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Gipper-type hype speech? Only in Hollywood

Long before Seminoles and Hurricanes storm from the tunnels, the coaches have already delivered their messages.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published September 3, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - You don't have to be a college football fan to be able to recite the line:

"Sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper."

The story goes that that's what dying Notre Dame star George Gipp asked his coach, Knute Rockne, to tell the Fighting Irish players at the most pivotal of moments to help them find that extra bit of motivation, that extra bit of energy, that extra bit of strength to pull out a big victory. According to lore, as immortalized in a movie, Rockne did just that before his team upset Army 12-6 in a 1928 game at Yankee Stadium.

The speech become the Gettysburg Address of sports.

Concise, powerful and enduring.

"There's some teams that you play that you nearly have to say things to get them focused or so they won't go out and play too tense," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "I might try to loosen them up with a joke. But as far as trying to fire them up and making them want to win one for the Gipper, you just don't see that much anymore."

"It probably made a better movie (moment) than it (the effect) actually lasts throughout the course of a football game," echoed Miami coach Larry Coker.

But rest assured, Bowden and Coker will gather their players today and again in the minutes before the No. 11-ranked Seminoles and No. 12 Hurricanes kick off the season Monday night at the Orange Bowl to share a few carefully chosen words - perhaps only a few that might prove to be powerful and enduring words - that wake up the echoes.

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For Bowden, the most vital speech he makes is actually on the eve of a game.

In a usually no-nonsense talk, he highlights the keys to beating the next day's opponent, points that his assistants have harped upon all week. If appropriate, he'll dip into the past for a story about a certain game or about a certain player's performance.

Just mentioning Deion Sanders, Warrick Dunn, Charlie Ward, Derrick Brooks, Chris Weinke or Peter Warrick, players who set a standard at FSU, has a way of getting his current players' attention.

"I want them to sleep on what's been said," he said, explaining why he doesn't save this speech for the locker room in the minutes before kickoff. "You never know if you say anything that hits a nerve. I would imagine it's seldom you do. You've done all your preparations from Monday through Friday, there's not much you can do after that. You've either got it or you don't. The hay's in the barn, so they say."

Rarely, does he get animated.

"It's usually not rah-rah," senior linebacker Buster Davis said. "We don't have 'Rudy' on the team, and this ain't Coach's last game. He just says, 'This is what we have to do to win the ballgame.' "

"Out of 12 ballgames, there might be three that I'll give a fiery speech for," Bowden added. "The others? You're wasting your time. How many fiery ones are they going to believe? How many of them are they going to say, 'I've heard this before?' "

For a game such as Miami, which for the past two decades has been one of the fiercest annual games in college football, the players should be sufficiently inspired without any emotional appeals from Bowden. Their fuse should have been lit for quite a while, especially when it's the opener as it was in 2004 and 2005 and again on Monday.

Last year, however, was different.

FSU had lost six straight to Miami, several in heartbreaking fashion.

"Coach said he was tired of being picked on," senior offensive tackle Mario Henderson said. "Another thing, he said we had given Miami that confidence and that swagger."

Ouch.

"You definitely can use that," junior defensive tackle Andre Fluellen said. "Every day, Coach B gives us a little talk about things we need to work on, but (the eve) is the time he expresses what he really, deeply feels about the game."

The Seminoles won 10-7.

"The pregame speech in the locker room is overrated," said former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, who's an analyst for ESPN. "I remember when I was in college, the coach gave the greatest pep talk pregame. I was so fired up and then I go down on the opening kickoff and a guy hits you in the throat and you can't remember a word he said. Where you have to do it is during the week; to me, Thursday and Friday were the most important (days)."

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Bowden has another tradition on the eve of a game, turning the floor over to a player so he can address the team. Usually, it's an upperclassman who offers a testimonial and/or tells his teammates why this particular game is so important to him.

"It might be as effective as anything I can say," Bowden said.

Case in point: Before last year's Miami game, Kamerion Wimbley, a usually soft-spoken, reserved senior defensive end, told his teammates an intensely personal tale of how he and his sister were raised by his grandmother and the struggles that marked their childhoods.

Few knew that, including Bowden.

"That one had almost everyone in tears," Bowden said.

"I never knew the things about Kam that he talked about," Fluellen said. "You would never expect some of the things you hear. Those are the most memorable times for me at Florida State."

Wimbley went out the next evening and spent as much time in the Miami backfield as quarterback Kyle Wright. That performance not only launched his team to a win, it launched his professional stock into the stratosphere; the Cleveland Browns selected him in the first round (13th overall) in the NFL draft.

Case in point: Quarterback Drew Weatherford, himself inspired by the words of senior Leon Washington, surprised his teammates by getting up and talking on the eve of the ACC Championship Game. Few expected the Seminoles, losers of three straight, to give Virginia Tech much of a game, and Weatherford couldn't take it any more.

"I kind of lost my, not my temper up there, but I just kind of let it all hang out," the former Land O'Lakes star said.

He challenged and inspired.

The Seminoles, thanks to a strong performance from Weatherford, upset the Hokies 27-22.

"Whenever we had those moments when somebody really brought something different to the table, something that really made guys think and look deep down inside, we always came out and played great," senior tailback Lorenzo Booker said. "Every time. That's the thing I want to try to do this year."

And, of course, go out the next day and win one for the Gipper.