It was your quintessential Miami-Florida State heavyweight bout. From each school, a ton of football talent. From the Orange Bowl stands, floods of emotion and eardrum-splintering noise. From the athletes, vulgar volumes of mouth-to-mouth intimidation. From the 'Noles, a threat to finally succeed in The War in the Sunshine. From the 'Canes, heroic 11th-hour plays to pull it out. From FSU coach Bobby Bowden, disbelief that his Miami curse never subsides.
Whatever it takes . . .
"I was one stride short of maybe changing history," said FSU receiver Shannon Baker, his post-game shower having failed to wash away the Seminole senior's pain. "Why does it keep happening to us like this? Losing to Miami in the fourth quarter is beyond getting old. I am sick of it."
Saturday was Baker's last chance.
As the fourth-quarter clock ticked down to 0:08, with FSU offensively moving through the 'Canes and the frantic bedlam, a pass by quarterback Charlie Ward would whistle a few deadly inches wide of Baker's outstretched fingertips at the 'Canes 6.
"Miami's defense did a great job of jamming me, and delaying my route," said the 5-foot-9 Baker. "I had to jitterbug past two blockers. I was a step slow getting started upfield, and a step short of the pass."
If No. 1 from FSU had managed "one more step," would Baker have wiggled for a touchdown to upset the 'Canes? Or if he'd made the reception and been downed at the 6-yard line, would the 'Noles have scored six on the next play, to "change history" with 0:00 remaining?
Nobody will ever know.
Shannon Baker is never again going to wear his No. 1 FSU jersey against Miami, and the 63-year-old Bowden _ who'll get more chances _ has to be wondering if his renowned Tallahassee program will ever end a season wearing the glory of being ranked No. 1 in national polls.
What usually happens happened.
Its final realistic chance to win having died on the Ward-Baker near miss, Bowden understandably tried to salvage a 19-all draw. A 39-yard field goal by Dan Mowrey would do it. But, of course, it didn't.
Mowrey muffed. FSU wept again.
"It was a good snap, and a perfect hold by (backup quarterback Dan) Kanell," said Tallahassee native Mowrey. "Everything was perfect but me. The moment I kicked the football I knew it was wide right."
Florida State can lick the college football world, except for Hurricanes. Last season's placekicker/goat, Gerry Thomas, was wide right on a 34-yard field-goal attempt that would've beaten the 'Canes 19-17 at the final gun but didn't.
When it counted, Miami had it.
'Canes quarterback Gino Torretta was moderately rotten for three quarters, but when his team needed it most there was a 33-yard touchdown bazooka to Lamar Thomas to fracture FSU hearts. There's got to be something to the theory that Miami players never think they'll lose to the 'Noles, and that FSU kids can't keep from thinking how they'll manage to lose.
If it's not the 'Canes beating FSU, it's the 'Noles beating themselves. Missing decisive field goals, like Mowrey's this season and Thomas' a year ago. Making boneheaded plays when it hurts most, like kick returner Corey Sawyer losing his bearings and fielding a Miami punt at the goal line, only to be bulled under by 'Canes for a fourth-period safety.
Whatever it takes Seven times in eight, Miami has found ways to win, and FSU has found ways to lose. Saturday was Bowden's 300th game as a head coach, through 27 seasons at Samford (Ala.), West Virginia and FSU. There have been so many Bobby B. pluses, but his minuses against the 'Canes will eternally nag.
Bowden has frequently joked about how his epitaph might read. It comes up about this time every year. "On my tombstone," said the glib Florida State coach, "it'll just say, "But he played Miami.'
Say it again, Sem!
FSU players kept trying to explain, amid the sweaty uniforms and discarded jocks and busted Seminole dreams of an Orange Bowl locker room. More disgust than tears. More bewilderment than anger. "Same old s---," said extraordinary linebacker Marvin Jones."
Ward, FSU's football-basketball double, had a somewhat aching Saturday with two interceptions and seven sacks. But then the fascinating junior completed a memorable fourth-down-and-12 pass to Kez McCorvey during the last-chance 'Noles drive. It would only lead, of course, to his near-miss throw to Baker, and the bad-miss field-goal attempt by Mowrey.
"Shannon was slightly open down near the goal," Ward said, "but good things just won't happen for us against Miami." Asked about the Orange Bowl noise, and the heat of such a monumental and nationally televised moment, the classy Georgian said, "It didn't matter. I like pressure. I just didn't like how the game turned out."
FSU almost never does.