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RETURN OF THE GAMBLER

With his Florida State Seminoles clinging to a 13-12 fourth-quarter lead against Florida , coach Bobby Bowden knew one more big play probably would seal the win.

But how to get it?

He realized it was unfair, even unrealistic, to ask sophomore quarterback Marcus Outzen, who was pressed into the starting role when Chris Weinke sustained a neck injury just two weeks earlier, to deliver it.

Glancing over his shoulder he saw tailback Travis Minor on the sidelines, catching his breath after a 48-yard touchdown run was nullified by a holding call. So, he wasn't an option.

What to do?

Bowden knew, and though he has relinquished much of the play-calling responsibilities to offensive coordinator Mark Richt in recent years, he interjected as only he can.

"Run that thing with Pete," he said excitedly.

Although he didn't use the exact terminology for the trick play involving receiver Peter Warrick, L-48-Z reverse pass, Richt understood.

"I might have called the play and got the right personnel in the game, but Coach Bowden called it," Richt said. "He knew exactly what play he wanted."

Warrick, guilty of the penalty a moment earlier, took a reverse from backup tailback Jeff Chaney and sped right, drawing the Gators' defense. He then stopped and lofted a pass to an open Ron Dugans for a 46-yard game-breaking score.

That play propelled the Seminoles to a crucial win and, thanks to losses by UCLA and Kansas State on Dec. 5, put them in position to meet undefeated Tennessee for the national championship in tonight's Fiesta Bowl.

It also marked, at least to some extent, the return of "The Riverboat Gambler."

Earlier in his illustrious career, Bowden earned that moniker for his daring, innovative "Barnyard Plays," as he calls his drawn-in-the-dirt trick plays such as the fake punt _ the "Puntrooskie" _ that he used to beat Clemson a decade ago.

But in recent years, despite incessant pleas and vociferous complaints from FSU fans, he has grown more conservative.

"Is "The Riverboat Gambler' back? Where's he been?" Bowden said with a gentle laugh. "Is he back? I doubt it. But I'm going to do what I'm going to do . . . and we'll definitely shoot all the bullets we got."

"We're practicing a few more "Barnyard Plays' than usual," Richt said. "We've probably got a dozen in at this moment."

Make no mistake. Necessity has forced Bowden's hand in this high-stakes, winner-take-all game against the undefeated and top-ranked Volunteers.

Outzen is more of a running threat than Weinke, but he lacks Weinke's powerful right arm, which diminishes the threat of FSU's speedy receiving corps.

In the first 9{ games, Warrick had seven receptions of more than 40 yards, six that went for touchdowns. Laveranues Coles, the fastest Seminole ever, had three of 40 or more yards and Marvin Minnis had one.

FSU has none since Weinke's injury.

Even Warrick's 32-yard touchdown catch against the Gators was fortuitous. Outzen's pass sailed through the hands of UF safety Marquand Manuel right to Warrick.

"Here's the thing. Why did you all of a sudden do that?" Bowden said of running more trick plays against Florida than he had in a game in years. (Warrick also threw a pass off a reverse to Outzen that could have gone for big yards had Outzen not dropped it.) "No. 1, I've got an inexperienced quarterback. No. 2, I've got to get everybody on my football team who can throw a pass, practicing throwing passes just in case this new quarterback can't throw."

Bowden is more comfortable with Outzen as a passer now and Outzen has had a month to prepare for the Volunteers and jell with the first-team players. Still, Outzen will be starting just his third game and has attempted 60 passes in his career.

"I can see why anybody would talk about it," he said of his inexperience. "I don't feel it. I don't think it. Going against my own defense so many different times, getting tremendous experience with that because they're tough, and being in a big game, a huge game like the Florida game, I couldn't be better prepared."

Bowden, however, repeatedly has told his quarterback that the burden to win the game is not his. Bowden plans to ride Minor and Warrick, an opportunity Warrick relishes.

"When I hear a trick play is called, I get excited," he said. "I know Peter Warrick is going to be involved and I know I've got to make miracles happen; I've got to make something out of nothing."

That's the goal for any "Barnyard Play."

No one has forgotten, for example, the famous "Puntrooskie." With just 1:30 left in a tie game at Clemson in 1988 and the Seminoles facing a fourth-and-long from their own 21, Bowden risked the game by calling for the fake punt. It worked better than anyone could have predicted as LeRoy Butler raced 78 yards to set up the winning field goal.

Bowden's reputation _ and legacy _ was solidified. He would gamble.

At any time, from anywhere.

"That was the steppingstone of my career and actually a steppingstone of how Bobby Bowden called games; he called games to win," said Butler, now an All-Pro defensive back with the Green Bay Packers.

"I still run into Clemson fans, some of their former coaches, and they go, "I still can't believe you ran that play. It was unbelievable.' They just couldn't believe it. They just couldn't believe we would try that play backed up like we were. No doubt about it. It put a stamp on what Florida State football was and is all about."

But as the Seminoles have stockpiled more talent, especially on defense the past 10 years, Bowden has run fewer and fewer trick plays.

He hasn't had to.

To him, trickery is a sign of desperation. How many times the past decade have the Seminoles been desperate or overmatched? Here's a hint: They've been an underdog once the past three years (the Sugar Bowl rematch to Florida). "If you've got the best material, why blow it?" Bowden said. "Play it by the book and don't give the game away."

Fans don't seem to understand.

They don't want to see a running game and safe (read that as boring) flare pass to the back. They want the flair of the "Puntrooskie." Bowden hears it at booster functions. He receives bundles of letters. He even has fans knocking on his door at home. All of that puts him in a position of defending Richt for being too vanilla when the fans want Rocky Road, especially against those Vols from old Rocky Top.

"Sometimes he looks conservative because I've told him to be conservative," Bowden said. "My goal in a ballgame is to win the game and I don't want to do anything that will cause me to lose that game."

Against Florida the Seminoles led 20-12 and were driving late in the fourth quarter. Already in field goal range at the 25, Richt called three straight running plays that netted 1 yard. Sebastian Janikowski then hit the 41-yarder to close the scoring.

"You want to play a game that will help you win, not so much a game that will glorify the offense," Richt said.

"When I came here, I was thinking we're going to run all these great trick plays and we never do," junior offensive guard Jason Whitaker said. "The reverse is about as tricky as we usually get."

The Seminoles practice trick plays every day (they have worked on the L-48-Z reverse pass since August) and resort to them when Bowden grows antsy.

"I tell the coaches that if they don't want me to suck my thumb, get me some "Barnyard Plays,' " Bowden said. "I do them for momentum. But when you're winning, you don't call them. People go back to when I first was (here) back in the late '70s and early '80s and say, "Bowden used to run this and Bowden used to run that.' Yeah, but we weren't winning. We'd do anything to win."

And he may show that tonight.

"I would expect," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said, "that we will get a dose of Bobby Bowden's best."

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