Friday, September 13, 2013
Saturday Tailgate: Florida State
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Timmy Jernigan grew up a Florida fan, so it was perhaps appropriate that the first game he saw Florida State play in Doak Campbell Stadium was the annual clash with the Gators.
Jernigan was a top recruit at the time, and he'd yet to decide where he'd play his college ball. But one night spent among the frenzied crowd in Tallahassee, and he was sold.
"I knew at that moment, I wanted to be here," Jernigan said. "The atmosphere when that stadium's rocking, there aren't too many places like it."
From the daylong tailgates to the pregame pageantry of Chief Osceola and Renegade riding across the field to plant a flaming spear, to the raucous crowd that packs Doak Campbell Stadium for big games, Florida State's game day rivals the scenery at any school.
But where Florida State falls short is in its location.
Tallahasse isn't an easy travel destination. Nearly three hours from the nearest major city, the Seminoles have the second-most displaced fan base in the country, and with costly flights or long drives separating fans from the stadium, selling out every seat and creating that rabid environment isn't always a simple task.
As the Seminoles prepared for this week's home opener against Nevada, the emergence of freshman quarterback Jameis Winston helped spark a run on tickets, but the game still isn't sold out. Jimbo Fisher responded by writing a letter to fans, urging them to make the trip to Doak Campbell to show support for their team. It's a sales pitch, Fisher said, more and more programs need to make.
"You see it everywhere, more so than you've ever seen it," Fisher said. "All these TVs, home packages, HD… all that stuff. That's a big part of it. But I don't think there's anything like the game-day experience."
And that's true for the fans and the players, Fisher said.
Thinking back on the biggest games he's coached, there were countless moments when the screaming hordes decked out in garnet and gold affected the outcome. Jernigan said he's hopeful that will be the case this weekend, as Nevada works to run an up-tempo offense in the face of a deafening crowd.
The fans matter, especially at a place like Florida State.
"These seniors, it's the last seven times they'll be out there for you to celebrate them for what they've done for Florida State," Fisher said. "For them to work real hard, then walk out into that stadium and see it full and see that atmosphere, see that environment, Renegade and Chief Osceola, that whole atmosphere, it's the most unique in college football."
It's what brought Jernigan here to begin with, and it's an environment Fisher said might sway a new group of recruits Saturday.
And even years after Jernigan took in his first game at Doak Campbell, that magic hasn't diminished. He still takes a moment before each game to soak in the environment, to watch Osceola thrust his spear into the dirt at midfield, to remember why he came here to begin with.
"I embrace every moment I get to go into that stadium," Jernigan said. "It's a great atmosphere."