Garnet & Old

FSU Football: A Family Tradition...The Rhodes Family

By Jim Joanos


Three outstanding Florida State football players have all come from the same family. William "Bill" Rhodes, Jr., was the first when he played at FSU from 1965 to 1968 during the school's first "Glory Days" under head coach Bill Peterson. His two sons played at FSU during Coach Bobby Bowden's "Dynasty Years". Son Billy (William III) was on the team from 1994 to 1998. Bobby (Robert) played at FSU from 1995 to 1999. This story is about that family.

Bill grew up in Lake County, Florida, attending school first in Mount Dora and then in Eustis where he graduated in 1965, after being a four sport star in football, basketball, baseball, and track. Impressed by what FSU was doing in football under Coach Bill Peterson, Bill came to FSU in the fall of 1965.

Bill at FSU

Bill, an offensive lineman, played freshman ball in 1965 with an outstanding group of guys that included Ron Sellers, Gary Pajcic, Dale McCullers, and Chip Glass, to mention a few. At the time freshmen could not play on the varsity. When they did make it to the varsity, the class made history for Florida State by participating in a bowl game all three of their varsity years. That had never been done before at FSU.

In 1966, Bill's first year on the varsity, the team went 6-4 during the regular season and were chosen to play in El Paso's Sun Bowl against the Wyoming Cowboys. FSU played tough but was beaten 28-20 by Wyoming.

Bill became a starter in 1967 on the outstanding team that went 7-2-2. Three of the games played that year are among the most memorable in FSU history. (1) In the second game of the season, after a devastating loss at Houston, FSU went into Legion Field in Birmingham and tied mighty Alabama, 37-37, a team that had not lost in 21 games and was a three touchdown favorite going into the game. The 37 points that FSU scored that night was equal to the total scored against Alabama in the complete season the year before. (2) In the last game of the 1967 regular season, FSU beat Florida for the first time ever at Florida Field. FSU started the game strong and was ahead 14-3 in the second quarter when FSU quarterback Kim Hammond was knocked cold and had to be taken out of the game. With Hammond out, the Gators came back to close the gap to 14-9 and had momentum on the their side. It looked bad but then Hammond's head cleared and he went back into the game. In three plays, he moved the team 92 yards.

Two of the plays were long passes from Hammond to Sellers, the last of which was to Sellers in the end zone for a touchdown. The Seminoles held on after that and ended the game as the victors, 21 to 16. (3) In post season at the Gator Bowl, FSU met Joe Paterno's Penn State team in the first game ever between the two schools. Penn State dominated the game in the early going and was ahead 17-0 in the third quarter when with fourth and inches to go from their own 15 Coach Paterno decided to go for it. The play was stuffed and the rest of the game was all FSU. It ended in a tie, 17-17.

Bill's last season, 1968, at FSU was also a good one, as the team went 8-2 during the regular season and played Louisiana State University in the first ever Peach Bowl game which the Seinoles lost 31-27, on a very cold and wet night in Atlanta. A very important victory that year had been secured in the last game of the regular season when FSU beat Houston, a team that was a powerhouse at the time, in Jacksonville 40-20. Hundreds of FSU fans attended the Houston game via a special chartered train that had been arranged to take the fans over from Tallahassee.

One of the Best

Bill Rhodes was one of the most outstanding offensive linemen in FSU history. When Bill McGrotha wrote the book, Seminioles! The First Forty Years in 1987, he printed an all-time FSU football team that had been selected by FSU legendary assistant coach Bob Harbison. Harbison's choice as the all-time best FSU strong tackle was Bill Rhodes. In 1992, Bill was admitted into the FSU Athletics Hall of Fame.

Following the 1968 season, Bill, along with Ron Sellers were invited to Mobile's Senior Bowl for that postseason classic. Bill was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals of the National Football League in the fourth round and by the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. He chose Montreal and played there for two years. In time he chose to end his pro football career, although there were still offers outstanding in the NFL, go back home and get on with life.

In 1970, Bill, returned to Lake County and went to work on the family dairy farm. In June of 1971, he and Anna Spinale were married. Son, Billy was born in 1975, and son, Bobby, in 1977.

In 1973, desiring to continue working outdoors, Bill bought 300 beehives and started Bill Rhodes Honey Company. Thirty years later, his company is one of the largest honey producers in the country. The company has more than 10,000 beehives. They have locations throughout Florida and in southern Georgia as well as in North and South Dakota. In addition, Bill has invested in fern growing enterprises in Costa Rica and Guatemala. He has also been involved in land development in central Florida.

Since graduation from FSU, Bill has been an ardent supporter of FSU. A longtime booster, he has contributed generously to the school. He regularly attends FSU games. Several years ago, when the FSU Varsity Club sought to build the skybox in Campbell Stadium for former athletes, Bill was one of the first to came forward and made a major gift toward the project. He has been designated as a "Founder of the FSU Varsity Club", and, as such, his portrait hangs in the box along with those of other major donors.

One of Bill's greatest joys in life was having his two sons, Billy and Bobby also play football for Florida State. The family members have always been ardent sports fans. However, there were mixed loyalties when the boys were growing up. Billy and his Dad would always pull for FSU while Bobby and their Mother, a University of Florida alum, were Gator fans. This changed immediately when Billy decided to come to FSU. Since then, the family had become totally united in their support of the Seminoles.

Tough Love

During their years as kids in the Rhodes household, Billy and Bobby were fierce competitors and "were always fighting". However, at the same time, the boys were very "tight knit" along with the rest of the family. Billy says that regardless of how much they fought each other, "don't let someone else mess with one of us." The parents never missed a game in high school or college even if the boys were "red shirting". Billy describes his family as being "a shelter from the world" and that wherever they went, his parents "were able to bring that shelter to us". He credits them for what he and Bobby have been able to accomplish.

In the summers and at other times, the boys worked in their family's beekeeping business. Wearing "bee suits" in 90 plus weather in a very "labor intensive job" was "extremely tough work". Not surprisingly, neither Bobby or Billy ever had to have an I.V. or experience any problem with the heat while playing football on high school or college. They had a great tolerance for hot weather. Billy also says that his parents "never pampered" them. "When we misbehaved, Dad and Mom kept us in line". He says that his mother was not one of those who "had to wait until Dad got home" mothers. She took care of things when they happened.

In high school football, both boys played on offense and defense. Billy was a lineman, while Bobby played in the backfield and sometimes, as a linebacker. When they played at the same time in high school and college, they played as a team within a team. Billy describes Bobby as being the eyes in "the back of my head". Bobby would "pick up on things that he could see from his vantage point" and pass them on to Billy.

Billy came to FSU in 1994 after being 3A first team All State in high school as a defensive tackle. He was also designated as one of Florida's "Super 24" by Bill Buckhalter and the Orlando Sentinel.

Despite all the accolades, however, FSU almost slipped up on recruiting him. It seems Billy's honors came late in the recruiting process and he was pretty much undiscovered by the FSU staff until that time. When they did find out about him, FSU had already committed the fourteen scholarships that it had available. Fortunately, he was promised that if he would walk on for a semester, he would be given a scholarship thereafter. It worked, as Billy had already made up his mind that Florida State was where he wanted to go.

Billy entered FSU immediately following the 1993 season in which FSU won its first ever national championship. Billy calls his class of recruits as the "tweener class" as they were at FSU the five years between national championships.

Billy red shirted his first season (1994) at FSU. That season the Seminoles went 10-1-1 including the come from behind tie in Tallahassee of the University of Florida as well as the Sugar Bowl 23-17 victory over the same Gators. While Billy was red shirting, Bobby was having his senior year at Eustis High School. Despite having missed much of his junior year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, Bobby rebounded his senior year and became an area all-star. Because of the injury, Bobby did not receive a lot of attention from recruiters of the bigger programs. He chose to join his at FSU although he had to walk on. Although Bill had not put any pressure on either son to attend his alma mater, he, of course, was delighted when Bobby also chose FSU.

While Bobby red shirted at FSU in 1995, Billy played with the varsity. He was not a starter but played enough to letter. The team went 10-2 including a 31-26 win over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.

In 1996, Bobby and Billy both lettered. Billy, as a sophomore, had to come back from an injury before the season started but had a good year at nose guard and on special teams. Meanwhile, Bobby saw action in all twelve games as a linebacker and on special teams. The 1996 team went 11-1 and lost only to Florida, 52-20, in the championship game in the Sugar Bowl after beating Florida 24-21 in the last regular season game.

In 1997, FSU went 11-1, losing only to Florida in the last regular season game. In the Sugar Bowl that followed, FSU beat Ohio State, 31-14. Both Rhodes boys were valuable members of the team throughout the year. Billy began the season at nose guard but shifted over to offensive guard after the third game to help out there. He was later moved back to defense when injuries required it. In one game, a 38-0 shutout of Georgia Tech,, Billy played on both sides of the ball, becoming only the second player in Coach Bowden's tenure at FSU to do that. Billy played a third position that season when he was moved to Fullback just before the Sugar Bowl game. In the meantime, Bobby, now on scholarship, was a valued member of the line backing corps. He got his first career start against Maryland when Darryl Bush was injured. He ended up with ten tackles, including two for losses, and was honored as the ACC's Defensive Lineman of the Week. He also starred in the Sugar Bowl game when he had to again replace Bush because of an injury early in the game.

In 1998, Billy's last year, FSU went 10-1 during the regular season, losing only at North Carolina State. Then FSU played for the national championship but lost to Tennessee at the Fiesta Bowl. Billy started the season at Fullback and was named as one of four captains by the coaches. However, he was moved back to nose guard following the NC State loss to shore up problems due to injuries and inexperience. Billy became part of the four defensive lineman rotation. When the season ended, he was elected by the team as one of its permanent captains. In 1998, Bobby was also an integral part of the FSU defense. He was skilled at all three linebacker positions and played where needed.

The Tennessee loss was Billy's last game and its memory continues to stimulate him as he goes through life. He still has his unwashed game jersey, complete with grass stains, hanging in his closet. He will not let anyone wash it. He says that he "uses it as a reminder to not get the big head as you can always lose". He knows, however, "that although we lost, they were able to play in a championship game" and realizes that "there are lots of others who never get a chance in a game like that". Billy graduated from FSU in 1998.

In 1999, Bobby, again played at times at all three line backing positions and contributed heavily to FSU's perfect, wire to wire national championship season. He made numerous big plays throughout the year including in the national championship game in which FSU beat Virginia Tech. In December of 1999, Bobby got his bachelor's degree at FSU, also in Political Science, as was brother Billy's major.

Billy now lives in Tallahassee and works in real estate with Talcor Commercial Real Estate Services, Inc. Bobby, a commercial pilot, lives in Eustis and works in the family honey business. The family continues to be very close and they get together often. Naturally, they continue to come to FSU football games. After all, there is lots to talk about. There are some topics that keep coming up. Bill talks about Coach Peterson and games during the sixties. Bill can also talk about being the strongest guy on the team in 1968 when he benched 410 pounds. Billy and Bobby, however, are quick to remind him that each of them benched more than 500 pounds when they were playing. All can brag about their bowl games, but Bobby is the only one that can claim a national championship win. The others, however, are not jealous. They are just proud that one of them has that honor. Anna, in the meantime, is quite proud of each of her three great Seminole football players. So are we.

This was originally printed in the September, 2003 Seminole Boosters Report To Boosters newspaper. The author and the Seminole Boosters have given their permission to reprint this article.