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For FSU, same sadness, but deeper

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By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 13, 2002

MIAMI -- The place was usual. The pain was familiar. The position was the same.

The tears, however?

The tears were all new.

Xavier Beitia, the latest victim, moved slowly down the sideline, away from the moment and the misery. It didn't matter. Pain this deep, this distinct, follows a man.

All you need to remember about FSU-Miami Saturday was in the twisted, tortured face of Beitia. His lips were drawn tight, and his eyes were downcast. Tears poured unchecked down his cheeks.

This was the face of raw, relentless agony, and looking at it was much like looking into an open wound. Teammates, one after the other, attempted to console Beitia without success. Time, a half hour, and an hour, could bring no solace.

This was the picture of overwhelming, complete suffering. Surely, you might think, that pain such as this would be unique.

For FSU, however, the real pain is how familiar it feels.

For the Seminoles, Beitia was merely the latest kicker to follow the trail of tears that has defined this series. It has been a pain felt by others, by Gerry Thomas and Dan Mowrey and Matt Munyon, other kickers just wide of great moments.

"Walking off the field, it felt just like that other year," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "And that other year. And that other year."

Usually, devastation occurs one play at a time. Doug Flutie threw one Hail Mary against Miami. Lindsay Scott went 80 yards against the Gators once. Cal ran The Play once. Rockne gave the Gipper speech once.

Four times, Bowden has lost like this. Does any coach deserve that?

"I don't," Bowden said. "I know I don't."

Oh, FSU has won a few games in this rivalry, too. But Miami seems to win the ones that rip the heart of out of FSU and leave it in the grass. FSU has rarely taken something precious away from Miami.

For most of Saturday, it seemed on the verge of doing so. The offensive line of the Seminoles manhandled the vaunted Miami defensive line and Greg Jones ran for 189 yards. Even after Miami came from 13 points down to take the lead, FSU was in position to knock the Hurricanes from the No. 1 ranking, to end its 27-game winning streak, to hand coach Larry Coker his first defeat.

For FSU, this was a chance to reestablish itself two weeks after most of us left it for dead. This would have ranked with the Seminoles' greatest upsets, a day they went down to Miami and kicked in the door. This would have answered every critic.

"They're good," Bowden said. "But we're not exactly in the gutter."

All of that was in front of Beitia as he stood, 43 yards from the goal posts, with one second to play.

He's a fine kicker, Beitia, known around the FSU program for his love of the craft. Unlike most players, Beitia has chosen to remain at Burt Reynolds Hall because of its proximity to the stadium.

As kickers go, Bowden said he wouldn't trade Beitia, who played at Jesuit High, for any kicker he has had. Maybe that explains why, as Beitia lined up for the kick, all the ghosts did not flood into Bowden's memory. Bowden said he had no doubts.

"What I thought was that if it didn't get blocked, we win," he said. "It never occurred to me he might miss."

On the field, holder Chance Gwaltney turned to Beitia and warned him. "When you make this, we're going to tackle your a--."

But the snap from Brian Sawyer was too low, and though Gwaltney was able to get the ball upright, the flow seemed to be affected. The kick sailed to the left.

Bowden started onto the field to congratulate Beitia. No, he was told. The kick missed. He turned and walked toward the locker room, again. He turned and asked a police officer next to him.

"To the left?" he said.

Yes, he was told. To the left.

How will you remember this game? By the way Jones ran? By the way Ken Dorsey threw? By Miami's comeback? By Bowden's decision not to go for two when he was ahead 26-14?

Or by the tears that would not stop?

We tend to forget how much this hurts. We follow the winners around and sing their praises, or we become jaded by expectations and entitlement, and we forget how much this game can mean to a 19-year-old sophomore. At that age, it is not overstatement to suggest the game is his world.

Understand Beitia's pain. He was led from the team locker room, weeping, into the training room by chaplain Clint Purvis. Each of FSU's captains went to console him. So did various other players. And coaches. So did Beitia's parents.

And it didn't matter. The pain did not ease. Even as Beitia moved to the bus, and the fans applauded, he wept.

"I've been here 14 years, and I've never seen it affect anyone like this," Purvis said.

Somewhere, Thomas can relate. He missed a 34-yarder in 1991 as FSU lost. And Mowrey, who missed a 39-yarder the next year. And Munyon, whose 49-yarder would have tied the score two years ago.

Pain such as this lingers, haunts. It is the pain of denying teammates a goal they have suffered for, that they have earned. It is a wound reopened every time another kicker suffers the same fate.

For a player, it feels as if no one has ever hurt like this before.

For a program, it hurts as much as ever.

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