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He may repeat the question on Oct. 9—if the Florida State-Miami game comes down to a final kick.
From the moribund loser he took over in 1976, Bowden has built one of the nation's top two or three programs. He has done it with sound defenses, terrific kick-return teams, wide-open offenses and the odd "rooskie," which is Bowdenese for trick play. Last season, for the sixth straight year, the Seminoles won 10 or more games and finished among the top four teams in the country. Bowden's 227 victories make him the second-winningest active coach in Division I-A, behind Penn State's Joe Paterno. Even more remarkable, his teams are undefeated in 11 consecutive bowl games, including a 27-14 humbling of Nebraska last New Year's Day in the Orange Bowl. But all of these feats can be eclipsed by two words: wide right.
As Florida State's Dan Mowrey prepared to attempt a 38-yard field goal that would have tied Miami last October, Hurricane cornerback Ryan McNeil led his teammates in a chant. "Gerry Thomas! Gerry Thomas!" they shouted, invoking the name of the player whom Mowrey would soon join in the annals of Seminole kicking ignominy. Thomas's missed field goal against Miami had cost Florida State a shot at the 1991 national championship. After Mowrey, like Thomas before him, had pushed his kick wide to the right, McNeil explained the chant. "We were reminiscing with Dan," he said.
It was one of the last original nuggets extracted from an overworked vein. However, until Florida State can beat Miami—or lose to the Hurricanes without missing a decisive kick in you-know-which direction—"wide right" jokes will be retold ad nauseam. Pictures of distorted goalposts, the right upright always bent outward, will be faxed to the Seminole football office. Student entrepreneurs in Coral Gables will make T-shirts bearing the legend WIDE RIGHT, THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING.
These witticisms keep the focus on Florida State's failures even as its program enjoys a golden age. Throw out the wide rights, and the Seminoles are in the hunt for their third national championship in a row. Since 1987 they are 64-9. Five of those losses were to the Hurricanes, most of whom waste no graciousness on their upstate brethren. "To me," said Miami defensive tackle Mark Caesar after last year's game, "Florida State is the best three-quarter team in the country."
"We been good, they been better," says Bowden. Then he adds, "These things have a way of evening themselves out."
If that evening out doesn't occur this season, it may never. Only two starters, both linemen, are gone from a Florida State offense that averaged 61 points in its last three regular-season games. (A third starter, tailback Tiger McMillon, hurt his knee in practice Aug. 11 and is expected to be out much of the season.) And after finishing the '92 season playing the best football in the country, the Seminoles reeled in a recruiting class judged by a consensus of experts to be the nation's best.
With this latest bumper crop, Florida State has attracted a Top 3 class for a third straight year. This year's harvest began with a commitment from Thad Busby of Pace, Fla., widely considered the No. 2 high school quarterback in the country (behind Notre Dame-bound Ron Powlus). That, according to Florida State recruiting coordinator Ronnie Cottrell, "kinda started an avalanche." Next aboard was Byron Capers of Marietta, Ga., one of the country's top defensive backs. He was followed by nine high school All-Americas, including Rhodney Williams of Palatka, Fla., SuperPrep magazine's No. 2 tight end; Andre Cooper of Jacksonville, the magazine's third-ranked wide receiver; Clarence (Pooh Bear) Williams of Crescent City, Fla., SuperPrep's top fullback; and Darryl Bush, the magazine's No. 2 linebacker. "All day I was thinking, There's no way we can get all these guys," recalls Cottrell. "They've got to scatter."
They didn't, to the consternation of Florida coach Steve Spurrier, who griped, "I don't know what they're telling those kids up in Tallahassee. I can't believe those kids signed when you look at the list of All-Americas [the Seminoles] already have!" The Seminoles also raided South Carolina, picking off four of that state's leading players and sending a message to their ACC rivals at Clemson: Not only will we kick your butts on the field, but we'll out-recruit you too.
Why the rush for players to sign with a school renowned for its also-ran status? The feeling among this batch of prospects seems to be that the Seminoles' luck has to turn soon. Says Cottrell, "A lot of the guys told me they'd rather help us win our first championship than help Miami win its fifth."