I remember the first time I met Coach Haggins (No way I was calling him Odell!). I was a high school senior on my Unofficial Visit to Florida State in October of 1995. Like a newly engaged woman, he held his massive hand out to my parents and me to show us his ring, a ring about ten times the size of any engagement ring adorned with shiny rocks and Seminole icons. “If you come to Florida State, you’ll earn one of these every year.” At that moment, I fell in love with Florida State and my mom had a small crush on Odell. (That’s a story for another column.) Y’all, that was almost twenty-five years ago! His freshman year was ten years prior to that! Odell Haggins has been one of Us in an official capacity for thirty-five years.
It’s a rare situation where a coach has shared memories and moments with multiple generations of people. Many of you reading this column have Odell stories and I’m confident they are all good ones. We get him and he gets us, and he gets us because he is Us. He was here when there was a tunnel under Pensacola Street. He played in the “Erector Set.” He was on the sidelines for “The Choke at Doak” and “The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter.” He wore the uniform when FSU was independent and coached the ‘Noles in the ACC. He roomed with Deion Sanders and mentored Marvin Wilson. He’s won thirteen ACC championship rings and two national championship rings. He’s represented the ‘Noles in eleven different bowls: All-American, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, Gator, Emerald, Music City, Champs, Rose, Peach, and Independence. Johnny Cash might have been everywhere, but Odell has coached everywhere and proudly worn the Garnet and Gold the entire time.
Our love for Odell is about more than Odell. He is the physical manifestation of the Seminoles for us. Not many fans can shake hands with or hug their institution but we can, just find Odell. Corey Clark aptly referred to him as a “Living Scrapbook.” Odell lives at the intersection of Memory Lane and Champions Way. Did you know you can’t spell Tallahassee, Florida without Odell? It’s true, and somehow we all knew it. Odell is Unconquered. He’s Garnet and Gold. He’s True. He’s the Warchant and the Seminole Rap. We love Odell because we love FSU and Odell is as FSU as anyone.
People love to say college football is big business. Billion-dollar TV deals, million-dollar coordinators, twenty-four-hour coverage, and talking heads we take too seriously encroach on this game that’s heart is in college towns rich with legend and legacy. Tallahassee is one of those towns. We live in a place that harkens back to a simpler time when it was just about football and the community where the games were played. There’s a particular magic in the nostalgia of college football and “big business” can sometimes steal that joy, but not with Odell is the coach. There’s something about Odell that allows us to feel like it’s the good old days while still conquering the present. When he’s on the sidelines we get to see the current ‘Noles while remembering the ‘Noles of yesteryear. He takes us back as he leads us forward. This is why we love him.
I’ll be at the game today with tens of thousands of fellow ‘Noles. I became one of Us in the fall of 1996. My wife was born and raised Us because her parents have been Us since the ‘70s. Some of my kids will be there and all they know is Us; their bibs and cribs were garnet and gold! We will be there because we love sharing this autumn pastime with each other. We’ll be there to hear the Chiefs play Seminole Uprising, to see Renegade rear and Osceola plant the spear, to do the Warchant, to wear garnet, and fight, fight, fight for FSU. We’ll all be in Doak, at our RV, at a watch party, or on our couch to cheer for the ‘Noles, to cheer for Odell, to cheer for Us. Go ‘Noles, let’s get to 4 & 0-Dell!