Traditions: FSU's Sod Cemetery a final resting place for big-game memories
The biggest wins in Florida State history are etched deep in the memory of every Seminoles fan. But that’s not the only place they’re buried. For the last 52 years, FSU has memorialized each big road win and bowl game victory by grabbing a piece of turf and bringing it back to Tallahassee. Florida State’s Sod Cemetery is now home to dozens of dirt clods and the memories they evoke.
The origin story is simple, as outlined in a New York Times article. The ’Noles were not a good team for much of the last century and were traveling to face the heavily favored Georgia Bulldogs in 1962. An FSU professor named Dean Coyle Moore, confident his boys would win, told the ’Noles captains to “bring back some sod from between the hedges at Georgia.”
The underdog Seminoles upset the Bulldogs 18-0, and team captains Gene McDowell and Red Dawson came back to campus with a decisive victory and a hunk of sod from Sanford Stadium.
Professor Moore kept the sod in his house before deciding to bury it near FSU’s practice field. Thus, one of the stranger college football traditions was born. Now the Sod Cemetery holds pieces of turf from gridiron cathedrals from the Gator Bowl, Ohio Stadium, the Superdome, Notre Dame Stadium and many more.
Seminoles captains don’t go grabbing chunks of field from every away game. There are standards for the Sod Cemetery: FSU must be a road underdog, or beat hated rival Florida in Gainesville. An ACC Championship or bowl game win qualifies as well -- so rest assured that the Sod Cemetery is freshly embedded with grass from the Rose Bowl, the site of Florida State’s 2014 BCS Championship win over Auburn.
Each bit of turf is laid to rest in the cemetery by Douglas Mannheimer, who took over as caretaker from Moore in the 1980s. The plots then receive a bronze plaque to commemorate the win. Surely the grass from that original 1962 win has deteriorated, but some samples might still be intact. As former Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden told The Times: “It got to be a problem when we played on AstroTurf. I mean, you’ve got to have a big pair of scissors, boy! And I’m not sure [opponents] liked it.”
FSU opens the 2014 campaign as a contender once again, so the Seminoles may not have many opportunities add more sod during the regular season. But for reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the rest of the ’Noles, the sweetest grass of all would be back at A&T Stadium, which hosts the championship in the inaugural College Football Playoff.