WATCH: Seminoles.com profile of Gene Deckerhoff, before his 400th game
Thanks to his booming voice and iconic calls, Deckerhoff may be as synonymous with Florida State football as anyone outside of a certain few players and coaches.
The Jacksonville native chronicled nearly all of the legendary Bobby Bowden’s career, and over the last 40 years he’s called games for three Heisman Trophy winners, three future Pro Football Hall-of-Famers and three national championship teams.
“He’s an FSU great,” FSU head coach Willie Taggart said. “When it’s said and done, Gene’s a Hall-of-Famer and I’m glad to be a part of it. Can’t wait to talk to Gene after the game on Saturday.”
Deckerhoff has also served as the play-by-play voice for FSU men’s basketball since 1976 (that’s 1,252 games) and in that same capacity for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers since 1989.
“To be honest with you, I thought this was my dream job,” Deckerhoff said. “I thought that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”
There have been a few twists and turns along the way, but, by and large, Deckerhoff was right about that.
In 1979, Deckerhoff was doing TV work for Channel 6 in Tallahassee when the FSU radio job came open. He submitted his resume tape and soon found himself as one of three finalists – a group which, at the time, might have been the most talented to ever go after a college football broadcasting gig:
Deckerhoff, Tom Mees and Craig Sager.
Mees, who had previous radio experience at the University of Delaware, was in the middle of a brief stint at Tallahassee’s Channel 27 and later that year became one of the first on-air personalities at newly-launched ESPN.
And Sager, working at the time in Kansas City, went on to become famous for his work as a sideline reporter during NBA broadcasts.
Deckerhoff thinks his resume tape, which included a Florida State spring game, might have given him an edge.
“I was fortunate,” he said. “We had names like Ron Simmons, Wally Woodham, Jimmy Jordan, and I guess the FSU search committee recognized those names better than Tom’s Delaware Blue Hens.”
Deckerhoff’s career could hardly have gotten off to a better beginning.
On Sept. 8, 1979, Florida State hosted Southern Mississippi and Deckerhoff stepped into the radio booth for game No. 1. The Seminoles scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to overcome an 11-point deficit and win, 17-14.
It was the first of 11 straight victories for FSU, which played in its first Orange Bowl at the end of that season.
A year later, Bowden’s Seminoles went 10-2 and finished with another trip to the Orange Bowl.
“I broadcast 22 games and there was only one loss (in the regular season), and that was by one point,” Deckerhoff said. “So it was a pretty good start.”
As No. 500 approaches, Deckerhoff remains grateful to several people, but two stand out.
First is Andy Miller, the president of Seminole Boosters who hired Deckerhoff as director of electronic media in 1983, then insisted that Deckerhoff remain in his role as play-by-play man when Host Communications later took over FSU’s marketing and communications responsibilities.
And then there’s Bowden, with whom Deckerhoff worked from 1979 until Bowden’s retirement following the 2009 season.
The two spent a lot of time together, whether during pre- or post-game settings, on Bowden’s annual booster tour, or especially during taping of The Bobby Bowden Show.
When the Buccaneers came calling in 1989, it seemed like a perfect fit for Deckerhoff – FSU games on Saturdays and Bucs games on Sundays – except for one problem:
In order to get from Tallahassee to Tampa in time for 1 p.m. kickoffs, Deckerhoff would have to record Bowden’s TV show immediately after games.
Sometimes, after night kickoffs, that meant hitting the studio at 1 or 2 a.m.
That’d be a pretty big ask for anyone, let alone a coach of Bowden’s stature.
“But absolutely without hesitation,” Deckerhoff said, “Bobby Bowden – the legendary head coach of the Florida State Seminoles – said, ‘Gene, I think it’s great. You just keep me awake during those commercials and I’ll do that TV show any time you want me to do it.’
“There’s not another football coach at any level, I promise you, that would agree to do his TV show at 3 o’clock in the morning so his radio guy could go do an NFL game on Sunday.
“The rest, as they say, is absolute history.”
After 40 years and 499 games, there are bound to be some favorite moments, and Deckerhoff has his picked out. Here they are, in reverse order.
Gene Deckerhoff’s Top 10 Favorite FSU Football Moments
10) Matt Frier goes deep to beat Miami in 1993
Florida State entered the 1993 season with a No. 1 national ranking, a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback and the thought that this would be the year that Bowden finally claimed his elusive national championship.
But that thought didn’t turn into full-fledged belief until the Seminoles showed they could beat the Miami Hurricanes. They’d already suffered a lifetime’s worth of heartache at the hands of their rivals – including a pair of wide-right field goal misses in 1991 and 92, as well as a failed two-point conversion that would have beaten the Canes in 1987.
When Charlie Ward connected with Matt Frier for a 72-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, it gave FSU a lead it never relinquished. And, a few months later, the Seminoles were carrying Bowden off the field at the Orange Bowl following an 18-16 win over Nebraska that sealed the national title.