Florida State’s Chief Osceola and Renegade are back where they born on Southern California turf 37 years ago when the Seminoles meet Oregon Thursday in a Rose Bowl that serves as a semifinal game of the first College Football Playoff.
All that is missing from the reunion is Monty Montezuma, San Diego State’s mascot. Montezuma, an Aztec emperor, was the inspiration for the Seminoles’ mascot following a Florida State-San Diego State game played a couple hours south of Pasadena on Nov. 19, 1977.
It was actually a dark night for College Football Hall of Fame coach Bobby Bowden as his then-13th-ranked Florida State team. The Seminoles lost to San Diego State 41-16 before a capacity crowd of 50,543 at what was then called San Diego Stadium before it was expanded and renamed Qualcomm Stadium.
"We were having a heck of a year, but they wore us out," Bowden said. "They beat the heck out of us and looked as good as anybody. When we got home, I wrote their coach (Claude Gilbert) a note and congratulated him on such a great job.
"I also remember they had a loud crowd that night. They had a big Samoan (representing the Aztec Warrior mascot) with a flaming spear on the field. He would go up in the stands to get the fans riled up."
At the time Bowden, who retired following the 2009 season, was in only his second year of building perennial national power en route to national titles in 1993 and 1999.
"We got that idea from San Diego State," Bowden said. "I remember we came out of our dressing room and saw (the Aztec Warrior mascot) in a sarong with a flaming spear. It was very inspirational."
"My wife (Ann) was with us on the trip, and we decided we needed to do something like that. That's where we got the idea to get the crowd riled up. Oh, gosh, that was one of the best pre-games in college football."
One of the most intimidating Monty Montezuma roles was played by former San Diego State football player Tuffy Avii, a 6-foot-7, 350-pound Samoan who struggled with his weight throughout his career playing for Aztecs head coach Don Coryell in the early in 1970s.
One year when Avii was injured he adopted the role. Against BYU, he thrust the flaming spear into the ground so ferociously it took three cheerleaders to pull it out.
But this was an era before college football games were routinely broadcast. Florida State’s program continued to ascend, while the Aztecs, who were catapulted to a No. 16 ranking for the 1977 season, went into a 30-year downward cycle.
San Diego State didn’t consistently halt the cycle until Brady Hoke arrived in 2009 and guided the Aztecs to a bowl game in his second year in 2010. That reversal has been the first five straight bowls by the program that continued achieving under Hoke’s defensive coordinator, Rocky Long.
Hoke was credited with restoring toughness to a San Diego State program that had taken on a beach boy image – a profound irony after he was fired following four years at Michigan. He has been roundly criticized for his Michigan program lacking Big Ten toughness.
When Bowden asked what happened to Gilbert, it was explained to him that Gilbert was transitioning SDSU's program from a junior college-based roster under Coryell from 1961-72 to recruiting high school players as the Aztecs prepared to join Western Athletic Conference (basically today's Mountain West membership) in 1978. But when SDSU's records fell off to 4-7 in 1978, 8-3 in 1979 and 4-8 in 1980, Gilbert was fired. That prompted angry and tearful comments from Coryell, who by then was across town as the San Diego Chargers' head coach.
Gilbert had won similar to Coryell with a 61-26-2 (.697) record from 1973-80, but he was graded on failing to get the Aztecs in the Holiday Bowl that had been created in 1978 as a home to the WAC champion.
"When a guy like Coryell comes around, he spoils people," Bowden summarized.
Essentially, the Aztecs gave away one of the most inspiring pregame routines with lack of financial support of the program and vision to grow that Bowden capitalized on at Florida State. The Seminoles borrowed from San Diego State 37 years ago and once again will have Chief Osceola and Renegade adopted as their own on display before a national audience at the Rose Bowl.