Weinke has seized control of a good team and made it his own. When Duke attacked him with blitzes that the Blue Devils hadn't shown on tape, he changed both the routes his receivers were running and all of Florida State's audible hand signals right there on the field. When Clemson had the Seminoles backed up on their own two-yard line in the first quarter, Weinke called a play-action bomb to Minnis and barked to his blockers in the huddle, "Give me some time, and this is a touchdown." They did, and it was.
The age difference between Weinke and some of his teammates is wider than ever. His second-leading receiver, sophomore Anquan Boldin, was in fourth grade when Weinke arrived in Tallahassee in 1990. Weinke lives five miles from campus with three housemates-ages 25 to 27—in a rented, three-bedroom home in a family neighborhood. "I live like a pro athlete," he says. "I go home after work."
Yet around the Seminoles, Weinke has deftly bridged the generation gap, playing young to ease tension and old to exert leadership. When someone jokes about his age, he laughs along with everyone else. "He's so confident that you have to listen to him," says Minnis, "but he can hang out with the team, too."
In the fall of 1990, Weinke was the prized freshman recruit in what coach Bobby Bowden still calls "the most talented group of quarterbacks we've ever had here." The group included senior Casey Weldon, junior Brad Johnson and fellow freshman Ward, who was behind Weinke in early workouts. Weinke stayed only five days before signing a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays that included a $375,000 bonus. In 1994, he invested the money as a limited partner in the ownership of 49 rental apartments in his native Minneapolis. His investment in that venture, he says, has doubled itself.
The arc of his baseball career was less impressive, although not without memories. Weinke was playing first base for the Double A Knoxville Smokies in the summer of 1994, when Michael Jordan of the Birmingham Bulls got his first pro hit, a single bounced up the middle. It's one of Weinke's fondest memories that, before each of the eight games that Knoxville played against the Bulls that summer, MJ would mix with the Smokies' players around the batting cage. Jordan used to call Weinke Wink-Dog. A year later, when Weinke was still playing in Knoxville, Peyton Manning, who at the time was a Tennessee sophomore, visited him before a baseball game. A mutual friend had told Manning of Weinke's football background, and during their talk he assured Weinke that, yes, college football was everything it was reputed to be. It was a conversation that Weinke would recall when his career stalled at Triple A Syracuse.
After the 1996 season, the Blue Jays asked Weinke, a light hitter with a decent glove, to move to catcher, which would have forced him to drop back to Class A. "Starting over," Weinke says. It was a frightening thought for a 24-year-old, six-year veteran. "I had been looking around the clubhouse for a couple of years," he says. "I was playing with 30-to 35-year-old guys who had done nothing but play minor league baseball. They'd never gone to college and had no hope of playing in the major leagues. I didn't want that to be me."
In a story that has become part of the Weinke legend, Bowden had told Weinke when he left in 1990 that he could have his scholarship anytime he wanted it. "I didn't really expect him to come back," says Bowden. Yet in late fall of '96, Weinke decided that he wanted the scholarship. Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt wasn't thrilled. "I was about to get Drew Henson [men a junior in high school] to commit to us," says Richt. "I tried to talk Chris out of it, not just because I didn't think he could pull it off but also because I didn't want him to mess up our chances of getting Henson." Weinke signed, and Henson ended up at Michigan.
As a freshman Weinke was a mess. "He was out of shape, he had no touch on the ball, his footwork was horrible," says Richt. "I told him, 'You might never play here, you know?' "
In the spring of 1998, Weinke was listed as second on the depth chart, behind Dan Kendra, but when Kendra blew out his right knee in spring practice, Weinke was elevated to starter. He threw for 2,487 yards and 19 touchdowns in 10 games and overcame a six-interception debacle at North Carolina State before suffering his neck injury in a Nov. 7 win over Virginia. Weinke was blind-sided and incurred ligament damage, a ruptured disk and, most painfully, a bone chip that lodged near a nerve in his neck.
He underwent surgery in December to have the bone chip removed and the ligament and disk repaired. His recovery took more than six months, including a five-day stay in the hospital after the operation. The recuperation was worse than Weinke has ever before described publicly. For several days after returning to his Tallahassee house, he couldn't eat, drink or leave his bed. His housemates left him alone, assuming he needed quiet and privacy. A doctor acquaintance visited him four days after he had returned home, found him dehydrated and delirious, and had him moved back to a hospital. "She told me, another day like that and I could have been in serious trouble," Weinke says.