Coleman had one snappy game in '80
By Charlie Barnes, Executive Director - Seminole Boosters
You wouldn't know him if you saw him and you probably won't recognize his name. But on a glorious clear afternoon thirty years ago he played a perfect game when only perfection could win. He was the unlikely hero of the game some consider the most important victory in Seminole football history.
Jerry Coleman's name appears only once in the 1980 pre-season Seminole Media Guide and then only as a throw-away. The booklet mentions in passing that back-up tackle Mike Coleman of Savannah has a brother, Jerry, who is a walk-on.
Great things were expected from the 1980 Seminoles. All-American Noseguard Ron Simmons anchored the ferocious defense that gave up no 4th quarter touchdowns the entire regular season. The offense was led by veteran quarterback Rick Stockstill and the kicking game was solid with Bill Capece and All-American punter Rohn Stark.
The season started fast; our Seminoles outscored their first three opponents 131-7. Miami in the old Orange Bowl was our fourth game. Florida State was ranked in the Top 10; Miami was barely found among the top twenty.
Against Miami the Seminole center John Madden went down with an injury. On the next play, back-up Bob Merson was also injured and went out. A guard moved over and tried to fill in but he was not a center and there were bad snaps. Ten snaps in fact were fumbled or bobbled. Miami won 10-9.
Florida State would have to face mighty Nebraska in Lincoln with no experienced center. The quarterback-center exchange is tricky. Snaps go bad in the violent crash of linemen.
Jerry Coleman was a scout team center and a walk-on's life can be miserable. They give everything and get nothing. They're little more than target practice for the varsity; their only reward is to be part of the program. Most walk-ons don't even get to suit up on game day much less make it to the field of play.
Coleman languished in obscurity, but the first team defense ran practice against the scouts and the defensive staff told Bowden that Coleman seemed to have a knack for handling the snap.
Bobby Bowden took a deep breath and informed Coleman that even though he'd never played in a college game he was going to start against Nebraska on national television. "Buddy," Bowden told him, "I don't care of you block a soul. I just want a perfect snap. Anything else after that is a bonus."
The game in Lincoln was close and low scoring. Nebraska led until late in the third quarter, but fumbles and turnovers kept the Huskers from pulling away. Four field goals and a Sam Platt touchdown finally put Florida State ahead 18-14 with about two and a half minutes to go.
Nebraska's offense drove the field, and with only 21 seconds left it was Nebraska's ball and first down on the Seminole three yard line.
Nebraska quarterback Jeff Quinn rolled out. Seminole linebacker Paul Piurowski ignored his assignment and shot straight for Quinn, slamming him to the ground by his shoulder pads. Garry Futch fell on Quinn's fumble and the Seminoles had the ball!
With six seconds left Jerry Coleman snapped the ball one last time, as perfectly as he had made every snap on every play that day.
Seminole Boosters who had made the trip flooded into the locker room to celebrate with players and coaches. This win in Lincoln against #3 Nebraska helped firmly establish Florida State in the national consciousness. Nebraska lost only that one game the entire season.
The 1980 season still would see lots of drama. A week later, FSU defeated the #4-ranked Pittsburg Panthers led by Dan Marino, and then dispatched a Top 20 Florida team at the end of the year.
Even after losing to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, Florida State ranked #5 in the final poll, our highest finish ever.
Jerry Coleman was awarded a scholarship and remained on the team but he never started another game. He confided to Tallahassee Democrat sportswriter Bill McGrotha that he had injured his hand in practice a few days before leaving for Lincoln but had not told the coaches. "I didn't want to let the team down and I was afraid they might not let me play."