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30 years ago, Sebastian nearly went to jail for taking fire extinguisher to Tallahassee

Deputies thwart Miami mascot's plan to spoil Florida State's pregame tradition

John Routh, dressed as Sebastian the Ibis, is slammed against the fence by Leon County deputies after carrying a fire extinguisher near Renegade, Florida State's Appaloosa mascot, before the start of the Miami-FSU game, Oct. 28, 1989. (Joe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald)

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – The year was 1989.

No. 9 Florida State was hosting undefeated and second-ranked Miami, one year after the Seminoles had been shellacked 31-0 in the last meeting at the Orange Bowl.

The Seminoles were already out of the national championship picture after an 0-2 start to the season, but there was something different about this rivalry game.

On paper, Miami was the better team. The Hurricanes had won 13 consecutive games dating to the 1988 season and entered the game as the nation's top-ranked total defense.

But the better team doesn't always win -- as was the case the evening of Oct. 28 in front of a sellout crowd at Doak S. Campbell Stadium.

The Seminoles never trailed, ahead 7-0 after less than a minute and leading 14-10 at halftime en route to a second-half shutout and 24-10 victory.

While the outcome is likely memorable to Florida State fans and forgettable to Miami fans, it's what happened in the moments before the game kicked off that cemented the legacy of Sebastian the Ibis, the Hurricanes' mascot.

John Routh happened to be disguised in the anthropomorphic bird costume when he walked onto the playing field pregame, wearing a fireman's helmet and yellow raincoat while holding a fire extinguisher.

The tradition of Chief Osceola planting a burning spear at midfield while riding his Appaloosa horse, Renegade, has been revered by Seminoles since its inception in 1978. So, naturally, the thought of the mascot of one of Florida State's biggest rivals spoiling the show seemed almost criminal. At least that's what a couple of Leon County sheriff's deputies thought when they spotted Routh and converged on him.

By Routh's account, he accidentally squeezed the handle of the fire extinguisher during the scuffle, dousing one of the deputies. The next thing he knew, the deputies pressed him against a chain-link fence.

"I thought I was going to jail," Routh told ESPN.com.

Joe Rimkus Jr., a Miami Herald photographer there to cover the game, snapped the now-iconic black-and-white picture of the deputies taking Ibis to the fence.

Miami athletic director Sam Jankovich, who died Wednesday at the age of 84, sent then-FSU President Bernie Sliger a letter after the game asking what Sliger planned to do about the deputies "assaulting our mascot."

"While I regret that you feel that security officials responded inappropriately to your actions, I hope that you will recognize that their paramount concern, and mine, is public safety," Sliger replied. "I think you can imagine the reaction of our team and fans if it was perceived that you had intentionally caused the injury to their beloved mascot or to innocent bystanders on the field."

In the end, Routh narrowly avoided arrest and the Hurricanes, propelled by a victory over No. 1 Notre Dame, would go on to win their third of five national championships and third since 1983. The loss to Florida State was Miami's lone blemish of the season.

Miami Hurricanes head football coach Dennis Erickson gets a victory ride at the end of the Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1, 1990, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Erickson's Hurricanes defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide 33-25 and were crowned national champions.

When the Hurricanes return to Tallahassee this weekend, the circumstances will be much different than what was at stake in 1989. Both teams are .500 and struggling just to become bowl eligible. The winner of this game won't be playing for any national titles. Neither will the loser. But the game is just as important for fans of both teams as it was 30 years ago.

The atmosphere will likely be reminiscent of that night in October three decades ago, and chances are, Sebastian won't be on the field for it.


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