By Jim Joanos
In the next few days a huge sculpture will be placed in front of the south entrance to Doak Campbell Stadium. At first it will be wrapped in a parachute to keep curious folks from getting a premature peek. The statute, named, "Unconquered" will be unveiled and lighted for the first time on Friday, October 10, 2003, at 7:30 pm. That is the night before Florida State's home football game against the University of Miami.
The sculpture is of a spirited horse being ridden by a rider holding a spear and dressed as would have been typical of a Seminole warrior engaged in one of the Seminole wars of the early eighteenth century. On special occasions the spear will be lit with fire. Some folks will undoubtedly refer to the statute as "Osceola and Renegade" because of some similarity to the FSU pre game horse and rider pageant. However, the sculpture is not intended as a reference to a specific Seminole and horse but instead symbolic of the Seminole people in total who fought so valiantly and refused to give up when the federal government sought to remove them from their homelands in Florida. The idea is that the statute will serve as a stimulus to students and followers of FSU to emulate that same kind of dedicated spirit in their lifetime endeavors.
Steve Reilly, longtime Seminole Booster and FSU alum, came up with the idea and started the ball rolling on the project. Reilly, who serves as a lawyer, for the State of Florida Office of The Public Counsel, has spent hundreds of volunteer hours after work and on weekends over the last ten years spearheading this project. FSU sports is one of Reilly's few hobbies. This is not the first FSU support project that he has worked on. When he was a very young alum in the eighties, he helped to arrange for a spirit flag that was carried around the stadium during games. Some of you might remember it. It was very large and had gold fringe. At some point the flag was stolen and never replaced.
Oddly enough, the idea for the sculpture that will immediately add more tradition to FSU's already tradition laden program actually began on the campus of another university, also known for its many sports traditions, Notre Dame. In 1993, Reilly attended the FSU game at Notre Dame along with thousands of other Seminole fans who went up for that game during FSU's first national championship season. FSU did not win the game, but Reilly got a great idea. Reilly was very impressed with the Notre Dame pre-game activities. He watched as the Notre Dame band assembled, played a few spirit sounds, and led fans "Pied Piper like" to the stadium. At the time FSU was expanding and remodeling its stadium. A decision had not yet been made on what to do with the grounds around Doak Campbell Stadium. Reilly thought that it would be great to have the grounds made into some kind of park with "green space and a plaza" around a special focal point. This would allow the fans, along with the band, to assemble as they arrived for the games and to begin the festivities connected with the games. He felt that there was a great need to do something for the fans that "just buy tickets" and not just for the "big spenders". He wanted fans who went to FSU games to feel like they were attending "a big celebration." He came back and over the next two years developed the idea with Andy Miller, president of Seminole Boosters. They decided on a plan that provided for what is now Langford Green and the Williams family plaza, that will also be dedicated on October 10, along with the statue of the horse and rider.
Reilly and Miller got approval from the Boosters and took the idea to Sandy D'Alemberte, president of Florida State at the time. D'Alemberte liked the idea and approved of going ahead with the park and the plaza but would not allow them to go forward with the statute until it was fully funded. Getting funding for the statute was probably the easiest part of the project. One presentation to George Langford, one of FSU's historically most helpful financial supporter, and Langford saw to it that funding for the sculpture was obtained.
Few would have believed that it would be eight more years of committee work and work by one of the country's best artists before the sculpture would be put in place. A faculty, administration, alumni, and fan committee was formed to go about the process Numerous meetings were held discussing ideas and how to get it done. Many sources including the Seminole Tribe of Florida were contacted for input. Artists throughout the country were contacted and proposals for the statute were obtained. Eventually a contract was entered into with Fritz White, a seventy year old accomplished artist from Loveland, Colorado, who will be here for the unveiling. From the beginning, White, has been most excited about having had this opportunity to embellish his already illustrious artistic career. The proposed statute was altered and improved numerous times. Lots of other details, including a choice of a foundry, how security will be attained, how it would be mounted, had to be worked out to achieve this statute that is twice life size, 13 ½ feet in height that will sit on a tall pedestal. The statue and pedestal, altogether will stand 31 feet tall in front of the stadium.
Finally, the statute is here and FSU supporters can get about the business of enjoying it. Rumor has it that there will be a ceremony to light the spear on the evening before each FSU home football game and for other important FSU events. Time will tell how the tradition will develop around the "Unconquered" Statute.