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Repeat performers

Nothing less than a second straight national championship will satisfy the senior-laden Seminoles.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


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TALLAHASSEE -- The image of last season's seniors cavorting on the field and kissing the championship trophy remains so fresh for Florida State linebacker Brian Allen you would think he regularly reaches into his wallet to peek at a snapshot.

"I'll always remember seeing how happy they were, seeing the feeling that they had accomplished something they can take with them and cherish for life," he said. "There's no better feeling than being a senior and going out on top."

Now, he and the other 24 seniors hope to frame their own everlasting Kodak moment, one capturing the celebration of a second straight national championship -- a feat that would put the Seminoles in select company.

Since the first Associated Press poll in 1936, only nine teams have defended their titles. Only one, Nebraska (1994-95), has pulled that off in the last two decades.

"Are we going to repeat? We're going to try," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.

The team motto, which is emblazoned on the gray practice T-shirts, screams that out to the world:

Repeat.

No excuses.

Although the Seminoles begin the season with a fortuitous schedule -- eight games in the state of Florida and two of their toughest, Clemson and Florida, at home -- they realize good luck isn't enough. Nor is a roster replete with top-shelf, experienced players.

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[Photo: AP]
Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles can become the first team since Nebraska to win back-to-back national titles.
"At any level, whether it be professional or college or high school sports, there's a little bit of a tendency when you win a championship to relax, to decide you have arrived," former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said. "So you have to maintain an intensity and a strong desire to get there. That's the trick. Now, as to how you do that, I don't know that. I think a lot depends on the personality of your team and the character of its leadership."

The chances of repeating improved dramatically when Chris Weinke stunned his coaches, his teammates, his fans and even his family by deciding he would return.

Weinke, the 28-year-old senior quarterback, is the undisputed leader of the team. Off the field, he kept the Seminoles focused during Peter Warrick and Laveranues Coles' legal problems. On the field, he threw for 3,103 yards and 25 touchdowns and showed his unflappability during come-from-behind wins against Florida and then Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

"I don't know of anybody in the United States I would swap him for," Bowden said. "The amazing thing about him is, here's a guy who's 28 years of age and he does not try to lord over our other players because, "I'm older than you all and I know more than you all.' He's just like one of them. He knows how to talk to them. He knows how to rally them around him. It's just like having a coach on the field. They all respect him and they all follow him."

If they didn't, they would hear about it.

So would anyone within earshot.

"I feel this is my football team; I'm the leader of the team, so lead by example," said Weinke, who worked more diligently than ever during the off-season and expected the same dedication from his teammates. "If you're not there, I'm going to call you out in front of everybody."

He realizes he can come off a bit harsh, but the Seminoles have responded to his style favorably. Guys might have missed a summer workout once, but not twice.

"There's always something I can get better at," Weinke said. "There's always something new to learn. There's always something new to accomplish. You have to stay that way. You have to stay hungry, otherwise, it's complacency. It's my job and my responsibility not to let that happen and there's no shortage of hunger around Tallahassee, I can tell you that."

In 1994, the last time FSU found itself in the position to try to repeat, it returned 13 starters, only one fewer than this season. But it was without Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Charlie Ward. The Seminoles finished 10-1-1 and No. 4.

When Nebraska defended in 1995, the Cornhuskers had senior quarterback Tommie Frazier back. Hmmm.

"We've got a big senior class and we've got a chance to go out and be the best senior class ever," tailback Travis Minor said. "A lot of people don't think we can go back out there and do it again because of the guys we lost. This is a chance to show them that we still have a lot of talent on this team. It's a new challenge for us this year, but we've got guys here who will step up to the challenge."

Can you picture that?

Repeat champions*

* Based upon the Associated Press final poll.

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