The night before Florida State's game against Duke, defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews held up a 6-foot piece of rope that turned into a powerful, lasting image of solidarity.
"We were at the crossroads," he said of the game, which followed the Seminoles' loss at North Carolina State. "We had to do something to get our focus back, that togetherness, that ability to pull together and fight through it."
So Andrews told the players to imagine they were hanging from a mountain and the only thing separating them from plummeting to their deaths was the rope he held up.
"If you were in that situation, who would you want at the other end of that rope?" he asked. To his delight he sensed that many of the huddled players trusted their teammates would haul them safely from the brink.
"I really felt comfortable there were at least 20 or 25 guys in there that I would trust with my life holding on to that rope their hands bleeding, inside of their hands raw," senior linebacker Lamont Green said. "I think that brought us together a lot."
Although Andrews said he didn't think his talk had much impact on the team's success the rest of the season, Green disagreed.
"You still hear guys in the locker room saying, "Hold up your end of the rope,' " said Green, who added that if he were ever a coach he would use the story to help his team.
ALL BUSINESS: The gala New Year's Eve block party, which drew about 200,000, was off limits to the Seminoles. They could hit the malls near their hotel. But for the most part, they stayed in. Said DB Mario Edwards: "I'd feel better going home with a national championship than going home thinking I had a great time on New Year's (Eve)."
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Tennessee's newly appointed offensive coordinator, Randy Sanders, said he spent Thursday evening watching film of FSU and calling plays.
"I don't want Monday night in the national championship to be the first time I go through that process," he said. He repeated the exercise Friday, and will today and Sunday.
So, how did he do?
"I called a lot of good ones," he said.
HEISMAN PARADE: The co-grand marshals of today's Fiesta Bowl Parade will be a pair of Heisman Trophy-winning tailbacks, Tony Dorsett, who led Pittsburgh to the national title in 1976 before moving on to NFL stardom, and the 1998 winner, Texas' Ricky Williams. Among the guests will be FSU's Heisman winner, Charlie Ward.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?: For Tennessee's Peerless Price, that question comes up often.
"I had to grow into it," said Price, a seniorand the Vols' leading receiver, who set career highs in receptions (61), yards (920) and touchdowns (10) and was named SEC title game MVP. "People used to joke on me about it, make fun of me, and I really didn't care for it.
"But as I grew into it, and as I got older and got into sport I really liked it. Because it was different. I liked being different. Everybody in the world has something unique about them, something different, and for me, it just happens to be my name."
CHEERING COACH: Many of the Tennessee players watched their former offensive coordinator, David Cutcliffe, win his first game as a head coach Thursday night in the Independence Bowl. Cutcliffe accepted the Mississippi job in December, coached in the SEC Championship Game, then left for his new duties.
Running backs coach Randy Sanders was promoted to offensive coordinator, but Price said there won't be much difference _ at least for the Fiesta Bowl.
"You can't change much in this ballgame," Price said. "We've been doing the same thing for 12 games. It will be similar. If there is a difference, it will come next year."
Sanders has been on the new job just a few weeks, but he's answering questions like a polished coach. Asked about the FSU defense's tendencies, Sanders quipped: "They tend to stop people fast."
MORE THAN FOOTBALL: FSU students, alumni and even president Sandy D'Alemberte will do volunteer work in hospitals, soup kitchens and Boys and Girls Clubs today and Sunday.
UN-BEE-LIEVABLE: FSU had just finished practice when a swarm of bees sent players scampering for the buses. No injuries were reported.
_ BOB HARIG, BRIAN LANDMAN