The glorious Seminole season of 1964
A Lineman RemembersThe Glorious Seminole Season of 1964
By Jim Huffstodt
Forty-three thousand exultant football fans bellowed in a thundering chorus as the Seminoles and Gators faced each other in old Doak Campbell stadium. An epic battle in an ongoing gridiron war was about to erupt.
Dale MacKenzie was a starting offensive guard on that memorable afternoon of Nov. 21, 1964. Today, across the gulf of four decades, the roar of that crowd still echoes in his memory.
Not once in the 18-year history of Florida State University football had the Seminoles beaten their in-state rival. The stage now was set for what everyone anticipated would be a classic confrontation.
That week, the Tallahassee Democrat ran a banner headline screaming in giant type, “THIS IS THE ONE!”
The Gators were not going to go easy. Before kickoff, a private plane buzzed the stadium towing a University of Florida banner with a single word: “Never!”
The Gators took the field clad in jerseys emblazoned “Go for seven!” Their helmets displayed the vow “Never, FSU. Never!”
MacKenzie said he couldn’t recall a game played with more intensity and sheer savagery. Both teams were talented, determined and inspired. The University of Florida was 5-2 that season and was led by quarterback Steve Spurrier.
Fresh from whipping nationally ranked Kentucky earlier in the season, the Seminoles were ready.
“We mowed people down that day,” MacKenzie said of that long-ago November. And when the roar finally subsided, the scoreboard read “Seminoles 16, Gators 7.”
FSU coach Bill Peterson was ecstatic, telling reporters, “We didn’t make many mistakes. We took advantage of them. My team, gentlemen, is a great, dedicated group of men.”
MacKenzie recalled hundreds of deliriously happy Seminole fans lingering in the stands after the final whistle, reluctant to walk away from the scene of the long-sought victory.
“People just stayed there,” he said. “I guess they were astounded. They just stood and clapped and clapped.”
The victory is a memory savored by those lucky enough to have been present.
That was MacKenzie’s senior year, and the win over the Gators was only one of a string of Seminole triumphs. Today, the 61-year-old Tallahassee postal employee relishes those long-ago days when he helped put FSU football on the map.
The 1964 season saw the Seminoles come out of nowhere to beat – no, make that destroy – No. 5-ranked Kentucky; defeat archrival UF for the first time; compile a 9-1-1 record; rise in the national rankings to No. 10; and cap the season with a victory over Oklahoma in the Gator Bowl.
Today, MacKenzie works at the Centerville Road post office, finishing up a career that began more than 30 years ago. Those were busy, meaningful years as he and his wife, Kay, raised their two children, Lance and Dawn. They are active members of North Florida Baptist Church on Meridian Road.
MacKenzie also served 12 years on active duty with the Air Force as a missile man before transferring to the Army National Guard. He served in the Persian Gulf War with the Guard in 1991 and later retired with the rank of captain.
When one sits across the table from MacKenzie, you wouldn’t necessarily guess he was once a one-man “hittin’ machine” who loved to “wax” opponents on the field, to drive his helmet into the chest of a gridiron enemy and grind him into the grass.
MacKenzie just doesn’t fit the stereotype of former football gladiator. Never did, in fact. The Clearwater High School graduate was too quiet, too modest, too darn nice. He suited up as an FSU freshman in 1961, and his gentlemanly ways seemed – to some, at least – to contradict the prevailing image of the football warrior.
Back then, FSU signed just about anybody who resembled a football player, MacKenzie recalled. The coaches taped last names on their helmets and threw them out onto the practice field. What followed was a brutal ordeal – a Darwinian dogfight in which only the meanest and fittest prevailed. Those bloodied survivors left standing when the dust cleared won a second look.
This was Coach Peterson’s era. He was an “old school” coach and a great admirer of
Vince Lombardi’s fabled Green Bay Packers,
hard-nosed brand of football. Badges of honor were broken noses, split lips, busted ribs and chipped teeth.
Young MacKenzie stuck it out. The soft-spoken, conservative Christian kid hit hard in practice, but he confounded coaches when he apologized to his sprawled victim and helped him to his feet.
The offensive line coach didn’t like him from the very start. He belittled MacKenzie in front of the team at every opportunity and liked to rattle the kid with a blow to the back of the helmet. At some point, the assistant coach started sarcastically calling MacKenzie “Lucille.” Slowly, a rage began to build in the quiet youngster. MacKenzie wasn’t about to quit, but he was about to blow.
“I told one of my teammates finally that I couldn’t take it anymore,” MacKenzie recalled. “‘The next time Coach hits me, I’m going after him. And I want you to drag me off, because if you don’t I’ll hurt him bad.’”
That fight never happened. The antagonistic coach left before MacKenzie’s senior year, and that wasn’t an accident – not in MacKenzie’s mind. He said he is convinced that God intervened because He had other plans for the football player called Lucille.
Coach Don Powell took over the offensive line and brought an entirely different approach. He was a master of psychology who somehow – either through instinct or long experience in life – knew how to inspire without belittling or bullying.
MacKenzie remembers the moment when everything changed.
Powell took his linemen off to the side of the field for a chat. Mere size wasn’t the key, he told his players. No, he had no use for a 300-hundred pound lineman without speed. The new coach valued quickness, speed and smarts.
The coach paused and added, “Now, I like that Dale MacKenzie. I like him a lot because he can move and he can hit you.”
A few well-chosen words of praise in front of his peers worked a minor miracle. MacKenzie’s spirit, so long degraded and humiliated, soared. He was instantly devoted to the new coach and determined to live up to his expectations.
Suddenly, “Lucille” was a new man.
During the hot Florida summer of 1964 before his senior year, MacKenzie trained like a man possessed. He ran five miles in combat boots every morning, no matter what the weather, and lifted weights until his arms ached.
Everything seemed possible. MacKenzie
felt a confidence building he had never known before. He wanted to play more than ever before, and he wanted to play well.
Fall practice saw MacKenzie report in superb condition, packing 230 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot, 2-inch frame. He ran a 5:20 mile, and resumed practices with newfound determination.
“Coach Powell was a great communicator and motivator who also had compassion,” MacKenzie said. “Powell didn’t bully or belittle; he inspired, he led.”
Of course, Peterson, the head coach of the 1964 team, was another strong personality and no stranger to psychology. He once confided to his offensive linemen that another coach had described them as a “bunch of losers.” They were outraged, and that anger fueled a renewed intensity that bordered on ferocity. They hit harder and moved quicker. No one would ever call them losers. They responded as Coach Pete knew they would.
Peterson’s brilliance was camouflaged by an amusing tendency to speak like a gridiron version of baseball’s Yogi Berra. Coach Pete always was thinking 10 minutes ahead of everybody else and, as a result, sometimes the wrong words came out, MacKenzie explained. Peterson might say “floor mat” when he meant format or describe a chronic injury as a “chronicle” injury, MacKenzie said. A Sports Illustrated writer described these rhetorical flourishes as vintage “Petersonese.”
Under Peterson’s strong hand, the Seminoles were becoming a force to reckon with. The 1964 season was seen as a pivotal one. FSU football was about to mature into a contender for the national title. Nothing would be the same again.
The Kentucky game remains a classic. Ranked No. 5 in the nation, the Wildcats were prohibitive favorites. The Seminoles, many assumed, were in for a whippin’. They were dead wrong.
Peterson’s Seminoles hosted their ranked rivals at a packed Doak Campbell stadium – 40,000 people – where many in the stands wore Kentucky blue, there to enjoy another easy victory. The only real question was the margin of Kentucky’s inevitable victory. They were partially right. Victory was in the air from the opening kickoff, but it was the Seminoles who dominated.
FSU’s defensive squad, called “The Magnificent Seven,” smothered the vaunted Kentucky offense. Quarterback Steve Tensi led the Seminole offense, rifling accurate passes downfield to a phenomenal receiver named Fred Biletnikoff. The air attack was balanced by a ground game featuring fleet halfback Phil Spooner.
“I led the way on the right sweep with Spooner right behind me,” MacKenzie recalled. “Phil would actually put his hand on my belt and guide me as he read the defense.”
FSU beat Kentucky 48-6. And that single touchdown came only after a bobbled Seminole punt return that gave the Wildcats the ball on FSU’s six-yard line. Even so, “it took Kentucky four downs to score that touchdown,” MacKenzie said. “And after the score, our ‘Magnificent Seven’ on defense cried, they were so disappointed.”
Afterward, the Seminoles were ranked 10th in the nation and were coming on like a garnet and gold freight train.
There were setbacks later in the season – a 20-11 loss to Virginia Tech and a 13-13 tie with Houston – but FSU fans forgot those disappointments after the Seminoles finally whipped the Gators.
The Gator Bowl and a 36-19 victory over Oklahoma followed. Coach Pete’s 1964 “Bunch” had etched their names into Seminole football history.
MacKenzie and center Jack Edwards, now deceased, shared the Tomahawk Award that season for best offensive lineman.
The 1964 season marked the birth of big-time Seminole football. And Dale MacKenzie, the young man too nice to play football, the Christian boy dismissed as “Lucille” by a coach who failed to see his potential, was a key part of it.
He was one of the golden boys of fall who, in glorious memory, remains ever young.