Football was the hot topic of conversation in Tallahassee last week as hometown Florida State took on archrival Florida for the state championship and beat 'em. But the citizens could not agree on which aspect of State's situation was worth talking about. Was it best to grumble on about how the lunkheads from all those bowls had overlooked the Seminoles? Or to revel over how good it feels now that Florida doesn't automatically beat up on Florida State anymore? Or to fall back on the topic that has kept Tallahassee abuzz the last two seasons—State's two-headed junior quarterback, Wally Jim Jordham?
Well, the bowls were worth a snarl or two, because with its 8-3 record Florida State certainly deserved a chance to play in one of them. And sure, the Florida game, which the Seminoles won just about as expected, 38-21, was a nice subject for a chat. But when it came to full-blown oratory there just wasn't anything to catch listeners' interest like a discussion of Florida State's pleasantly freakish quarterback.
Of course, the Seminoles don't really have a double-domed signal-caller. It just seems that way, what with Wally Woodham and Jimmy Jordan, two local boys, both being so good that nobody, not even Coach Bobby Bowden, can decide which of them should be in there playing most of the time. "Wally and Jimmy are the quarterback," says Bowden, doing a lot to clarify the situation.
Perhaps the reason Tallahasseeans cannot come to grips with the phenomenon of Wally Jim Jordham is that they have not had time to get accustomed to a wealth of talent at any position, much less quarterback. And nothing demonstrates the rapid improvement at State better than what has transpired recently in the series with Florida.
December 4, 1978
For years the Gators simply chomped down on and spit out one Seminole team after another. Oh, occasionally a Fred Biletnikoff or a Ron Sellers would come along, cradle a scoring pass or two and help upset Florida, but from the series inaugural in 1958 until two years ago, a stretch of 19 games, the Seminoles won only twice. And why not? Florida has been a force in football for more than half a century. As recently as 1947, FSU was the Florida State College for Women.
In the fall of that year the first men enrolled, the school's name was changed and a football team emerged. The Seminoles enjoyed a modicum of success in the '50s and '60s, but in 1973 the program went bust. An 0-11 disaster that year was followed by a 1-10 finish in '74 and a 3-8 record in '75. Enter Bowden, a glib, religious country gentleman whose first two words—"Beat Florida"—were exactly the ones Seminole supporters wanted to hear. He failed to do that in '76, but last year State bused down to Gainesville and thrashed the Gators 37-9. There also were nine other victories, including a 40-17 romp over Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl. Although this year's Seminoles failed to receive a bowl bid, they are probably better than several teams that did, and they sure made it clear last Saturday who is No. 1 in Florida.
What Bowden has done is build a big-play defense around spectacular 6'4" End Willie Jones and Guard Ron Simmons and match it with a wide-open passing offense that can score from the parking lot. Last year the Seminoles passed for 2,466 yards and 18 touchdowns. This season they let fly for 2,749 yards and 23 touchdowns.
In two seasons Jordan has completed 188 passes for 2,666 yards and 24 touchdowns. Woodham has completed 192 for 2,592 yards and 17 touchdowns. Jordan has handled 832 snaps from center, Woodham 925. This year Jordham has propelled Florida State into the nation's top 10 in total offense and scoring. Wally Jim's average of 249.9 yards a game passing ranks third. Were he really just one guy, with 206 completions, Jordham would rank right behind such luminaries as Stanford's Steve Dils and Mike Ford of SMU in individual passing statistics.
According to Bowden, Jordan has a slightly stronger arm and a slightly quicker release. Woodham has a slightly better touch and is a tad ahead as a field leader. "Jordan's my bomber and Wally can pick people apart," Bowden says, which may or may not be verified by the fact that while Jordan averages 13.1 yards a completion, Woodham nets 13.4.
Last season Jordan started the first three games, won two of them and threw for five TDs. Woodham, in relief, hit seven of 10 passes. Woodham then sought out Bowden and said, "I want you to know I'm not happy." The next week, at Oklahoma State, Jordan hit six of 11 passes, but Florida State fell behind 17-3. So Bowden sent in Woodham, who led the Seminoles to one touchdown, ran for a second and passed for a third. So Woodham became the starter and won five straight. Against Florida Woodham started and completed six of 10 passes, but it was Jordan and his 13 completions that were really responsible for State's victory. For weeks before the Tangerine Bowl, Bowden equivocated over who would start. He chose Jordan, and Jimmy swept the game's MVP honors by throwing 18 completions in 25 tries in the 40-17 win. Despite which, Bowden said, "I'm still not sure I made the right decision." Woodham, playing the fourth quarter, threw 10 passes and hit seven. Two were for TDs.
This season Jordan started six games, Woodham four. But going into the Florida game, the starting role had switched between them four times. "Anytime I thought the situation was fixing to crystallize, it didn't," Bowden says.
The friction that one might expect would exist between two such talented players battling for one position seems to be missing. Woodham and Jordan belong to the same fraternity. And though you might watch TV with someone you dislike, you wouldn't spend an afternoon duck hunting with, him in a tiny boat. That is what Woodham and Jordan did two days before the Florida game. "We don't even talk about it, it's so ridiculous," Woodham says. "Heck, I want us to be friends for a long, long time. Why spoil it over this when we're only going to be here one more year?"
Woodham and Jordan both grew up in Tallahassee and starred at Leon High, a post pattern away from State's campus. As a senior Woodham set a national record by passing for 3,560 yards. The next year Jordan broke it with 4,098. Before that, they played together on the Lafayette Juniors in the Tallahassee Recreation Department league. Woodham, who is a year older, got to play quarterback because of his advanced age.
Woodham also started Saturday against Florida. On the first play from scrimmage, Gator Terry Williams fumbled, the Seminoles' Mark Macek recovered on the Florida six, and Fullback Mark Lyles drove up the middle on the next play for a touchdown. Soon thereafter, following State's recovery of a fumbled punt at the Gator 22, Woodham drilled a 19-yard pass to Kurt Unglaub. Two plays later Lyles dived over from the one, making it 14-0. Woodham quickly increased the Seminoles' lead to 21 points by lofting a strike on a post pattern to Sam Piatt from 40 yards out. A romp, it seemed.
Jordan entered the game in the second period, but the quarter belonged to Florida as the Gators ran up 33 plays to State's six and scored their 21 points on drives of 63, 22 and 74 yards. So Woodham went the rest of the way. In the third quarter he guided the Seminoles on a masterful 13-play, 71-yard scoring march, during which he was five for five on short passes. When the Seminoles got two sacks to halt an ensuing Florida drive, State had effectively clinched the game, although Woodham added to his credits with a one-yard scoring sneak in the fourth quarter.
"Did Georgia Tech win, anybody hear?" Bowden asked as soon as the game ended, meaning that he felt the Peach Bowl had erred when it selected the Rambling Wrecks over the Seminoles. But he was reasonably happy. There are only five seniors on Bowden's squad, and just four of them played against Florida. Another big year coming up.
After the game Woodham was sitting at his locker, surrounded by reporters. Thigh to thigh with Woodham was Jordan. "I think we're just super," Jordan said.