Wily old Bobby Bowden knew the answer before he posed the question. "Son," he asked, fixing his basset hound eyes on the young man seated across from him, "have you ever failed in an athletic endeavor, ever come in second?"
Scott Bentley said no, as Bowden knew he would. "Then this will be good for you," said the Florida State football coach. Thus did Bentley learn, on Oct. 24, that he was benched.
Bowden's bombshell completed a kind of misery trifecta for Bentley, theretofore the Seminoles' No. 1 placekicker. In his 15 months in Tallahassee, Bentley already had been perceived to be a disappointment on the field and had been accused of caddish behavior off it.
Last May, less than five months after he nailed the field goal that beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and won the 1993 national championship for Florida State, Bentley pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of "prohibited interception and disclosure of oral communication." The background: Florida is one of only a few states in which it is illegal to tape someone without his or her consent. Bentley, who says he was ignorant of that law, taped a sexual encounter with a 21-year-old Florida A&M prenursing student in February. Later he played the tape back for three of his friends—not as a piggish, guess-who-just-got-lucky stunt, Bentley says, but so he would have witnesses against possible false allegations of date rape. The last of the romantics Bentley is not.
Nor is he the kicker he was cracked up to be coming out of high school in Aurora, Colo. He couldn't be. The publicity attending his signing with the Seminoles tended toward hyperbole, with SI leading the way. We put Bentley on the cover of our 1993 college football preview issue and titled the story on him "A Sure Three." A more accurate headline might have been "A Possible Three" or "An Iffy One." As a freshman Bentley converted a so-so 13 of 20 field goal tries and was a duck hook waiting to happen on points after touchdowns. He missed six of his first 23 extra point attempts before settling down and converting 39 of his last 41.
Compared with the high adventure of that first season, Bentley had been a model of consistency on PATs as a sophomore, flubbing just two of 27 attempts before Bowden gave him the hook halfway through the season. But he missed three of seven field goal tries, including his last two in a row. In all, aside from making the kick he was imported to make—that title-clinching chip shot (his fourth field goal of the Orange Bowl, incidentally)—Bentley hasn't had a storybook college career.
Has his benching left the nation's best-known backup kicker angry with his coach? Has it filled his head with mutinous thoughts—thoughts of transferring?
"Never seriously considered it," says Bentley. While he does think his benching was precipitate, he blames himself for it. "Bottom line," he says, "I was missing kicks that I should make."
His current struggles were foretold two winters ago by his father, Bob, a 1967 graduate of Notre Dame. When Scott told Bob that, rather than kick under the Golden Dome, he longed to win a national championship for the Seminoles, Bob asked, "Why would you want to go to the Bermuda Triangle of kickers?"
Bob had a point. Bowden's kickers tend to plunge from the radar screen. In the previous two seasons Bentley's predecessors, Gerry Thomas and Dan Mowrey, had missed—wide to the right, as perhaps you've heard—field goal attempts against Miami that might have won Florida State the national championship.