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FSU’s freshman football team played international game six decades ago

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A press conference to discuss FSU-Georgia Tech game in Ireland in 2024 was held Tuesday at FSU.

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Rich Muscarella, as best as he can remember, was named Florida State’s starting quarterback on the freshman team in 1969 because he correctly answered two questions.

Seminoles coach Charlie Wright stood in front of the locker room and asked his players:

“Anyone kick-off in high school?”

“Anyone punt in high school?”

Muscarella, a freshman quarterback from Carmel High in Carmel, New York, raised his hand to confirm he had.

“Coach Wright looked and me and said, ‘You’re the starting quarterback, too,” Muscarella, 71, said and laughed.

“At least that’s the way I remember it because they couldn’t take the whole team.”

Fuzzy recollections aside, this much is true.

Wright and FSU had to streamline the travel roster for the Seminoles’ season-opener against the National University of Mexico in Mexico City 53 years ago.

Last week’s news that FSU will travel to Dublin, Ireland, to face off against Georgia Tech to open the 2024 season brought back fond memories for Seminoles on the program’s freshman team six decades ago.

FSU rallied to beat the National University of Mexico 20-14 in Mexico City’s Olympic Stadium (Estadio Olímpico Universitario).

A year earlier Mexico City hosted the 1968 Summer Olympics, holding the opening/closing ceremonies and track and field competitions in that same stadium.

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Trip to Ireland reinforces FSU as a global brand

FSU and Georgia Tech will play Aug. 24, 2024, in a Week 0 game in the Aer Lingus College Football Classic. The matchup was originally scheduled to be played in Atlanta.

The Classic enters its second season in 2023 as Notre Dame plays Navy Aug. 26. Last summer, Northwestern beat Nebraska 31-18 with 14 unanswered pointes for its only win of the 2022 season.

The game is being organized by Irish American Events Ltd. (IAEL).

A press conference to discuss the game and featuring FSU Director of Athletics Michael Alford, FSU football coach Mike Norvell and representatives from the Ireland delegation was held Tuesday at FSU. Excitement was shared by all. As many as 20,000 FSU fans are expected be in Dublin for the game, according to officials.

Alford stressed how the trip will be a great opportunity for the university and program to showcase its brand on an international stage.

“Florida State has so much to offer,” Alford said.

In 1969, FSU’s freshman team did not know what to expect when informed it would travel to Mexico City to open the season. It was one of only a few games the team played that year, which also featured a showdown against Florida’s freshman team and the University of Tampa in a driving rainstorm in Tampa Stadium.

FSU coach Bill Peterson signed nearly 60 freshmen in 1969. At that time, there weren’t NCAA guidelines on the size of signing classes, and freshmen were ineligible to play varsity football until the NCAA changed the rule in 1972.

Among the players in that freshman class included receiver Barry Smith from Miami, defensive tackle Vince Bronson from Kissimmee, quarterback Gary Huff from Tampa, receiver J.T. Thomas from Macon, Georgia, defensive end Charlie Hunt from Jacksonville, running back Eddie McMillan from Tampa, linebacker Rick Bowyer from Tallahassee, defensive end Bobby Anderson from Tifton, Georgia, and Muscarella.

Peterson’s assistant coaches featured Bob Harbison (defensive chief), Dan Henning (quarterbacks/receivers), Gene McDowell (head recruiter) and Wright (freshman team), in his first and only season at FSU.

The Seminoles flew from then-Tallahassee Municipal Airport on Eastern Airlines to Mexico City.

“Nobody had really traveled outside of the country, so everyone was pretty excited to find out early in camp that we’d be playing in Mexico,” said Smith, who earned All-America status as a senior, was inducted into FSU’s Hall of Fame in 1979 and played in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and expansion Tampa Bay Bucs.

“We even stayed for a few extra days after the game to sight-see, visiting the Aztec ruins, and experience the culture. Think about it. Nobody spoke Spanish and here we are in Mexico City. It was a shame not everybody on the freshman team could go, because many that did not make the trip went on to have great careers. But we had a blast. It was such a great experience.”

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Watch: Florida State football player Markeston Douglas speaks on 2024 trip to Ireland

Watch: Florida State football player Markeston Douglas speaks on 2024 trip to Ireland

Ehsan Kassim, Tallahassee Democrat

FSU relies on passing game to rally past Mexico

Stories from the game were provided by the Associated Press and FSU’s school newspaper, the Florida Flambeau. The AP referred to FSU’s freshman team as the “Seminole Frosh” and the Flambeau called it the “Baby Noles.”

Muscarella recalled players being in awe by the stadium’s size and seeing the Olympic Torch. Seating capacity had been increased from 70,000 to 83,700 for the Summer Olympics a year earlier. “I think there were around 40,000 fans in the stadium for the game and the stadium looked empty, it was so big,” Muscarella said.

Smith remembered Beatles music – specifically the group’s song ‘Come Together’ – being played over the stadium’s sound system during the game.

The National University of Mexico featured the Wing-T and led early 6-0 on a pair of field goals. However, FSU rallied behind Muscarella, a 6-foot-2 pocket passer who also kicked in the game since FSU’s travel roster did not include kicking specialists.

“I remember the fans started booing their team when we went up on them,” Muscarella said.

According to the Flambeau, Muscarella completed 14 of 21 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns. Smith caught 11 passes for 219 yards and two scores. Thomas had two catches for 73 yards and a score. The receiving duo earned the nickname “The Gold Dust Twins” that season. Thomas made history at FSU in 1970, when he became the program’s first Black player to start in a varsity football game. Thomas also enjoyed a successful NFL career, winning four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

FSU’s running game against Mexico was led by Steve Hardin’s 82 yards on 13 carries.

“Muscarella did a good job at quarterback,” Wright told the Flambeau. “I thought our offense looked better than our defense did. We’re going to have to work for the upcoming game with the Baby Gators.”

In the AP report, it said the Mexico City sports daily, Esto, commented “Once again a national team falls before a team of American novices, whose use in the American universities is to hold the dummies while their big league companions practice.”

Smith, 72, described the trip and game as lifetime experiences – and he expects the Seminoles to embrace and enjoy their opportunity. Smith is also looking forward to traveling to Ireland in 2024 for the FSU-Georgia Tech game. His son Andrew is a former Yellow Jackets football player. FSU fans have already placed more than 2,000 down payments for the game.

“There’s no doubt the trip to Mexico City was a great bonding experience for us,” Smith said. “There were so many experiences, great memories.

“Not only for that season, but for the rest of our lives.”

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