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Before Louisville's mid-October road trip for a Thursday game at Miami, where the team suffered its only loss this season, Johnson told his marketing professor that he would be absent on Friday. But there was a test that day, so she insisted that a proctor accompany Johnson to Miami. "I'm sitting in my hotel room taking a test," he says, "while I'm thinking about how I'm going to tackle Frank Gore."
What really rankles Johnson is that while Louisville does battle on weeknights, inferior teams are accorded the privilege of appearing on Saturday telecasts. " Florida ain't ranked in the Top 25, and they're on TV every Saturday," he gripes. "I tell people all the time: College football is not how it used to be. It used to have six powerhouse teams in the power conferences. Now you've got Utah and Boise State and Louisville in the mix." He ticks off teams with two or more losses-- Florida State, Miami, Alabama--and recalls the worst game he's seen this season. "How about Penn State and Iowa a few weeks ago? What was the final score, 6-4? Are you serious? Come on, man. That's not even football. Meanwhile teams like us are getting the shaft. But we're used to it. That's what makes us tough."
WITH BOBBY, ANY DAY IS GAME DAY
Just because we're taking a brief detour into a better neighborhood--for tonight's game we visit the landed gentry on Tobacco Road, in Raleigh--is no reason to expect opulence. Wolfpack Towers, the part of Carter-Finley Stadium housing the press box, is under construction. Journalists must sign a waiver to work there. We ascend to press row in a construction-site elevator called a hoist. I feel like I should be wearing a hard hat, I tell Annabelle Vaughn, N.C. State's sports information director.
"We actually do have to wear them when we come up here during the day," she tells me. "It's tough on the hair."
The game is coyote-ugly. In the first half Florida State surrenders an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown, commits a penalty to nullify a 70-yard punt return of its own and gains 38 yards on 30 offensive snaps. N.C. State leads 10-0 at halftime, and Chris Gilmore has to sit in the stands and take grief from his buddies. A Seminoles fan from Lake City, Fla., Gilmore is delighted his team is playing on Thursday night. If the game were on Saturday, he'd miss it. He and the other three guys who made the 50-mile drive together from Fort Bragg, N.C., are specialists in the Army. They ship out on Saturday for Iraq.
It's Gilmore's second deployment to that country, and you get a sense of how he feels about Iraq from the first nine letters of his e-mail address: Ihatesand. He and his buddies have been told they'll be over there for 16 months this time, so he's looking for any reason to live it up tonight. Finally, early in the third quarter, the Seminoles give him one, driving 45 yards for a touchdown. "Looks like they finally woke up," he says. "I've been to seven of their games, and I've never seen 'em lose."
In fact, Florida State scores 17 third-quarter points and holds on to win 17-10, handing Bowden his 350th career victory. "Now this, tonight, was really just an old defensive battle," the coach declares afterward. He is chalking up the low score to great defense. Dreadful offense had just as much to do with it, but to point that out would be to draw attention to the job being done by his son, offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, with whom some members of Seminole Nation have lately been displeased. So why go there?
Instead, we ask Bowden p�re how he and his Seminoles feel about having to play on a Thursday night. "We still don't like it, although it's nice to have that exposure," he says. "Down through the years, being on television has meant so much to our program."