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Ward to Dunn, 25 Years Later

By BJ Bennett
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Charlie Ward's 79-yard touchdown pass to Warrick Dunn at Florida remains one of the most iconic, and most important, moments in program lore.

Florida State's inaugural national championship season was one of great drama and thrill. From the "Game of the Century" at Notre Dame to the last-second triumph over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, the Seminoles played seven top 17 opponents in 1993, proving clutch, dynamic and resilient in Bobby Bowden's first national title run. This team didn't just make history, they made it when it mattered most. For all of the big plays, Charlie Ward's 79-yard touchdown pass to Warrick Dunn at Florida remains one of the most iconic, and most important, moments in program lore.

Ward-to-Dunn in The Swamp helped validate Florida State as a true college football superpower. On the silvery anniversary of the catch-and-run, its significance, in garnet-and-gold, is timeless.

On a late 3rd-and-10 with momentum clearly on Florida's side with the Gators having rallied back to within six points, Ward, calm and composed as the crowd roared, avoided pass-rushers and tossed the ball to a streaking Dunn in stride; nearly 80 yards later, the touchdown sealed the deal for FSU as the final points of the game. In highlight fashion, two Seminole standouts came through when the spotlight was the brightest and championship hopes appeared to be dimming. Florida State, in its very next game, edged out Nebraska for a national title.

"That was probably the loudest I've ever heard a stadium. We really couldn't hear each other," Ward recalled. "They had stopped us on first and second down. Third-and-ten, I don't want to say it was routine play, but it was a play we had been running for quite sometime, probably a few times in that game. I got flushed out of the pocket and I was able to avoid the tackle. I saw Warrick out in the flat and I flipped it to him and we got a good block by Tamarick Vanover and Warrick did the rest."

On the brink, Ward, Warrick and the Seminoles were at their absolute best.

"It was a tough game, you know we gave them opportunities with interceptions and fumbles late and we were fortunate and blessed to have an opportunity to make a play and we made a play," Ward continued. "Like most games when you're in a tough situation, you need somebody to make a play. We were able to do that."

One of the greatest athletes of all-time, Ward, his senior year, was already a household name. He, during his Florida State career, won the Heisman Trophy and the Davey O'Brien, Johnny Unitas and Maxwell Awards, in addition to leading the Seminoles to the national championship. A dual-sport star, Ward remains Florida State's career steals leader and was the point guard for teams that made the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 before being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. For good measure, he, despite not playing baseball in college, was picked in the MLB Draft -- twice.  

Then just a freshman, Dunn would go on to earn All-American honors at Florida State and become a first round draft pick himself. He, prior to developing into the NFL's Rookie of the Year and making multiple Pro Bowl appearances, was a young phenom following in the mentoring Ward's footsteps. That Saturday in Gainesville, Dunn followed Ward's lead. The Seminoles promptly sprinted behind its young running back down the sidelines in The Swamp to all the way to South Beach.

"He is very confident and he likes to mix it up with people. He is the ultimate competitor," Ward said of his friend and former roommate, Dunn. "I'm glad he was on our team and he made our senior year a great success because of what he was able to do. He was a playmaker for us and he was just one of those guys that you needed on the team. He helped the team get to the next level."

Ward and Dunn are still two of the greatest talents college football has ever seen. 

Their play, now a quarter-century ago, stands as a signature moment in a series that has, quite frankly, helped shaped the sport. Dubbed the "Sunshine Showdown", Florida State's rivalry with Florida is as intense as any around. Brought to the national forefront by Bowden and Steve Spurrier, the annual pairing between the Seminoles and Gators comes with interest and impact that go well beyond just state lines. The big stage has helped cultivate that broad appeal. 

Though Florida State is 5-6 this season, there is plenty on the line this weekend. First and foremost, the Seminoles are looking to extend their NCAA-record bowl streak to 37 years. Florida State, correspondingly, has not had a losing season since Bowden's debut in 1976. Furthermore, the Seminoles are looking to add to their recent success in the series to six consecutive victories for the first time ever. Florida is hoping to keep its chances at a ten win season intact and potentially secure a bid into a New Year's Six Bowl. 

"It's Gator week and that's all you really have to say," Ward added. "You don't have to say much else."

A lot has happened in the rivalry in 25 years. In the two-and-half decades since Ward-to-Dunn, Florida State and Florida have both gone on to win three national titles, developing into two of the biggest brands in the game. In Tallahassee, Jimbo Fisher first replaced Bowden and now Willie Taggart, a lifelong Seminole fan, will make his series introduction. When Florida States takes the field against the Gators on Saturday, generations of memories will follow.

Nostalgia aside, such reflections still shine back.

"I'm glad I had an opportunity to play at Florida State to be able to experience the Miami rivalry, the Florida rivalry. Within our state, we had two rivals that we played every year no matter what and that was just part of it. You knew they were on the schedule and one of our goals was to always win the state," Ward acknowledged. "Those games were always competitive and to be a part of that history is something that we will always relish as players and just enjoy the historic moments that were created during that time."

While just one play in a season full of key conversions in 1993, Ward-to-Dunn was a catalyst as a new champion was crowned and, ultimately, a new dynasty was minted.

"it was one that definitely defined our season that year," Ward concluded. 

Florida State's season-ending rivalry with Florida continues. Countless stars and dozens of highlights have come and gone over the past 25 years. A fitting frame of reference, Ward-to-Dunn remains.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports