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FSU forces Duke into taking long, hard look

Most of the time, the look comes late, seeping in like the horror. This time, Clifton Abraham saw it early.

It was still the first period, Abraham said, when he noticed the wide-eyed look of desolation on the face of a Duke wide receiver. It was the look that comes with the dawn of self-realization, and it is not a pretty thing to see.

It was then, and there, that the most reprehensible of all possible thoughts occurred to Duke.

Oh, my lord, the look said.

We're still Duke.

Most of the time, this is the way it works in the real world. The cuddly underdogs of destiny show up to play the big boys, and what follows is hardly out of the script from Rocky.

Most of the time, the Bad News Bears are less news than they are bad. Most of the time, Goliath cleans David from between his toes. Most of the time, Cinderella doesn't pick up the prince.

This was the lesson to be learned Saturday, when the team that is still Duke lost to a team that seems once again to be Florida State, 59-20.

It was a game that not only restored some normalcy to a conference on the verge of going haywire, but one that spoiled any illusion Duke might have had of being one of the big boys.

Most years, of course, there is little danger of that happening. This time last year, Duke was 1-6 and darned grateful for the 1.

This year, however, the Blue Devils showed up in Tallahassee 7-0, looking to all the world like a team adopted by heaven itself. They had beaten nobodies, of course, and some of the nobodies had come close. But this was Duke, for goodness' sake, so why quibble? Charmed is charmed.

So what we were left with was this lovable little team that made you want to run out and tousle the players' hair. Unless you are FSU, of course, which had been playing almost as badly out of character as Duke. What FSU wanted to do was go out and work on that confusing extra-point attack.

"You know what happened to Cinderella today?" said Abraham, an FSU cornerback. "The clock struck 12, that's what happened. You could see the frustration in their face from the first quarter on. It was like "Maybe we aren't as good as we thought we were.' "

There was one brief moment that Duke seemed to be something magical, after all. That was early in the second period, when FSU seemed on its way to a 21-0 lead. But one fumble here, then another fumble there, and it was 14-6 instead. A dreamer's score.

That was when FSU scored on drives of 47 seconds, 43 seconds and 22 seconds, and the wake-up call had arrived.

Against FSU, Duke looked so beatable that you came away thinking that, despite the loss, Fred Goldsmith should be coach of the year for coaxing seven wins from this group. Duke seemed small, slow and not particularly gifted _ you know, like Duke.

"For what they have," linebacker Todd Rebol said, in perhaps the most left-handed compliment ever given, "they're a great team."

What they don't have, however, is speed. According to lore, of course, most of these mythical mismatches are a matter of small versus large. There was some of that Saturday, too. But this was less Jack versus Giant than it was Tortoise versus Hare.

FSU simply ran away from Duke, and the only thing the Devils caught all afternoon were memories of the way it used to be.

"You would think that a 7-0 team would have given us a little more competition," Abraham said. "They need to give their schedulemaker a raise. He ought to get a game ball."

Abraham, you see, was a bit miffed in the locker room. He kept talking about a quotation from Wake Forest coach Jim Caldwell who said _ before his team played Duke _ that FSU might have trouble keeping up with the Devils.

"That's insulting to me," Abraham said. "We're still FSU."

Saturday, for the first time in a while, the Seminoles looked it. No one was talking about benching Danny Kanell, who passed for 332 yards in the first half. Kez McCorvey caught 207 yards worth of passes. Heck, even the FSU kicking team played well.

As for Duke? Well, if heaven did not want the Blue Devils to lose, it would not have made them able to understand Chaucer.

Most of the time, this will happen. Everyone in rags doesn't end up with riches. True love doesn't always find a way. The meek do not always inherit the Earth.

At Duke, however, the Peach Bowl is possible.

That is cuddly enough.