In this modern-day era of conference expansion and imbalanced football scheduling, Florida State and Virginia will not meet on the 25th-year anniversary of their epic 1995 football battle.
A 24th anniversary will have to suffice for players, coaches and fans whose memories of Virginia’s 35-28 victory over then-No. 2 Florida State have never faded.
At that point, the Seminoles had never lost an ACC game, having won all 29 of their conference games after becoming a full-time member in 1992. The Cavaliers entered the game as 18½-point underdogs.
Florida State was 7-0 and ranked No. 2 at the time. After a last-second loss to Michigan in the season’s opener, Virginia had gotten as high as ninth in the polls before losing at North Carolina, 22-17.
A 17-16 loss on a last-second field goal at Texas dropped the Cavaliers to 24th as they entertained Florida State for a Thursday night game that was televised nationally.
“That [Virginia] team had a bunch of talented players,” said Ronde Barber, a cornerback from Roanoke County and a Cave Spring graduate. “You can see that from all of the guys who went on to play in the [NFL] league.
“Florida State was favored to win the national championship but we felt, talent-wise, that we could match up with them.”
Another thing that stands out to this day was the performance of Barber’s twin brother, Tiki, who had 311 all-purpose yards, the school record at the time.
He carried 31 times for 193 yards, highlighted by a 64-yard touchdown run; caught three passes for 45 yards and one TD, and returned six punts for 73 yards.
“I think it was his best game,” Ronde said. “That’s the game that put him on the map.”
Tiki Barber played one more year at Virginia before he was selected by the New York Giants in the second round of the 1997 NFL Draft. Upon joining the Giants, he became fast friends with his new teammate and one-time rival, ex-Florida State quarterback Danny Kanell, who passed for a career-high 454 yards in the 1995 loss at Virginia.
“I still see Tiki Barber a lot because we’re in the same business,” said Kanell, who, like the Barbers, does television commentary. “When we were on the Giants together, we’d give each other a hard time about that game. I always tell him, ‘You know, Warrick Dunn scored at the end, right?’ And he would come back and say, ‘No, he didn’t come close.’ ”
Barber’s comeback: “Every time I see Warrick, he tells me the same thing, and it wasn’t even close.”
After taking possession at its 20-yard line with 1:37 remaining, Florida State drove to the UVa 4-yard line before Dunn was stopped just shy of the goal line. To this day, the Seminoles dispute the placing of the ball.
“We had thrown the ball so effectively and it was a bit of deception with a direct snap to Warrick,” Kanell said this week. “I don’t think anybody was expecting it. It was ever so close. Just inches with no replay, we don’t get the call in Charlottesville. They storm the field and it was heartbreaking and devastating at the time.
“It was an epic, epic football game. It was a ton of fun to be a part of it, even on the losing side.”
The opposing head coaches, the late George Welsh for Virginia and Bobby Bowden of Florida State, were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
The offensive coordinators, Tom O’Brien for the Cavaliers and Mark Richt for the Seminoles, later became head coaches in the ACC, Richt as recently as 2018 with FSU rival Miami.
“I haven’t looked at [the ’95 game] recently,” said Richt, who now works for the ACC Network. “Our other option was a pass and I will watch it again at some time. It might have been open. If you remember, there was no replay at the time. Of course, we were up in the booth and spectators were pouring out of the stands.”
With Florida State coming to Charlottesville on Saturday, Richt has been asked about the 1995 game regularly.
“We had gotten to the point where we didn’t celebrate the victories as much,” he said. “We weren’t even thinking about the [ACC] streak. It had gone on for so long.”
The absence of replay in the mid-1990s has given extra life to discussions about the final play.
“It’s kind of taboo to have the ACC Network where I’m from,” said former Cavalier cornerback Anthony Poindexter, currently an assistant at Purdue, who shared the game-saving tackle on Dunn with defensive teammate Adrian Burnim. “I’m in Big Ten country here. At that stage of my career, I didn’t know much about [Florida State]. You were supposed to beat every team we played.
“We had been to Michigan, we had been to Texas and I don’t think anybody was uptight. We had been on the road, we had played through time changes and it was like, ‘Hey, we can win this game.’ ”
Halloween had come two days earlier and there was just something in the air.
“It was so intense,” Tiki Barber said. “Usually, the UVa student body is milling around outside or doing whatever they do before coming in. I remember coming out on the field and the student section was packed. It’s like the stage was set before we even took the field. It was electric.
“There was a mist hanging over the field because it had rained all day. Remember? They had just replaced the field, so they had this sophisticated draining system and the field was like, pristine.
“The setting was perfect. You couldn’t have scripted it.”