John Crowe – Which One Is The Giant?
By Charlie Barnes
Love arrives when it will; sometimes it just shows up unannounced.
It was December 1967 and the Phi Delts and Kappa Deltas were having a Christmas party. John Crowe introduced himself to the prettiest girl he had ever seen.
The chemistry was immediate. On a whim, John teased her, "Do you want to run away and get married?"
Betty Williams responded, "When do you want to leave?"
John and Betty did get married, two years later. They will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary soon.
Since his 2013 retirement as Chairman of the Board and CEO of Buckeye Technologies, Inc., John has busied himself with other business and
philanthropic interests. He is on the Board of Directors of Myers Industries, as well as the National Civil Rights Museum. He also served on the board of the United Way of the Mid-South.
John is especially enthused about keeping up with his Seminole teammates. One is former NCIS Agent (yes, that NCIS) and fellow FSU Hall-of-Famer Dale McCullers. "Dale and I are writing a book together," he says. "We're calling it ‘Sons of the ‘60s; A Case for the Defense.'"
Crowe and McCullers were defensive stars for the Seminoles. Dale earned All-American honors at linebacker and played a year for the Dolphins. John Crowe is considered by some to be the best safety in Seminole history. His senior year he snagged five interceptions, and accounted for an incredible total of 104 tackles.
John and Dale have committed themselves to promoting the significance of defense. "We're interviewing former players, and coaches like Mickey Andrews on what it takes to play defense," he says. They began by contacting players who have been inducted into the FSU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Every fan remembers head coach Bobby Bowden's locker room admonition to his teams at halftime when the Seminoles were ahead: "If they don't score, we win!" John said Bowden's philosophy was to put the "fastest and toughest players on defense."
John and Dale agree the key to defense is speed. "And it's not just speed," John says, "its speed and instinct. You have to possess the kind of instinct to know where to be on the field. The offense knows their assignment; the defense has to figure it out."
John Crowe was to play on offense when he came to Florida State, joining a corps of receivers that included T.K. Wetherell and other notables. "I was 6-foot-2 and 159 pounds," he says. He had played quarterback in high school and also helped out on defense. St. Cloud was small then: there were only 64 members of his senior class. "This was all before Disney," he laughs.
All eight of the freshman receivers were skinny. "One of the coaches said we looked like a bunch of mice running around chasing cheese." The name stuck; they were christened ‘The Rat Pack' and Nic Gavalas at Nic's Toggery made up special jackets for them with a picture of a mouse.
Neither football nor Florida State was John's first choice. He had been offered a chance to play basketball for Duke University, but a knee injury ended that opportunity. He decided to follow coach Bill Peterson to FSU. Bowden was John's receivers' coach. It was 1965 and Bowden was almost out the door to become offensive coordinator at West Virginia. "We were going through those awful, grueling mat drills and the players were exhausted. Then the coaches called for the receivers to run routes."
A pass sailed high over John's head but he dove to make the catch. Bowden came right down out of the stands. "He said to me, ‘If you practice that way when you're exhausted, then you'll do all right.'"
That one moment of close attention from Bowden made an instant, lasting impression on Crowe. As a scholar, John earned a BS in Chemistry and then a Master's degree in Mathematics.
"Mat drills taught me to be tough," John said. The discipline that John applied in football mirrored his dedication to academics. "Mathematics is an interesting degree," he says. "It makes you logical. Two and two is always four." As a mathematics student, he followed one practice unique to that field of study. He said, "Answers to the odd-numbered math problems are always in the back of the book. Answers to the even-numbered
problems are not in the book at all. I always focused on the even-numbered problems. Those were the hardest challenges. I learned there's value in doing the extra stuff."
He played in the iconic, 37-37, game against Alabama in 1967, but that game doesn't rank as one of his two favorite memories. "We had great expectations before that season, but we were only 0-2-1 going into the game against a great Texas A&M team." John Crowe recovered a fumble to set up the winning touchdown, giving the Seminoles their first win of the season.
The second best game memory? "Well," he laughs, "That win over Florida down there in Gainesville was awfully sweet, too!"
Commissioned as a second lieutenant through ROTC, Crowe flew transports and bombers for the Air Force during the Vietnam War. A decade later, he interviewed for a job with the commercial airlines only to find that they weren't hiring. "Before my interview, I noticed a brochure on the table in the waiting room," he says. "There was a pretty girl on the front, and the brochure promoted Buckeye Cellulose Corporation."
He figured his degree in chemistry would match well with a company invested in the pulp and paper industry so he cold-called them. His interview, he said, was largely taken up with a discussion of college football in general and the Seminoles in particular. "And the young woman on the brochure cover ended up working for me for years."
At Buckeye, the sales side of the business interested him but he found he liked operations so much he stayed in management. After 34 years, he retired as President and CEO of the company.
On retirement, he laughs, "I like it! I don't know now how I ever had time to work. It's given me an appreciation for what my wife, Betty, had to do just to keep the house up all these years."
Not too far now from their golden wedding anniversary, the Crowes have prospered, and can boast of two sons, a daughter-in-law and a pair of
John and Betty enjoy giving generously to all areas of the University. "I established a scholarship in the name of my favorite mathematics professor; Betty also established a professorial scholarship in her field."
They established another academic scholarship based on her father's experience in World War II. In addition, they established a scholarship for ROTC cadets in the name of former FSU center Johnny Stevens. Lt. Stevens was killed in action in 1969, leaving behind a young family.
Of course, the Crowes are annual Golden Chiefs; their giving record extends back nearly 30 years and totals over $1 million. They've made a bequest to Seminole Boosters of $600,000 as well as an additional cash gift of $250,000 to the Doak Campbell Stadium Fund. Another cash gift of $250,000 establishes the John Crowe Defensive Safety Position Scholarship.
A year or so ago, John was a featured guest at one of Doug Mannheimer's wonderful game-day Sod Talks. As he wrapped up his remarks, John told his favorite coach Bill Peterson story. "In the pre-game locker room, Coach Pete wanted to use the story of David & Goliath to motivate the team. But first he turned to one of his assistant coaches and whispered 'Now which one was the giant?'"
In Seminole lore and legend, in any assessment of honors on the field, in the classroom, and across a lifetime of personal and professional achievements, let there be no doubt that the giant is John Crowe.
All the Games...
There are guarantees, and then there is the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Victory Guarantee.
Mike and Jeri Damasiewicz go to all the Seminole football games. The word "all" is not used figuratively; they go to all the games – home and away.
Jeri has been in the stands cheering her Seminoles at every game since 1999. Says Mike, "In 2012, I had to go to California on business, and I missed three away games."
He laughed and added, "Jeri and her Seminoles — that's true love. I may be in second place."
When you follow the team every game, you tend to see the same familiar faces and enjoy the company of other fans who share the same love of FSU. Mike and Jeri tailgate with fellow diehards Brian and Cortney Williams, David and Cathy Mobley and many others.
Years ago, Mike and former FSU Alumni Association Chairman David Mobley were standing together before a game in which the Seminoles were an underdog. "Well, you know Mobley lives on Reese's and Mountain Dew," he laughs.
"So he and I shared a couple of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups before we went in." The Seminoles won the game.
"You know, we don't really believe in that kind of thing," Mike says, "but we know better than to tempt fate, so we share the traditional Reese's Cups before each game."
Several years ago, Mike and David Mobley neglected to follow the ritual. It was the year the No. 4 ranked Seminoles lost to unranked Louisville 26-20. "David and I take responsibility. That loss was on us."
Mike and Jeri arrived in the Seminole realm by a circuitous route. Jeri graduated from the University of Texas, and Mike graduated from the University of Maryland. Both met as professionals working for the IRS in Austin, Texas.
Jeri's father came to Florida State in the first wave of post-World War II veterans.
"She was born a 'Nole in Tallahassee," Mike says.
As a married couple working for the IRS, they moved from Austin, to Atlanta, to Washington, to Jacksonville. "One day," Mike says, "Jeri took me on what she called a ‘secret tour' of the Florida Panhandle." Of course, the secret plan was to get Mike to Tallahassee. "I fell in love with the town and the school and the program," he says.
The couple is deeply involved with FSU. They express their love for the Seminoles through their attendance at softball, volleyball and basketball games, as well as football and baseball. They also have membership in various Coaches Clubs, and Jeri is active in the Extra Point Club.
Mike and Jeri are also exceptionally generous.
They have established a very generous estate gift for unrestricted scholarships, plus a major gift to name the Warrick Dunn Pillar of Champions.
Longtime Golden Chiefs, they have now upped their contribution and become Platinum Chiefs.
"We've made so many friends, and we've had so many great experiences," says Jeri. "It's only right to try to give back."
Catherine Copeland makes estate gift in support of women's athletics.
Don't tell me I can't do it!" Catherine Copeland likes a challenge. When someone tells her she can't achieve her goals, it makes her double down that much harder. "I will never give in," she says. Copeland came to Florida State University searching for the collegiate experience, and she found it all. "I love volleyball, and I wanted to play for either FSU or Vanderbilt," she says.
"FSU has a stellar psychology program, but the Seminoles didn't recruit me for volleyball."
After consulting with then-Coach Cecile Reynaud, Copeland walked on and made the team. She played for FSU for a year and then moved on to pursue her wide range of interests.
"I had a great college experience," she says. She joined Kappa Delta sorority and was a little sister for the Kappa Alpha fraternity. She majored in psychology and minored in British history, which culminated in Copeland spending a year abroad as part of the FSU London program. After graduating in 1990, she gained entry to the graduate organizational psychology program at UCF. "It's one of the top programs in the country," she said.
Her first professional stop was in Jacksonville, then on to assignments with General Electric, Accenture, and now, Coca-Cola in Atlanta.
She works in human resources for Coca-Cola. "I'm the one who investigates," she says. It can be both interesting and depressing, depending on the behavior in question. But she is still a Seminole girl. "I have a room dedicated to FSU in my home," she says. She laughs about her college days. "I had an incredible experience...except for all the parking tickets!" She said she paid so many parking fines, she swore she'd never send any money back to FSU. But time passes, and the parking hassles fade from memory. What stays are the memories of competing for the Seminoles on the volleyball court, the social circles that produced lifetime friends and the first time her eyes opened to the world beyond America.
Catherine has established a $225,000 estate gift for women's athletic scholarships and women's athletic facilities. "Women's athletics has come a very long way," she says. "Having been on the team, I understand the needs, and I want to play a part in achieving that vision."
Nancy and I are pleased to have the opportunity to recognize and honor Annie Belle Odom, also known to us as Mom DeBusk. Annie Belle and her husband, Dr. Frank DeBusk, raised me from the age of 3 in their Gainesville, Florida, home. It was her selfless caring and compassionate demeanor, combined with her spirited and competitive attitude, which empowered me to become a decent husband, father and businessman. When life's challenges arose, she always encouraged me with, "Aden, you can do it!" She instilled in me the desire and action to inspire others to "be the very best" that one can be.
Annie Belle was a "walk on" for the Florida State Women's College varsity baseball team in the early 1920s, a time before softball came to most college campuses. She had no previous opportunity to play baseball, or any other organized sport, as none were available to her where she was raised. She was one of seven children growing up on a farm in Munson, Florida, barely a
dot on the map, in rural north Santa Rosa County. Travel to the more populous city of Tallahassee was at least a two day trip, and public transportation was scarce and intermittent. However, with little or no experience, but with a burning desire to compete and be part of the team, she walked onto the baseball field and became a valued player. Annie Belle graduated from FSWC in 1924.
Nancy and I are indeed pleased to contribute to the program that brought Annie Belle so much pleasure while attending FSWC. We can only imagine her joy and admiration if she knew the evolvement and growth of softball at Florida State University. We can only surmise her surprise and delight in the wonderful facilities and scholarship opportunities that inspire young worldclass
athletes to strive for greatness as individuals, and in the process, bring recognition to FSU and the team at the national level.
It is with great humility and gratitude that we honor Annie Belle Odom "Mom" DeBusk.
A word from Coach
"We are lucky as coaches and athletes for people like Aden and Nancy, who believe in giving back," says Seminoles head softball coach Lonni Alameda. "I believe we are also in debt to Aden as he
is allowing our program to understand legacy and the importance of honoring great people. Annie Belle Odom was a tremendous person to Aden, which is something we all strive for in life — to be someone who makes a difference in the lives of others. To have a scholarship in her name allows us to speak of the legendary person Annie Belle Odom was and the giving person Aden is to continue her legacy. We are grateful for their genuine love and support of our Seminole family."
Ocala's Gary Thurston is an imposing force of nature. The 6'5" 240 lb. former football and baseball player sports a disarming smile and a voice that booms like a cathedral organ. Gary joined the Seminole Booster Board of Directors seven years ago. At the time, he says he had no thoughts of becoming chairman of the board. "I just wanted to learn more about what I could do to help FSU."
Thurston was a star Broward County high school athlete, but hopes of college scholarships were dashed by a pair of knee surgeries his senior year. Fortunately his academic resume was as strong as his athletic acumen, and he was recruited as a scholar by Wake Forest. "I chose FSU because it was closer," he laughs. "No. Seriously, I fell in love with our campus and the people here the first time I saw it."
He majored in criminology and worked as a cop back home in Broward County after graduation. He and his wife, Lee Ann, had been high school classmates in Broward, and then again at FSU.
Gary pledged Phi Kappa Tau while at FSU and today serves on the board of directors of the Seminole Greek Alumni Foundation. His son, Troy, is a Sigma Chi. Lee Ann and their daughter, Amanda, are also Florida State alumni.
Leaving law enforcement, he worked selling building supplies and helped construct diagnostic imaging centers. Gary seized the opportunity to establish his own company, building and managing family practice, urgent care and diagnostic imaging centers all throughout North Central Florida. He was CEO of Advanced Medical Network, LLC, for more than 18 years. In 2010, he sold his company to the international firm HCA Hospitals.
Thurston has always been active with other Ocala-area Seminoles. After he sold his firm and retired, he turned his attention to playing a full-time leadership role in Seminole Boosters. "I had been a Seminole Booster since the 1980s," he says, "and I started buying season tickets when we moved from Fort Lauderdale to Ocala in the 1990s." He is a Micco ($1 million donor) and owns skybox and Dunlap Champions Club seats.
Now halfway through his tenure as 2017-18 chairman of the Seminole Boosters Board, he is focused on the immediate goals and achievements of the Boosters. "We've completed 90% of the Dunlap Champions Club and the major stadium renovations," he says. As a successful businessman, Thurston understands the importance of Seminole Boosters as an entrepreneurial, semi-private operation, able to create dependable revenue streams. "Developments like CollegeTown and other Booster initiatives add several million a year, at least, in transfers to Athletics," he says.
Thurston expects to remain involved for the long term. "Eventually we will remodel the lower bowl of the stadium," he says. "We'll enlarge the seats and enhance the entire game day experience
for all of our fans." He is also excited about the prospect of a hotel being built at the stadium. "In three to five years, I anticipate we'll have a hotel attached to the stadium. Call it one-stop shopping for your game day enjoyment. You arrive on Friday night, park and check-in, spend time with your family in CollegeTown, and you never have to travel more than a few hundred yards from the end zone."
"We have secured a strong base of supporters, and we thank those current members. I would like to see continued growth, as the more Boosters we have the better we can ensure the success
of our great student-athletes," he says.
A star high school athlete out of Jacksonville, Ed Burr, was recruited to play football for the University of Tampa. One of his teammates was the great quarterback and future two-time Super Bowl champion, Freddie Solomon. Burr laughs, "As a freshman defensive end, I concluded very quickly that my future was not the NFL."
His football scholarship ended when Tampa dropped the sport in 1974. He transferred to FSU and supported himself working nights at the old Brown Derby Restaurant. Arriving on campus, he was counseled by an advisor to major in anything he liked, but then go on to graduate school for a degree in whatever he wanted to do professionally. Burr says, "I was the first in my family to go to college. We were a wonderful family but of very humble means, and
I needed a course of study that would lead to my employment as soon as possible."
He visited the College of Business and asked what course of study was best to secure a good job. They placed him in accounting. Work and study didn't leave much time for extracurricular activities, but he says one of his favorite college memories is pledging Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity. As a trustee, Burr is deeply invested in all areas of the university, from the undergraduate experience to fundraising among alumni and friends. "I'm very interested
in maintaining the strength of the Greek system," he says. "There's no doubt that Greek alumni contribute greatly out of proportion to their numbers." Burr believes that a strong undergraduate fraternity experience translates
into closer lifetime bonds with the university.
Burr's two sons, Austin and Garrison, both members of Pi Kappa Alpha, have now graduated from Florida State. They represent the increased strengthening of generational ties among of FSU supporters. When the boys were aged 5 and 2, Ed's wife Monique was killed in a violent and tragic automobile accident. Only 36 years old at the time, her passion had been children and especially the prevention of child abuse. In 1997 on the one year anniversary of her death, Ed established the Monique Burr Foundation for Children. He remains deeply involved with the foundation
and its good work.
After graduating from FSU in 1979, Burr was recruited by Coopers & Lybrand in Miami and New York City. Later, he launched a spectacular career in real estate from the platform of LandMar Group LLC, the company he founded in 1987. Today he is president and CEO of Green Pointe Holdings, LLC, the diversified holding company he founded in 2008.
Ed Burr has contributed his leadership and his wealth to all areas of our university. He served on the FSU Foundation's Board of Trustees, the Board of Directors of Seminole Boosters, and the Executive Board of the FSU Center for Real Estate Education and Research.
He is a Micco; he and his wife Billie Jo donated $1 million to Seminole Athletics. They have also pledged $200,000 toward the College of Business Legacy Hall project. Ed Burr is another in a long line of extraordinary Seminole personalities and leaders from Jacksonville. Alumni like Burr, John Thrasher, Jim King and Tom Petway have transformed Florida State into our state's newest flagship university.
"It is a great honor," he says of his election by his peers to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Of his partnership with President Thrasher, Burr says, "We are focused on getting FSU into the Top 25 in The ‘U.S. News & World Report' rankings. We have a strong Board of Trustees, and we want to make a difference." How is that to be accomplished? "We know the metrics," he says. "We're very metric-oriented; we know how the rankings are calibrated. We're making great progress, now up to #33 from #44 just two years ago."
Burr says the greatest challenge is resources. "There's a desire by state government to keep tuition down. The state has been generous to us and will continue to be, but funding is always a challenge. That's why alumni investments are so important.
"Alumni contributions are vital to the success of our university," he says. "We need to cultivate individuals with both the means and the inclination to give. And in my experience, those are alumni who were involved in the many extracurricular opportunities available to a student at FSU."
Alex Salabarria is as good-natured a fellow as you will ever meet. He admits to being an indifferent student (albeit with a lengthy tenure at FSU). He embraced Mark Twain's admonishment to "never let your schooling interfere with your education." He says was never happier than when at Florida State.
The Salabarria family's emigration-from-Cuba story could almost be a movie. His father fought as a revolutionary soldier under Castro. Once Castro revealed himself to be a communist, the elder Salabarria became a counter-revolutionary guerilla, and ended up working in-country as an agent for the CIA. His mother and father finally escaped to Puerto Rico, and then to Miami.
Alex was born in Miami and grew up in Ocala, seven years younger than his brother and nine years younger than his sister. "I was a mistake," he laughs. Former Seminole punter and Pro-Bowler Rick Tuten was his high school mentor. Tuten encouraged Alex to follow his brother to Auburn, but the out-of-state tuition proved too daunting.
Alex enrolled at the University of Florida. After two years he transferred to Florida State. "I walked around the campus in Tallahassee, taking in the beauty and the culture and the feeling of the place. I fell in love with it."
He waited tables at Bennigans for a while, and eventually joined their Management program. "I loved it," he says. "I remember arranging it so I could work Deion Sanders' table when he came in." Alex laughs, "Man, he was really something, with the girls and the jewelry, rolling up in that white LeBaron convertible. Turned out Deion was a really good guy too, classy and a good tipper."
Alex is Chief Executive Officer of Oaks Senior Living. Twenty years ago he moved to Atlanta to work with his father and help realize their dream of developing and managing communities for the elderly. "The Oaks Senior facilities are very upscale and beautiful," he says. "We're all in Georgia right now but we're coming to Florida." Alex's wife Denise is Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
Alex met Denise in late 1998. "We were broke when we married, but we still scraped together $500 a year to give to Seminole Boosters. We'd drive down to the games on weekends."
"Every year we've been able to do more," he says. Considerably more, in fact. The Salabarrias have created a planned gift to Seminole Boosters of nearly $2 million, and they have endowed a Football Scholarship. They are Platinum Chiefs, and active in the Coaches' Club. They have three children. Brock, 26 graduated from Savannah School of Art & Design and now resides in Cary, NC. Therese', 24 graduated from Georgia Southern and works in the family business. Caylee, 22 is completing her degree at Florida State. "My last kid is graduating August 5th," he laughs.
"I'm blessed that I was able to attend FSU, and to be around people like Bobby Bowden and Mike Martin, and the Women's Coaches – people with the highest character. Right after God and my family, Florida State is my biggest passion." He says. "I'm kind of a psycho fan…I throw chairs in the pool."
"My father instructed me in morals and instilled my work ethic and Faith in God," Alex says. "That is exactly why I am successful today."
At this writing we learned of the untimely passing of our own Seminole, and Alex's mentor, Rick Tuten.
Salabarria said, "When I was a very young man, Rick had a most positive influence on my life for which I could never re-pay him. I will miss him every day. Rick was a champion in every aspect, on and off the field."
Yes, a champion indeed. Rick punted for the 1983 Miami Hurricane National Champions as a freshman. Later he transferred to Florida State and lettered two years including 1987, inaugural year of The Dynasty. Tuten played almost a dozen years in the NFL, most of it with the Seattle Seahawks. He was tapped for the Pro Bowl while playing for Seattle in 1994, and won a Super Bowl ring with the 1999 Championship St. Louis Rams.
His death was unexpected. He leaves behind his wife Jennifer and children Chase, Kinley and Ryan.
A fine man, Seminole and mentor. R.I.P. at age 52.
Max Alvarez's mother lost both her sons within days.
Max's parents left Spain to create a new life for themselves and their children in Cuba. After the communists took power in 1959, they decided to send their two sons away from the violent dictatorship overtaking the island.
Max's brother ("seven years older than me") went to Spain. Soon afterward, 13-year-old Max fled on the last ferry out of Havana to West Palm Beach. These young children of the great Cuban exodus were called "Peter Pans".
Max's parents had intended for him to go to America and then on to Spain to join his brother. But there had been an accident; Max's brother had died on the same day Max was on his way to West Palm Beach. No one told Max anything for six months. He did not speak the language; he had no way to contact his mother and father; he did not know where he was to go or what was going to become of him.
Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh embraced Max and 60 more of these ‘Pedro Pans' and kept them close to him. "I never left Miami," Max says. Max's parents were eventually able to leave communist Cuba and join him in Miami.
After graduating from high school, Max attended Belmont-Abbey, a small Catholic college in North Carolina. He transferred to Florida State as a junior. Max laughs, "I developed a strong southern accent in North Carolina. But of course I also sound Cuban so I'm sure I confused a lot of people!"
"I always worked," he says, "And I am so grateful to Sherrill Ragans for giving me the opportunity to work as a resident advisor in Smith Hall and Kellum Hall, and as a counselor in DeGraff." In 2006, the University named a new residence hall for Ragans.
Max graduated with his Master's Degree from Florida State in December 1970. "On January 4th I went to work as a field representative for Cities Service Oil Company, which is now Citgo." Max spent six years working for a number of oil companies before purchasing four low-performing 7-Eleven stations and creating his company, Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, Inc. "Nobody wanted those stations but me," he says.
Max still has those four stations. He also now owns about 400 more gas stations primarily located in Dade and Broward Counties. Sunshine also contracts to supply another 100+ stations that he doesn't own. His is the largest family-owned distributorship in the South.
On his loyalty to the Seminoles, Max says, "I never left Florida State. I am one of those people who start every day by making a list," he says. "I examine the list in detail, and I give thanks. I thank every person and every institution that gave me the opportunity for a great education and treated me like a son."
"If I had to give away everything I own tomorrow, it would count for less than 10% of what I was given." My wonderful parents and Monsignor Walsh always stressed the importance of morality and basic human values." Max is an unabashed patriot. "That's why I love this country so much," he says. "You can start a business out of the trunk of your car and grow it into a Fortune 500 company. "
Max is a Seminole Booster MICCO, and a Seminole player carries the Max Alvarez Endowed Football Scholarship. In 2016, Governor Rick Scott appointed Max to the Florida State University Board of Trustees. Max has been a financial supporter of Seminole Boosters for more than 25 years.
Mike and Bekki Haggard
Mike Haggard says, "I was born in Garnet and Gold," and lest anyone question that he goes on to prove the point, "My great grandmother went to Florida State College for Women (before it became the Florida State University), my father, my mom, my sister, my wife, my brother-in-law, my in-laws, my cousins, everybody went to Florida State." Of course he also is a 1992 graduate in Communications at FSU. Point proved!
Far from simply being proud to be a Seminole and resting on his laurels, Mike Haggard has "taken up the mantle of leadership" and become a positive force in the advancement of his University and its athletic programs.
"I grew up so much around FSU and leaders like my Dad (Andy Haggard), George Langford, and Les Pantin. But, you just can't sit around and hope these guys will do something else. When you look at the pride we have in our university we have to give back to it,"he said. Consequently, Mike and his wife, Bekki, have become major donors and backers of the Booster programs in helping advance them to the level now achieved. He also is a major backer and member of the Leadership Board of the College of Communications.
The unique thing about Haggard's total devotion to Florida State is that he grew up right in the heart of the enemy's camp-Coral Gables, home of the Miami Hurricanes. While there was never a doubt where he would go to college, there were some questions about what career path he would take.
However, there was little doubt that Mike would be excellent at protecting privacy something an attorney must do. His dad remembers a vivid example of that. From the age of 10 up to junior high, Mike was Bobby Bowden's ball boy and clipboard carrier on the sidelines.
"We were playing Miami and we came back and beat them in the second half. It was unbelievable and everybody was going crazy." Andy remembers. Afterwards a large group was celebrating in the Haggard condo in Tallahassee. Since Mike had been in the locker room they figured they would get the scoop. "So Mike walks in and everybody is listening and I said, "Son, what did Bobby say at the half that charged them up?" He looked at me and said, "Dad, I can't tell you that. It's privileged." Little wonder he is an expert at protecting privacy.
It turned out that crabs and oysters may have been responsible for his career path and they didn't lead him into the seafood industry. Mike's dad, Andy, is senior partner of The Haggard Law Firm, a highly respected firm in Coral Gables. He has an almost endless list of accomplishments including high-ranking posts in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. Even with that exposure it was not a done deal that Mike would become a lawyer.
Andy says he was "absolutely uncertain" what field Mike would enter and never pushed him to consider the legal field, but he recalls a summer job that might have decided it. "I had him working hard in the summers. He had a job in a restaurant shucking crabs and oysters. When he came home from work, he smelled so bad, his Mom, wouldn't even let him in the house. He had to go into the garage and change clothes," Andy said with a smile.
It seems that by the time he was a junior at Florida State, Mike was done with that oyster shucking gig and decided that law school might be a good replacement. He had been around trials and lawyering all his life.
Today Mike is fond of saying "I'm still on the wait list at Florida State Law School." After graduation he applied, but never heard whether he got in or not, so he went to law school closer to home at the University of Miami. It is obvious he never changed from a Garnet-and-Gold-mindset to one of Orange-and-Green.
Haggard's love for FSU stretches beyond the usual passion one has for an alma mater. Mike, while in school became friends and built strong relationships with many student athletes. In fact, a portion of his major gift to FSU Athlietcs will be designated in memory and honor of Toddrick McIntosh, who recently passed away. McIntosh was a defensive lineman for FSU and was selected by Dallas in the 1994 NFL Draft. McIntosh had a memorable interception returned for a touchdown in the No. 1 Noles vs No. 3 Michigan game in 1991.
After law school, Mike Haggard went to work in the public defender's office where he was very effective. "It was a phenomenal experience. I was in trial every week for two years," he said. He learned a lot then moved on to a high end law firm for awhile before finally deciding that his future lay with his Dad's firm.
Mike Haggard is currently in the process of becoming a legend in the legal field. In 2003, he received national exposure after winning two back-to-back record setting $100 million verdicts in cases dealing with pool accidents involving children. Then in 2007 he obtained his third $100 million verdict in a negligent security case. It is said that this case was "the largest jury verdict award in history for that genre of case law." Mike has become a perennial member of the Florida Super Lawyers list having received this honor every year from 2006-2014.
When you walk into the attorney's office it is likely you will see two blackboards. One has legal strategies on it. The other has X's and O's. Youth football Coach Mike Haggard diagrams his team's plays on that one. Does a pretty good job with it and brings his team to FSU for Jimbo Fisher's football camp.
His 9-year old son Carson is the quarterback and they won the 2013 flag football national championship in Cowboy Stadium in Dallas. "While other Seminoles are hoping for a Dallas-to-Dallas championship that began with Oklahoma State in the first game and continuing to the National Championship game, we are pulling for a Dallas-to-Dallas-to-Dallas success story since we won our flag football championship there to start it off," says Coach Mike.
Andy says one of the things he is most proud of is the kind of father Mike has become. "Being a trial lawyer is a very, very tough thing and is unbelievably time consuming, sometimes taking 18 hours a day. But Mike never sacrifices family for the practice of law. He is at every game, practice and kids school events."
12 year old daughter Maddison, who is also a flag-football star, may just be the most avid Seminole fan of the bunch. "Just like her Mom she loves everything Florida State. She was the loudest fan in the Rose Bowl at the National Championship. She knows all the players and follows the NFL draft closely to make sure they get picked by good teams," said Mike.
Seminole football even played a role in the Haggard marriage since Mike met Bekki at Florida State. "We went to the 1997 FSU-Southern Cal game in Los Angeles. Took a little side trip to Carmel and there we got engaged," said Mike.
So the Seminole adventure continues for the Haggards. From time to time Mike Haggard stops and reflects back on where they were and how things are now. "It has been an amazing transition. I remember the day when it was just Charlie Barnes and Andy Miller in the little house right on campus. Just see what the Boosters have built. The transformation of Doak Campbell and Dick Howser Stadiums, softball, soccer, and the indoor practice facility. It is truly amazing."
What is also amazing is the role that Mike Haggard has played, following the example of his Dad, in enhancement of the evolution of facilities at Florida State with not only his gifts but his dedication to greatness.