played amazing Grace while each of the 80,000 fans in attendance had their phone’s flashlight on. Chants of “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby” thundered throughout Tallahassee. It was surreal and like something out of a movie.
The display was extremely moving and one of the most emotional things I’ve been part of on Road to BFC. I will never, ever forget it.
Game Day Notes
Stadium: A-. Although it is one of the most recently built stadiums (1950 is relative, but many of these power school stadiums were built in the 1920s), Doak Campbell Stadium holds a ton of ‘story. It looks smaller than it is, but overall it’s pretty good. Contests, as mentioned, are a huge plus.
Tradition: A. Bobby Bowden, the tomahawk chop, chef Osceola. Florida State itself is one of the most traditional schools in the country.
Atmosphere: A+. 100%. Perfect score. Ridiculous place to see the good football game.
Tailgating:A. I’m not demanding that fans stay chic at tailgates, that’s for attendees and friends to worry about. This place gets tricky and tailgating is prevalent. Almost a requirement in Tallahassee.
Fans:C. Passionate is about the only kind word I’ll use for the fans at this game. I’m no saint, but the interactions and things said between FSU fans and Notre Dame fans are the worst things I’ve heard throughout my journey. And I’ve been in the middle of the Ohio State-Michigan and Arkansas-Texas A&M rivalries. This is where I would like the fans to clean it up a bit.
Extracurricular activities:D. Tallahassee is too far from the beach to claim and the town itself really has nothing to do. There are plenty of bars in the state of Florida, but it just doesn’t feel like a college town. I think the best way to play a Florida State game is to get there early and leave town after the game.