From pain to frustration
Weinke disappointed he can't play in Fiesta Bowl
Posted: Saturday January 02, 1999 06:20 PM
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- The headaches linger. Seven weeks after spinal surgery, just standing up makes him dizzy. But all that doesn't prevent Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke from harboring a fantasy.
"Maybe I'll sneak on some pads and run out there," he said with a half-hearted laugh, knowing his only role in Monday night's Fiesta Bowl will be as a mentor for his replacement, Marcus Outzen.
Six years of minor-league baseball and a lifetime of athletic competition could not inoculate Weinke from the pain he's enduring -- not from the hits that nearly paralyzed him, but from the frustration of being merely a spectator at the biggest game of his career.
"Not being able to play Monday night is probably the toughest thing I've ever had to deal with," he said. "Each and every day something comes up where I wish I could be a part of this."
Weinke, a 26-year-old sophomore who came back to college after spending six years as a first baseman in the Toronto Blue Jays' organization, is lucky even to be able to stand on the sideline for the national championship game against Tennessee.
He endured two crushing hits in a Nov. 7 game against Virginia that caused a herniated disk and a thumbnail-sized bone chip pressing on a nerve. Five days after the game, he had surgery to remove the disk and fuse two vertebrae.
The operation went well, but the bone chip caused a leak of spinal fluid that caused massive headaches for weeks. He lost 22 pounds. Sleeping more than three hours at a time was impossible because of the pain.
Weinke could barely walk and had just enough energy to click the remote control while watching UCLA and Kansas State get upset in late November, elevating Florida State to No. 2 in the nation and giving the Seminoles a chance to face undefeated and top-ranked Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl.
By the time he arrived with his teammates in Tempe, most of the pain in his head had subsided. The reality of what he was about to miss started sinking in, though.
"When we got off the plane, I think it really set in that we're playing for the national championship and I can't be part of it," he said. "It's been tough all week."
It hardly has been the storybook ending that Weinke seemed to be leading up to.
One of the top prep athletes in the country in St. Paul, Minn., the 6-foot-5 Weinke signed with the Seminoles in 1989 but opted for the Blue Jays' $375,000 signing bonus after spending only four days in fall football drills in Tallahassee.
He invested much of his bonus in real estate, and is financially secure. He played 750 minor-league games and even earned a two-week stint in the majors.
But he started missing football. While playing baseball in Tennessee, he would go to the empty football stadium in Knoxville and walk on the field. Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer visited and kidded about him becoming a Volunteers quarterback.
Playing in Tennessee "put that football blood back into me," he said. "But they couldn't get me -- I was still a Florida State fan."
When Weinke decided to try football again, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden had his old scholarship waiting. And when a couple of other quarterbacks got injured, Weinke became a starter.
He threw six interceptions in his second start, a 24-7 loss at North Carolina State Sept. 12 that is the Seminoles' only defeat this season, but rebounded to go the next 7 1/2 games without an interception.
When he was hurt, Weinke had thrown a school-record 218 passes without being picked off. During that span, he passed for 2,037 yards and 17 touchdowns.
"I feel like I played a major role in the reason we're here playing for the national championship," he said. "And I feel like I have a role to play this week and be in Marcus' shadow."
Outzen, who will be making his third collegiate start, said it will be good having Weinke on the sideline Monday night.
"It helps me out, it's another quarterback with the Florida State playbook in his head," said the sophomore, who already plans on being Weinke's backup next season. "Everything he can see that I'm not seeing helps me."
Weinke, too, already is thinking ahead to next season.
"Life is a challenge," he said. "This is a chance for me to get back to 100 percent and try to get back to this game next year. Knowing I'm not able to play in a game of this magnitude, I think what it's going to do is make me hungrier for next year."
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