In Tallahassee, where much labor has gone into building the legend of Coach Bill Peterson, they swear that this story is true. It supposedly happened several years ago while an FSU alumnus who acts as a scout in Bear Bryant's backyard was driving Peterson deep into Alabama's iron-mining region for a look at two likely high school prospects. As they neared their target area, Peterson spotted a small school building that appeared to have survived a hurricane, but barely. Not a window was unbroken.
"Terrible thing," said Peterson. "Kids, I suppose." His driver nodded, but said nothing. "I don't know what kids are coming to," said Peterson. The driver laughed. "You'll find out," he said. "The two boys we're going to see are the ones who smashed the windows." With that, Peterson hammered a fist enthusiastically against the dashboard, urged the driver to greater haste and said, "Darn, I hope no other coach has beaten me to them; I guarantee you those are my kind of kids."
The tale may be apocryphal, but Peterson is the first to concede that he encourages, in fact demands, that his players enhance their skills with more than a modicum of legal savagery. As usual, this year's Florida State crop will be as tough as it is talented, and there appears to be enough talent—perhaps more than in any of Peterson's eight previous seasons—to make possible the coveted double prize of a victory over Florida, which is always premier, and of at last playing in the Orange Bowl.
"We've got it," says Peterson. "All we have to do is put it together."
September 8, 1968
Peterson will start putting it together with Ron Sellers, the All-America flanker, and that is like using Howard Hughes's bankroll as the foundation for building a fortune. "We don't play football," says Peterson. "We play a game called Get the Ball to Sellers." Last season the quarterbacks of Florida State did that 70 times, for 1,228 yards, eight touchdowns, a 17.5-yards-per-pass average—the best in the country—and seven victories and two ties, including that much-discussed 17-17 standoff with Penn State in the Gator Bowl.
Against Alabama last season the 6'4", 187-pound Sellers found himself covered first by two defenders, and then three, but he caught 13 passes for 165 yards as Florida State stunned everyone, including Peterson, by scoring 37 points on normally impregnable Alabama. Of course, the Crimson Tide rolled up 37, too. "We tried everything: two on one, three on one, mixing up our personnel," said an unsmiling Bear Bryant later. "We just couldn't stop Sellers." The joke around the FSU campus during practice sessions this spring was: "Same old Forida State—Sellers, 50 yards and a cloud of dust."
"After Ron," says Peterson, normally a dealer in gloom, "we have our finest nucleus ever. We have more depth, and a defense that should be a lot better than last year. It isn't a very big defense, but then we're never very big. Instead, our kids love to hit."
There is a problem at quarterback, but it is little more serious than that of the rich man's son who is trying to decide whether to drive the Cadillac or the Ferrari to the senior ball. Kim Hammond, who broke numerous Seminole passing records last year, has moved on to the Miami Dolphins, but Peterson has two excellent replacements in Gary Pajcic and Bill Cappleman. Pajcic is an experienced senior. As a sophomore he was sensational, completing 125 passes for 1,590 yards after winning the job from Hammond. He was troubled by a sore arm during much of last season but claims this has been cured by elbow surgery—which, incidentally, forced him to miss spring practice. A junior who has played but briefly, Cappleman has one of the better throwing arms in the college ranks.
"Bill has the arm," says Peterson, "but Gary has the experience. Gary may look funny passing, but he's got timing and he gets the ball there. That's what counts." Obviously, Peterson is leaning toward Pajcic and experience.
The rest of the offense will be Chip Glass, a 6'4", 231-pound senior tight end who is very good at catching anything not thrown to Sellers and even better at knocking down pass rushers; Phil Abraira, an inexperienced and not-too-fast split end, and a lot of runners no one has ever heard of. That is the perpetual tragedy of Florida State football: there never are any runners that anyone has heard of.
"Now wait," says Peterson. "We just could have that one big runner that we've always lacked. He may be a great one; a kid named George Bailey."
O.K., coach, but it is safe to wager that no one will ever hear of George Bailey, mostly because his name is Tom Bailey. But, then, Peterson never will win any prizes for remembering names. Tom Bailey is a 6'2", 212-pound sophomore, and, at the moment, is Florida State's second-string fullback behind John Pittman, but the moment may not last long. "I know he's never played a varsity game," says Peterson, "but every night I knock on wood and cross my fingers and rub my rabbit's foot and hope that nothing happens to him. He's going to be a magnificent athlete. Think what a boy like that could do to take the pressure off our passing attack."
The offensive line is smaller than Peterson would like, but it lost only Guard Wayne McDuffie through graduation so it is experienced. In this case FSU might trade some of the experience for more weight, especially in the middle. Billy Rhodes, the lone big man at 240, will handle one tackle and Jack Fenwick, 226, the other. Both are better than average. Guards Larry Pendleton, 212, and Stan Walker, 207, are quick enough to make up most of what they give away in poundage. Ted Mosley, a 213-pound senior center, is an excellent pass blocker.' 'The other people only got to our passer 14 times last year," said Peterson. "That's not bad."
Defensively, Florida State is deep at every position, with a fast, proven secondary, strong linebacking—led by Dale McCullers and Chuck Elliott—and a line that is quick; but it, too, is small.
Should his offense falter, and with Sellers that is unlikely, Peterson hopes that he has a good placekicker in Grant Guthrie, a junior who hit nine of 14 field goals and 26 of 27 extra points last year. What Guthrie did not do was get an indicated knee operation, and he is being watched anxiously.
If Sellers stays well, FSU has a chance of winning them all, including its big ones against Florida, Texas A&M and Houston. Even if it does not win, it is going to shake up the crowds. Fifty yards and a cloud of Sellers makes for a rousing offense.