Florida State’s “Puntrooskie” Play Still Resonates

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – LeRoy Butler won a Super Bowl with Green Bay, got picked for four Pro Bowls and began a modern “Cheese Head” tradition 20 years ago with his leap into the Lambeau Field stands after a touchdown.

But the former Florida State defensive back said what he gets asked about most often is the “Puntrooskie. No doubt about it.”

Butler’s 78-yard scamper off a fake punt against Clemson in 1988 remains among college football’s most famous and gutsy calls a quarter of a century later.

“They took a heck of a chance and 25 years later, we’re still talking about it,” said former Clemson coach Danny Ford, who walked out of Death Valley with a 24-21 loss on Sept. 18, 1988.

The Seminoles won that top-10 matchup and the stakes are just as high this weekend when No. 5 Florida State (5-0) plays at third-ranked Clemson (6-0) on Saturday. The winner will be in Atlantic Coast Conference driver’s seat with their national title hopes intact.

Ford’s Tigers were ranked third when Florida State arrived for just its second visit to Death Valley. The Seminoles began the season No. 1 but fell to 10th after a week-one drubbing, 31-0, against Miami on national TV.

“We knew we couldn’t lose another one,” Butler said.

Both teams’ rosters were filled with future NFL players.

The Seminoles also featured Deion Sanders and freshman quarterback Charlie Ward. The Tigers were led by tailback Terry Allen, punter Chris Gardocki and cornerback Donnell Woolford, who was back awaiting the punt that never came his way with 1:31 left in a 21-all tie.

“I still can’t believe what I saw,” said Woolford, who played nine NFL seasons with Chicago and Pittsburgh.

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden had wanted something extraordinary in special teams to tilt things against Miami in the opener and had worked on the puntrooskie before the year, said Brad Scott, the Seminoles tight ends coach that year.

“Well, we just got swamped against the Hurricanes and never got to use it,” said Scott, a member of Clemson’s football staff the past 15 seasons.

Two weeks later, Bowden was eager to pull the trigger on the play.

At halftime against Clemson with Florida State trailing 14-7, Bowden told players and coaches, “Don’t worry, this is a tie game because we’ve got the ‘rooskie,’ we’ve got the ‘rooskie’,” Scott remembered.

The game had already had its share of memorable moments before the play.

Sanders and the Seminoles ran to the bottom of the hill before Clemson’s traditional entrance, motioning the Tigers down to the field. Sanders put on a show in the third quarter with his electrifying, 76-yard punt return that knotted things up at 14.

“I told Gardocki not to kick to Sanders and he kicks to Sanders,” Woolford said with a laugh.

A tie looked likely with 90 seconds to play and Florida State facing fourth-and-4 from its own 21. But Bowden had other ideas.

“I looked at coach Bowden when I ran onto the field to see if he really wanted to run it,” Butler said after the game. “He just motioned like, ‘I know what I’m doing.’

“When I got back to the sideline he said, ‘I told you it would work.'”

On the snap, Florida State punter Tim Corlew leaped as if the ball sailed over his head. But the ball had been short-snapped to up-back Dayne Williams, who placed the ball between the legs of Butler, another up-back lined up in blocking formation. Butler took off around the left sidelines and wasn’t caught until Woolford pushed him out at the Tigers 1.

The field was wet and muddy from daylong rain and all Butler said he thought while running was not to fall.

Two plays later, Richie Andrews connected on a go-ahead 19-yard field goal in front of a stunned crowd of 84,576, at the time the second largest in Death Valley history.

Florida State didn’t lose another game that season, finishing 11-1 and No. 3 behind national champion Notre Dame and No. 2 Miami. It also brought Bowden his reputation as a coach who’d take chances to win.

“We’re just lucky it worked, but if it hadn’t Clemson could’ve turned around kicked a field goal and beat us,” Bowden said.

Current Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was an assistant at Samford. Fisher said he was about five minutes late getting to the team bus for a game later that day because he watching that Seminoles-Tigers game.

“The good thing, I had (Bobby Bowden’s son) Terry Bowden sitting with me” watching the game,” Fisher said. “He was the head coach” at Samford.

Butler said he knew he’d done something special when he heard late college football analyst Beano Cook quip the “puntrooskie” was the best play “since My Fair Lady.”

“After that people kept asking me about it,” Butler said. “It hasn’t stopped since.”