Everybody knew Florida State would come out throwing. After all, Bill Peterson, the FSU coach, is a devout church member back in Tallahassee and a devoted husband and father, but doesn't he, his critics suggest irreverently, rank the pass just a lad ahead of God and family? And doesn't he have Ron Sellers, the long, lean All-America flanker who has caught more passes in two seasons than the Gabor sisters have in a couple of lifetimes? Shoot, Goering didn't send the Luftwaffe out to fight in the trenches. It came, then, as somewhat of a shock last Saturday at College Park to find Maryland, truly an underdog, leading 7-3 and time marching smartly along in the second quarter, and Sellers with only one catch because the only other two balls thrown to him were still in the air and threatening to come down on the other side of the Potomac River. "Enough of this silly nonsense," ordered Peterson, instantly discarding his plan to sneak up on Maryland with a running game. "Let us start throwing the ball to that skinny fellow out there."
On the other side, the Terps had figured they were ready. Earlier in the week Mike Brant, a senior defensive back, had said he had been thinking about playing Sellers all summer. "If we stop him," said Brant, "we can stop anybody. I've seen him play a couple of times and I've never seen anybody better." At the same time, Bob Ward, the Maryland coach, was saying that he didn't think his troops would triple-team the Florida State star. That, of course, was just so much pregame smoke.
What Maryland did was put everybody but Spiro T. Agnew on Sellers. They played him long and short, inside and outside, and they started each play by belting him high and low, up and down at the line of scrimmage, to the legal limits of football violence. "Everytime I looked up I had at least three guys on me," Sellers said afterward.
As it turned out, all that coverage of Sellers was Maryland's undoing because the Seminoles have many talented receivers and now they could run untended, and anyway, as Bob Ward said, you can put three defenders on Sellers and he's still going to catch the ball. Midway through the second quarter, after Peterson had elected to stop trying to sneak up on Maryland, Sellers swept deep into the end zone, taking most of the defense with him. John Pittman slipped into the vacuum to catch a six-yard touchdown pass from Gary Pajcic. Then, a few minutes later, Sellers untangled his 6'4", 189-pound frame from the two-handed pushes of Linebacker Steve Ciambor, caught a 47-yard pass from Pajcic, put a head fake on Defensive Back Bob Haley, who fell down, and ran 35 yards more for a 17-7 lead. "We were in it until then," said Ward, "but after that we were in shock."
September 29, 1968
In all, as Florida State won 24-14, Sellers caught five passes for 173 yards, was interfered with on a sixth, which won the Seminoles another 29 yards, and watched those other two balls thrown him sail high over his head.
"Somebody was asking me what makes you such a great receiver," Billy Cox, FSU's split end, was saying to Sellers the day before the Maryland game. "I told them it's because you're so much thinner than everybody else they play you careful."
Sellers laughed. "It will take me two years to figure out what that means."
"Well, maybe I should have said it's because everybody is scared you'll get behind them, and they play you scared. They stay way behind you, giving you all that room to catch the ball," said Cox.
"I don't know," said Sellers. "I think I just lull people to sleep with my long stride. They don't think I'm going as fast as I am, then pffft."
People see Sellers for the first time, standing around or warming up, and invariably they are confused. How could this guy be so good? For sure, with his long, skinny bowed legs and thin frame, he's the most unlikely looking player on the field. Sellers can run 50 yards in 5.5 seconds, but always he looks as though at any moment his arms and legs will go flying off in entirely different directions. A Houston defensive back nicknamed him "Jingle Joints."
Last season Fred Pancoast, an assistant at the University of Florida, watched Jim Seymour, the Notre Dame star, and he came back with glowing reports. "Speed?" asked Norm Carlson, the Florida sports information director.
"Great speed; just great," said Pancoast. "He's almost as fast as Sellers."
"Oh," said Carlson. "His hands?"
"Fantastic hands," said Pancoast. "In fact, his hands are almost as good as Sellers'."
Carlson frowned. "Yeah, well, how about his moves?"
"He's got moves better than any flanker I've ever seen," said Pancoast. "Except, of course, for Sellers."
Carlson shook his head. "Are you trying to tell me Sellers is the greatest flanker you've ever seen?"
"Are you kidding?" said Pancoast. "What would ever make you think anything different?"
Not too much later Sellers caught seven passes for 153 yards and one touchdown, and FSU beat Florida 21-16.
"Funny," Sellers says, "but if I hadn't been so thin I probably would have gone to college on a basketball scholarship. But people kept telling me I was too light to play football; that I'd get killed. It made me mad and I decided I'd show everybody. And so when FSU offered me a football scholarship, I took it."
And then, but for the grace of modern Xerography, FSU would have lost Sellers before his first day in school. Florida State had recruited nine boys from Sellers' hometown of Jacksonville, but when the grants-in-aid were mailed to recruiter John Griner for signatures there were only eight. There was none for Sellers.
Griner got on the telephone with Peterson. "Hey, you forgot to send one for Sellers."
"We didn't forget," said Peterson. "That's all we have. Tell the boy we're sorry."
"I can't do that," said Griner. "I promised him. I gave my word."
Peterson sighed. "O.K. Tell you what. Go find one of those Xerox machines and have a copy made of one of those other grants. Tell him he can sign an original when he gets here."
Sellers enjoys telling the story. "And you know," he says, "they never did let me sign an original? I don't even think I belong in school."