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FSU realizes it needs Rix

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Florida State quarterback Chris Rix drops back to pass during the fourth quarter. He had the wind knocked out of him in the first but returned.

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By JOHN ROMANO, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 4, 2002

TALLAHASSEE -- The next time you are moved to anger, remember this night. Remember the anxiety and the relief. The fear and the joy.

Most of all, remember the moment Chris Rix became your quarterback.

Okay, so he's been on top of the depth chart for a while now. He's thrown touchdowns and won games. His face has been all over television.

But, until this night, Rix never had your confidence. Not really. Not the way a quarterback should.

He was the guy standing in the way of Adrian McPherson. The outsider who was all flash and no heart. He was the face of the Seminoles' slow decline.

Maybe now you will understand. Maybe now you will see.

Rix is Florida State's best hope.

The quarterback who has been so hard to embrace became the life line to which FSU clung against Clemson on Thursday night.

He has yet to earn the respect of fans. He may never win their devotion. But, on this night at least, Rix had their gratitude.

Remember that. Take it to heart. And keep it in mind the next time you are gripped by frustration with the inconsistency of a sophomore quarterback.

For on this night, Rix showed you what he can be. Forget the stats and the highlight clips. Remember, instead, the pride. The courage. The heart.

This was a night when he was booed. A night the coaching staff found a convenient excuse to keep him on the bench. A night when his future was in question. And Rix answered with a sharp, if subdued, performance.

He answered with both fists raised toward the bleachers after a 5-yard touchdown pass to take the lead in the final seconds of the first half.

Was he directing his anger at the crowd or sharing his joy?

Not even Rix was sure.

"I was just showing them the result. Showing them I can throw the ball, I can score touchdowns," Rix said. "It was nothing personal. Just heat of the battle reaction. I was just feeling very emotional."

This was reality television at its best. A prime-time drama complete with a fall from grace, a flash of false hope and, at last, a moment of redemption.

This was Rix's night. This could be his career.

Unaccepted by some teammates, unloved by many fans, Rix showed up when the Seminoles needed him the most against the Tigers.

He heard jeers in the first quarter by fans frustrated with his penchant for scrambling. Then, when he was sent to the sideline after a hit to the midsection, Rix heard the crowd cheer the arrival of McPherson.

This, you should know now, was the best thing to happen to Rix.

You see, the Seminoles have been caught between perception and reality.

For the longest time, McPherson has been embraced as the attractive stranger. As long as he didn't play, he was the promise of something grander. A mistake by Rix would somehow become another attribute assigned to McPherson.

Now they know better. Now they should understand.

McPherson, at least for one night, became the proverbial blind date.

How did he look?

Well, he certainly had a sweet personality.

The Seminoles gave McPherson a brief opportunity to show what he could do. The results were not pretty. He misfired on all six of his passes, and that was not even the worst part of his performance.

McPherson looked lost. He twice brought the offense to the line of scrimmage when the game was in a commercial break.

When Rix re-entered the game, the offense responded. He was not brilliant, but he was sound. He moved the ball and he killed the clock. More than anything, he provided stability when the Seminoles looked shaky.

FSU's best chance to win is with Rix. That should be clear.

He traveled across the nation to Tallahassee three years ago as a recruit, but until Thursday night Rix had not quite arrived.

Not with a program familiar with perfection. Not with fans spoiled by success. Certainly not with teammates unsure of what to make of a brash, good-looking quarterback from California.

He was confident to the point of overbearing. He appeared to keep teammates at arm's length and greeted exposure like an old friend.

As if they needed further reason to question Rix's style, players had McPherson around to remind them of a more traditional southern quarterback.

Rix is a rich kid with a streak of California cool. McPherson, from Bradenton, is down to earth and accessible to everyone.

But Thursday night should emphasize this is not about who is warm and who is fuzzy. It is not a question of whose smile is the brightest. The real issue is who a team can turn to in a time of need.

FSU fans and players should know that now.

They saw their future when it was placed in the hands of an unproven quarterback. And maybe, at that moment, they learned something about themselves.

They do not have to love Rix.

They just need to follow him.

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