Weinke's maturity belies lack of big-game experience
Posted: Sunday January 02, 2000 09:19 PM
The Seminoles will look to Chris Weinke to provide the leadership for a victory on Tuesday. AP
By Stewart Mandel, CNN/SI
NEW ORLEANS -- Chris Weinke makes his way across the Superdome turf toward the pack of waiting cameras and microphones with the same kind of nonchalant stroll he would use to get the morning paper. Another day, another practice, another endless round of questions. All part of the job of being a quarterback in the national championship game.
As he explains for the umpteenth time this week how the Virginia Tech defensive line is the best he's seen, one is struck not only by his distinct 27-year-old facial features but by what is clearly a veteran demeanor. It's easy to forget that Tuesday's Sugar Bowl will be Weinke's first bowl game, much less a national championship contest.
"Weinke, he hasn't played for more than two years, but sometimes it seems like he's been out there for five," receiver Ron Dugans said. "To us, it's like he's a redshirt senior because he has it all up here," Dugans said, pointing to his head.
It's hard to believe it was only last season that this full-fledged grown-up/baseball retiree took over the reigns as Bobby Bowden's newest starting quarterback, eight years later than what would have been his freshman year. After all, he's already been through a full career's worth of ups (rallying to beat Florida in The Swamp, throwing 218 straight pass attempts without an interception) and downs (losing to N.C. State in his second start, missing last year's Fiesta Bowl with a severe neck injury). He is in sharp contrast of 19-year old counterpart Michael Vick, who for all his athletic wonders is known mainly for one scramble against West Virginia.
"Most kids coming to college have been stars. The first time they fail according to the fans or media, they tend not to respond very well," FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt said. "Chris has been through bad times in not making the major leagues. He knows how to handle things better than some."
The Seminoles are counting on that pro-caliber poise to guide them through what will essentially be a Super Bowl-like game on Tuesday. Already this week, he has taken on the role of downplaying the team members who missed curfew, reiterating Sunday, "When you have 120 kids on the team, you're going to have distractions." When a reporter tried to press him about his storied investment success, he replied matter-of-factly, "I've got the biggest game of my life in two days and you want to talk about the stock market?"
"I don't anticipate having a whole lot of nerves," Weinke said later about the aforementioned biggest-game-of-life. "It's a 'been there, done that' kind of thing. Maybe if I was 18, 19, there'd be a little more nerves. Yes, I understand it will be the biggest game of my career, supposedly 18 million people will be watching. But once you get out on the field, it's just like any other football game."
FSU teammates and coaches universally agree that Weinke had a coming-of-age -- football-speaking -- in the Nov. 20 win over Florida. Playing in the hostile Swamp for the first time, he led the 'Noles to 17 consecutive points after throwing a third-quarter interception that the Gators returned for a touchdown to take the lead.
"In the huddle, you can't exactly tell he's older just by looking at him," redshirt freshman tackle Brett Williams said. "But the comments he makes, like in the Florida game, when we started to break down and maybe we're arguing with each other a little bit, he was just like, 'OK, let's buckle down and win this.' He never blames anybody for anything."
That Weinke would be leading into a championship game a team full of players who, like Williams, are eight years his junior wouldn't seem that unusual in the NFL or NBA, but it is fairly unheard of in the college ranks. When the rest of the team heads to fraternity parties and late-night dinners back in Tallahassee, their quarterback is least likely to be present, yet virtually all his offensive teammates claim no shortage of camaraderie.
"Chris is an older guy, and he shows it when he needs to, but I don't think it's a case of him adjusting to a group of younger guys, it's just Chris being himself," Dugans said. "I talk to Chris on the field, off the field, I've even hung out with him. I talk to Chris just like I talk to Pete [Warrick]."
Perhaps that's because despite the age difference, Weinke faces the same situation as many of his teammates -- dealing with the immediate future. Though dubbed an "honorary senior" by the Seminoles since last year, Weinke is technically only a junior who, like Roland Seymour, Jamal Reynolds and others on FSU's star-studded roster, must decide whether to leave for the NFL next spring or return for another year. Admittedly, Weinke's circumstances are a tad different.
"I've got a number of people I will talk to after this game," he said. "I know there have been a lot of guys who have started [in the NFL] at a later age and gone on to have success."
In other words, as if getting Bowden his championship isn't enough, Tuesday's game will serve as a personal tryout for Weinke. Pressure? Weinke shrugs it off.
"We've been through a lot of adversity already," Weinke said. "This is just the icing on the cake."
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