As half the Superdome crowd continued to celebrate the surreal,
juggling, 43-yard scoring reception by Peter Warrick that had
given Florida State a 17-point lead in the Sugar Bowl Tuesday
night and clinched the Seminoles' second national title of the
decade, Warrick knelt on one knee and cried. The touchdown had
been his third of the night, a catch in the middle of the end
zone while being interfered with by a Virginia Tech defender, and
it had iced Florida State's 46-29 victory over the relentless
Hokies. Warrick had found a lonely patch of artificial turf near
the Seminoles' bench, genuflected and put his head on team
chaplain Clint Purvis's shoulder. "This is the way I wanted it to
end," he said, as tears streaked his cheeks. "This is why I came
In a sense, all the Seminoles came back: Warrick, not just for
his senior year, when it seemed so obvious he was going to leave
last winter for the NFL, but also from an embarrassing midseason
arrest that followed him all the way to New Orleans like a dark
shadow; Florida State junior quarterback Chris Weinke, from a
painful neck injury that had prematurely ended his season a year
ago; the whole team, from a listless, humiliating loss to
Tennessee in last year's Fiesta Bowl national title game, and
once again, on Tuesday night, when it seemed that Virginia Tech
and its gifted redshirt freshman quarterback, Michael Vick, would
beat the Seminoles.
The Hokies had taken a 29-28 lead on a six-yard touchdown run by
junior tailback Andre Kendrick with 2:13 to play in the third
quarter, completing a stirring comeback from a 28-7 deficit just
18 1/2 minutes into the game. It was Vick who had carried
Virginia Tech back as part of a riveting national coming out in
which he accounted for 225 yards passing and 97 on the ground,
and was dazzling in his ability to turn losses into gains while
taking a nightlong pounding. The Vick-timized Seminoles' defense
was exhausted and on its heels. Their offense had sputtered. And
now Florida State was behind. "We could have fainted right
there," said center Eric Thomas after the game. "Last year we
Instead the Seminoles' offense drove 85 yards in 11 plays to
regain the lead. Weinke, the 27-year-old former minor league
baseball player who may not return to Florida State for his
senior season, completed all seven of his passes on the drive,
including a 14-yarder to Ron Dugans for the touchdown. "We were a
little shaken up, but we got together on the bench and said,
'Never die, never die,'" said Weinke. Florida State offensive
coordinator Mark Richt said, "Weinke is the reason we didn't
faint. He was the guy. He has just unbelievable self-belief."
Weinke also had Warrick, who displayed all the wares that made
him the best college player in the country, though he was
deprived of the Heisman Trophy for his infamous Dillard's
department store discounts. Warrick scored the game's first
touchdown on a 64-yard pass from Weinke, later went all the way
on a 59-yard punt return and then got the game's final touchdown
after asking his teammates, "Y'all want me to finish them?" Even
the Florida State defense recovered, holding Virginia Tech to
just 39 yards on the three possessions after the Hokies had taken
the lead. "We worked all winter and all summer," said Seminoles
All-America noseguard Corey Simon. "No way we could quit."
The Seminoles' victory tacked a second national championship (the
first was in 1993) onto coach Bobby Bowden's resume and added to
a remarkable run in which Florida State has won 10 or more games
and finished no worse than No. 4 in the nation for 13 consecutive
seasons. "The way they did it tonight makes me proud to say I'm a
Seminole," said former Florida State All-America defensive end
Peter Boulware of the Baltimore Ravens, who watched from the
sideline. It also completed a 12-0 season for the team and gave
Bowden the first perfect season of his 34-year career.
The Seminoles won because they never put the embarrassment of
last year's 23-16 loss to Tennessee behind them. Florida State's
appearance in that game had been a gift, delivered only when the
BCS rankings imploded after losses by Kansas State and UCLA on
the final weekend of the season. Once the Seminoles were invited,
however, they sized up Tennessee as an overachieving, beatable
opponent and brought unwarranted arrogance to the desert. They
also brought untested Marcus Outzen as their starting
quarterback, replacing Weinke, who had suffered a ruptured disk
in his neck in the 11th game of the season. This combination of
overconfidence and inexperience proved costly.
To outside observers Florida State's performance was ugly: only
253 yards of offense, just one pass reception by Warrick, two
killing mistakes in the Seminoles' secondary and 12 penalties for
110 yards. The team's postgame locker room that night was
funereal. "I remember the sound of people crying," says senior
safety Sean Key. "Nobody was yelling or throwing anything. You
could just hear all this crying." Bowden said he had never seen a
team more emotionally crushed. It was Florida State's third
appearance in a game to decide the national championship since
the 1993 season and the Seminoles' second consecutive defeat,
following a 52-20 pasting by Florida in the Sugar Bowl after the
'96 season. Not long afterward, the phrase "Atlanta Braves of
college football" began to circulate.
Bowden would have none of it. "Oh, yeah, my legacy is terrible,"
he said during a December interview in Tallahassee. "Thirteen
years in the top four in the country, 13 straight years with at
least 10 victories. It's just terrible because I haven't won but
one national championship." Bowden laid on the sarcasm so thick
that it was obvious how deeply he cared about pinning down
another title and making amends for the loss to Tennessee. That
defeat became the focal point for the Seminoles during the '99
The players talked about the Tennessee loss in the weight room
last winter. "You could hear them between sets," says strength
and conditioning coach Dave Van Halanger. They talked about it
during spring practice. They talked about it during squad
meetings throughout the season. They even talked about it upon
arrival in Louisiana this year. After the Seminoles' first
practice in New Orleans, Simon told his teammates to think about
what had happened last time. The Tennessee debacle came up so
often that Bowden made a note to himself to cut mentions of the
game from his pregame repertoire. "It's too negative a thing to
bring up too close to the game," Bowden said two days before
kickoff. "It's time to start getting them thinking about playing
the very best they can."
In more practical ways Florida State made changes to its bowl
routine, based on what it learned a year ago. Convinced that his
team got to the desert with too much rest (44 days between games,
one fewer than this year) and too few tough practices, Bowden put
the Seminoles through one full-on scrimmage in Tallahassee in
mid-December and two other practices that included full contact.
"The last one, right before Christmas, the boys got so rough, we
had to cut it short," said Bowden.
Florida State worked out with speakers pumping out earsplitting
crowd noise, as if the upcoming opponent were Florida in the
Swamp. "We practiced harder than ever on our old hand signals and
added new ones," said Outzen two days before the game. "We got to
where we could run our offense without saying a word at the line
Upon arriving in New Orleans on Dec. 28, Bowden imposed a 1 a.m.
curfew for his team's first three nights in New Orleans--"Sodom
and Gomorrah," Bowden called the Big Easy--and put bars and
casinos off-limits. The curfew time was similar to Florida
State's 1997 and '98 appearances, and casinos have always been
forbidden turf, but not bars. Yet the Seminoles seniors went
beyond Bowden's rules, telling first- and second-team players to
put themselves in lockdown. During a players-only meeting, "we
told the guys who weren't going to be playing in the game to have
a good time, do whatever they wanted to do," Key said last week.
"We told everybody else to stay in the hotel and sleep."
Not everyone listened. On Dec. 30 starting defensive end Roland
Seymour and second-team defensive back Reggie Durden missed
curfew by what a team source called "just a few minutes." On New
Year's Eve, however, All-America kicker Sebastian Janikowski, an
unreconstructed party boy for whom Bourbon Street is a little bit
of heaven, missed the Seminoles' Y2K curfew of 11:30 p.m. by at
least 90 minutes. There were no suspensions, but all three
players had to run extra wind sprints when the team practiced on
Sunday. "It was like soccer practice all over again," said
Janikowski, once a member of the national under-17 team in his
Weinke, on the other hand, wasn't a threat to break the rules.
More than any other Seminole, he had suffered--literally and
figuratively--with the Fiesta Bowl loss. As a 26-year-old
sophomore in 1998 he had bounced back from a horrendous
six-interception day in a September loss to North Carolina State
to become one of the most effective passers in the nation, only
to see his season end with the ruptured disk in his neck. He went
to Tempe with his teammates, racked by piercing headaches caused
by the leakage of spinal fluid ("Three months of hell, when I
didn't care anything about football," Weinke said), but he
couldn't bear to watch the game from the sideline. "He went up
and hid in a luxury suite," says Weinke's older brother, Derek, a
probation officer and high school football and hockey coach in
Minnesota, where Weinke grew up.
Weinke's recovery and superb junior season gave him a fresh
perspective on sport. At Cretin-Derham High in St. Paul in the
late '80s, he had been a consummate athlete. He was offered a
football scholarship to Florida State, was drafted in the second
round by the Toronto Blue Jays and was even a decent hockey
player. Weinke spent six years with the Blue Jays' organization
before enrolling at Florida State in the spring of 1997. Failure
had never been more than a bump in the road to Weinke, and when
he topped out in baseball as a light-hitting Triple A first
baseman, he went back to football. The neck injury changed his
outlook, and his extended rehab and strong comeback this fall (25
touchdown passes) have left him humbled. "He's looked at this as
his third chance, after baseball and after the injury, and he
knows that three is way more than most people get," says Derek.
"Everything this year has been a bonus."
It was Weinke who directed a crucial fourth-quarter scoring drive
in the 30-23 victory over Florida on Nov. 20 in Gainesville and
who several times in that hostile environment silenced the
Florida State huddle with withering rebukes. Weinke also refused
to let his teammates or the coaching staff know before the Sugar
Bowl if he would return for another year. Five days before the
game offensive coordinator Richt chided Weinke, the team's media
spokesman, about his plans for next year, asking, "How many
third-string quarterbacks in the NFL are going to have this kind
Weinke barked back at Richt, "Who's going to be third string? A
few years ago you were trying to talk me out of coming to Florida
State, and now you're trying to get me to stick around."
On Tuesday, in the midst of a swirling, boisterous celebration on
the floor of the Superdome, Ann, Bobby's wife of 50 years, stood
quietly in the end zone and smiled. She'd heard her husband claim
that the perfect season wasn't important to him, that he didn't
need another national title. She'd also heard him suddenly
mutter, while sitting quietly on the couch in their house in
mid-December, "We should have beaten Tennessee, you know that? We
should have beaten those boys." She knew what was in his soul.
"Don't ever let him tell you he didn't want this championship,"
she said. "He wanted this very badly. He wanted the undefeated
Now her husband sat in a small room near the Florida State
dressing room, wiping his custom-made wraparound glasses. He'd
just finished talking by phone to President Clinton, in his own
inimitable way. "How come you're not working tonight?" he had
asked the president at the start. And then at the very finish,
he'd signed off with, "See you, buddy."
He's told of Ann's confession and throws his head back in
laughter. What was it Bowden had told his players before the
game? "Think about all you did to get here; think about what this
means." It was fine for Bowden, himself, to be honest now. "I
didn't want to put pressure on my team to win for me," he said in
the postgame quiet. "But Ann was telling the truth. The dadgum
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS COVER Dazzling! Peter Warrick's touchdown catch clinches a barn burner of a national title game for Florida State
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER READ MILLER Stiffer than Stith Jerry Johnson (92) and the rest of the Seminoles' defense put a hurting on the Hokies' Shyrone Stith, holding him to 68 yards rushing and knocking him out of the game twice.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Escape artist The elusive Vick couldn't beat Florida State all by himself, but he sure tried, accounting for 322 yards of offense.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Return to sender Warrick scored on a 64-yard reception the second time he handled the ball and on this 59-yard punt return on his third touch.
"We were a little shaken up," said Weinke, "but we said,'Never
die, never die.'"
"Don't let him tell you he didn't want this championship,"
said Ann Bowden. "He wanted the undefeated season, too."