Last Saturday afternoon Gerry Thomas was sitting in front of a TV in Mobile, Ala., when Dan Mowrey's last-second field goal attempt sailed wide to the right. Thomas covered his eyes as if he had just seen a ghost. He had. Thomas is the fellow who had the field goal attempt of his life on the final play of Florida State's 17-16 loss to Miami last fall—and missed by inches. The next morning Thomas picked up the Tallahassee Democrat and saw WIDE RIGHT in a headline two inches tall.
In the aftermath of the greatest disappointment of his life, Thomas behaved as nicely as you might expect of a kid from Niceville, Fla. When ESPN asked him a few days later to attempt 10 field goals from the same spot in Doak Campbell Stadium—the 24-yard line, left hash mark—he cheerfully complied. He made nine of them. "I felt obligated to the football program, so I didn't mind," he says.
The Seminole football program felt no similar obligation to Thomas. Although he was the team's second-leading scorer last year, was 17 for 17 on extra-point tries and hit nine of 12 field goal attempts for a school-best 75%, Thomas was never offered a scholarship. Moreover, Mowrey, whom he had beaten out for the job at midseason, was on scholarship.
After the season Thomas asked coach Bobby Bowden a few times about the possibility of a scholarship, but Bowden waffled. He asked for the last time on the first day of practice in August. Bowden told Thomas, a junior who carries a 3.57 GPA in his major, management information systems, to be patient. So Thomas quit. "Everybody on the team felt that Gerry deserved a scholarship," says backup Minnesota Viking quarterback Brad Johnson, who was the holder for Thomas's 34-yard miss at the end of the '91 Miami game as well as for the three field goals he did convert earlier in the day. When asked if he feels that Bowden blames him for last year's failed national-title run, Thomas politely replies, "Well, you'd have to ask Coach Bowden."
On a day when Thomas could have written a storybook ending to his own saga, he was hundreds of miles away, watching the game on TV with his girlfriend, Heather Tipton, and some pals. The Seminoles could have used the most accurate placekicker in school history; instead, they had to rely on the very guy Thomas had replaced.