Florida State's old guys were the last Seminoles to leave. They milled about the ramshackle visitors locker room at North Carolina's Kenan Stadium late last Saturday night after their 20-3 victory over the previously unbeaten Tar Heels. In front of a battered plywood dressing cubicle, fifth-year senior middle linebacker Daryl Bush dismantled and packed the cumbersome brace that protects his right knee. Then he shrugged, as if the game that gave Florida State a piece of No. 1—the Seminoles are on top in the coaches' poll—had been routine. "I'm not all beat up, I'm not even tired, the way you'd be after a real physical game," Bush said. "It really wasn't even as tough as...."
"Our practices," said Sam Cowart, another fifth-year senior linebacker, sitting to Bush's left. This is the way it goes for Florida State's elders. The Seminoles' 12 senior starters have been together so long that they finish one another's sentences. They've been in the spotlight so often that an opponent's Game of the Year seems to them like the Game of the Week. As midnight approached in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels' Armageddon dissolved into the Seminoles' Night at the Improv.
"How many times did [ Florida State quarterback Thad] Busby get sacked?" yelled Seminoles senior defensive end Andre Wadsworth. "None? You're telling me 'none'? That's ridiculous." In the shower behind Wadsworth, Busby cut loose with an indecipherable celebratory whoop. Shevin Smith, a fifth-year senior safety, walked through the plumes of steam wearing a North Carolina game jersey.
There's no question that Florida State is a dynasty. The Seminoles have lost only 14 of their last 132 games. They've finished the last 10 seasons ranked no lower than No. 4. They won a national championship in 1993 and played for another in last season's Sugar Bowl. They have bridged the rises and falls of Notre Dame and Miami. But a dynasty is more than that. It's age handing off to youth, an assembly-line operation that never succumbs to the cycles of recruiting classes. Last Saturday night the 9-0 Seminoles made a training video of this process, building a safe lead with seniors and entrusting it to a freshman.
Florida State's defense set the tone for the destruction of North Carolina, holding the Tar Heels to nine yards of offense in the first half while taking a 17-0 lead that might as well have been 117-0. (Carolina would gain only 73 yards net for the game—and be held to minus 28 on the ground.) At the core of this domination were Wadsworth and fellow defensive end Greg Spires, yet another fifth-year senior, who combined for seven of the nine sacks of quarterbacks Oscar Davenport and Chris Keldorf. That was reminiscent of last year, when ends Reinard Wilson and Peter Boulware laid waste to opposing quarterbacks while Wadsworth started inside and Spires came off the bench.
Wadsworth's contribution against North Carolina was no surprise. His speed off the corner has made him a certain first-round NFL draft pick. But for Spires, last Saturday's four sacks, including the third-quarter tackle that resulted in Davenport's suffering a season-ending ankle injury, were a coming-out party. For three years Spires had energized his teammates with his infectious enthusiasm off the bench, but this year his career seemed on the verge of disintegrating when he broke his left fibula in preseason camp and missed Florida State's first five games.
Spires, 6'2" and 270 pounds, was finally at full strength for the Seminoles' 48-35 win over North Carolina State on Nov. 1, and he was uncontrollable against North Carolina. "He had the Shake going," said Wadsworth. That would be Spires's pet move, in which he rises from his stance and throws a series of fakes on his blocker that call to mind either Allen Iverson or a plate of Jell-O. "I'm like a wide receiver coming off the ball," said Spires.
Busby, meanwhile, has started 20 of the Seminoles' last 21 games, but only this year did the team rely on his passing to win, and only against North Carolina did he face a defense that could stay with his wideouts. Given this opportunity to hang himself, Busby threw first-half touchdown passes to seniors Melvin Pearsall and E.G. Green and gave up only one interception, a harmless one. A year ago Busby was the soft spot in an offense that lived off tailback Warrick Dunn and a veteran line. Now he is a couple of weeks shy of his 23rd birthday. He has moved out of the packed house he shared with five other students and into an apartment with his younger brother, Cody. He's engaged to marry Katie Corey, a Florida State junior. "I think you could say I'm a lot more mature now," he says.
To preserve the Seminoles' lead against the Heels, however, Busby spent the last two quarters handing off to one of Florida State's youngest players, 18-year-old freshman Travis Minor, who finished with 128 yards on 30 carries. Early in the season, while Minor recovered from an ankle injury, the Seminoles couldn't use the running game to sit on a lead. "We wanted to play as vanilla as we could in that second half," said coach Bobby Bowden. " North Carolina's defense is just too good to fool around. I didn't want to try to protect a lead throwing the ball."
The emergence of Minor has made that type of risk unnecessary. He came to Florida State from Catholic High in Baton Rouge, where Dunn had been a star four years earlier. When Travis was six, he moved from New Orleans to Pittsburg, Calif., where his father, Les Minor, a chemical company employee, had been transferred. After his parents divorced when he was 12, Travis moved to rural Morganza, La. (pop. 579), with his brother and father. Finally father and sons moved to Baton Rouge, because Les sought a strong high school athletic program for his boys. Travis became not only a star football player—Les has so many tapes as evidence that fellow parents nicknamed him Channel 9—but also an accomplished sprinter. As a junior in high school he ran 100 meters in 10.45 seconds.