Jan. 2, 2000
By RICHARD ROSENBLATT
AP Football Writer
NEW ORLEANS – The Sugar Bowl will probably come down to this: Florida
State’s “senior citizen” against Virginia Tech’s freshman phenom.
Chris Weinke, the balding 27-year-old quarterback, leads the top-ranked
Seminoles against the upstart Hokies, who had a breakthrough season thanks to
19-year-old quarterback Michael Vick.
A brilliant improviser, the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Vick used a combination of
poise and pinpoint passing on the run to take second-ranked Virginia Tech to
Tuesday night’s national championship game at the Superdome.
“He’s a reaction guy, an instinctive player,” Florida State coach Bobby
Bowden said. “If you were talking about a boxer, he’d be a counter fighter.
You take a swing at him and miss, he’ll nail you.”
Weinke, who spent six years chasing his dream of becoming a major league
baseball player before he returned to Tallahassee, Fla., is almost Vick’s polar
opposite: a 6-5, 240-pound drop-back passer with steadiness, size and smarts.
Hokies coach Frank Beamer calls him simply “that big old guy.”
While the quarterbacks are different in many ways, they’re the same in two
important areas: They led their teams to 11-0 records and they’re playing in
their first national title game.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever said this about another quarterback – whatever
happens out there, he’s not going to panic,” Bowden said of Weinke, whom he
sometimes calls “Sir.” “It’s his emotions and his seniority and his
composure and his patience.”
Bowden said he usually gives the seniors all the responsibility but made an
exception for Weinke, who’s a junior.
“Chris is not a senior yet. He’s simply a senior citizen,” the coach said.
Weinke, who threw for 3,103 yards and 25 touchdowns, was at his absolute
best in a 30-23 win at Florida.
After the Gators went ahead 16-13 late in the third quarter, and with
college football’s most hostile crowd screaming at The Swamp, Weinke led the
‘Noles to a tying field goal and two more TDs. That sealed the victory and gave
his team a third chance in the last four years to win the national title.
“Because of my age, guys look to me for leadership and I accept that
role,” Weinke said. “It’s no secret what this team has gone through this year
off the field. I’ve been a leader in terms of keeping everyone focused. I can’t
pinpoint anything, but I just go about my business.”
In more ways than one. When he wasn’t keeping the team together during Peter
Warrick’s two-game suspension, he chatted with offensive coordinator Mark Richt
about other matters.
“He’s a normal 27-year-old,” Richt said. “We talk financial stuff, and
he’s given me some pretty good leads, too.”
Vick also knows his business. He was smart enough to insist on being
redshirted last season because he knew he wasn’t smart enough to run a college
“I wanted to sit down and learn, get used to being in a college atmosphere,
get my studies down right,” Vick says in an age when high school stars expect
to start the minute they show up on campus. “Being out there, traveling with
the team and watching how (former quarterback) Al Clark responded to certain
situations. … I think I benefited a lot. It was tough, but I knew my place
was to be on the sideline.”
Vick started slowly in ’99, missing the second-half of the season-opener
against James Madison and the next game against Alabama-Birmingham because of a
sprained ankle caused by his flip into the end zone for a touchdown. It’s the
only play he regrets. The next week, he threw three interceptions against
Clemson, but the Hokies defense took charge in a 31-11 win.
He’s been nearly perfect since, completing 90 of 152 passes for 1,840 yards
and 12 touchdowns and running 108 times for 585 yards and eight TDs. He
finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting, matching the best finish for a
freshman, was voted Big East Conference player of the year, and led the nation
in pass efficiency.
“I was telling all the Hokie booster clubs I spoke to in the offseason that
Michael Vick was going to make a lot of big plays this year,” Tech’s offensive
coordinator Rickey Bustle said. “I just hoped that most of them were for us.
“Fortunately that’s the way it worked.”
Vick still can’t believe what has happened.
“There’s no way I thought I would have the success I’ve had, Vick said.
“Going to New York for the Heisman Trophy award, having a chance to come to
the national championship and play … these are things I envisioned playing
for three or four years down the road, when I gained experience.”
So far, he has proved he’s already got a lot of experience. In one key play,
he helped keep the Hokies’ title hopes alive in the 22-20 victory against West
With 75 seconds and no timeouts remaining, Vick completed two passes, then,
when it looked like he was going out of bounds on a scramble, he cut back in
and ran 26 yards to set up Shayne Graham’s 44-yard winning field goal on the
last play of the game.
“It’s the play that saved our season, the play everyone will remember,”
Beamer said. “He’s a very special talent.”
Corey Simon, Florida State’s All-American noseguard, says Vick is so good
it’s “scary if you’re outside looking in.”
“He’s elusive, quick, has a strong arm – he’s got the whole package in one
body,” Simon said. “We need to put pressure on him and hope he makes
mistakes. I hope we can help him make some rookie mistakes.”
Not likely, Vick says.
“Nobody has really gotten to me this season,” he said. “Being calm is
just the type of person I am. I go out there and try to execute the game plan.
It’s kind of tough to get to me.”
Not many opponents have gotten to Weinke, either.
But playing at Florida State wasn’t a sure thing for him at this time last
season. His career nearly ended with a neck injury against Virginia. He had
surgery in November 1998, and then went through two months of debilitating
headaches caused by leaking spinal fluid. He came back to the weight room and
regained the 25 pounds he lost.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever have an opportunity to play again,” Weinke
said. “So when we didn’t win the championship game last year, I used that as a
motivational factor, to get healthy and play for a national championship. And
not just get there, I want to win it. Now I have the opportunity.”
So does Vick, nine years Weinke’s junior.
“I’ve seen him here and there on films and he’s a great athlete,” Weinke
says. “But the way I look at it, we’re both college quarterbacks. On the 4th,
we’re going to find out who can get the job done.”