Smack in the middle of Cocktail U, in the heart of the school named No. 1 for fun in the U.S., lodged between Drink Till You Sink at Bullwinkle's and Nickel Beer Night at Calico Jack's, there is a very unusual place called Charlie Ward. It is a place where every day is 1951; a place where the only resident not only doesn't have sex, he also doesn't smoke, drink, swear, pierce, cheat, chew, drive by or get busy; a place where every reporter, ankle-taper and drive-thru box gets a "Sir" or a "Ma'am"; a place where the closest thing to trash talk is "Dad, you mind if I take out the garbage?"; a place where hopelessly outdated concepts like respect and decency are trying to get cool again.
You kidding me? Charlie is as square as a pan of peanut-butter fudge. The man won't even do the latest dance crazes.
For instance, Charlie won't do the Tennessee Waltz, the name Florida State fundergraduates give to hopping among the dozens of bars on Tallahassee's Tennessee Street, treating their livers to a thorough rinse and soak. And Charlie won't vogue at the nearby frat house where three coeds paraded as topless dancers at this year's Halloween bash. And he won't mosh at the Metropolis nightclub, where this fall Florida State and Florida A&M football players got into some complicated moshing (some people called it brawling). And Charlie definitely won't do advanced-placement dirty dancing at the nearby Club Park Ave., where police recently had to uncouple and arrest a twosome having sex on the dance door.
Not that Charlie Ward doesn't dance. He does the pretzel on defensive ends and the hustle on linebackers and the stomp on opposing teams' hearts. As a fifth-year senior, he has led the Seminoles to an 11-1 record and the AP's No. 1 ranking, and he needs only one more slam dance over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day to get Florida State its first national championship. And when he's done with that, he'll jump right into the basketball season and try to lead the Seminoles even higher than they went last year, which was to No. 6 in the country and the final eight in the NCAA tournament.
December 27, 1993
But that's not what is amazing about Charlie. This is what is amazing: Not only is he a great quarterback ("Best I've seen since Roger Staubach," says ESPN's Lee Corso), not only is he the first point guard to win the Heisman Trophy ("Stick to basketball," the late Jim Valvano once told him), not only has he already been drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, and not only might he become the first player ever drafted in the first round by both the NFL and the NBA, but he also has an ego you could fit through a Cheerio.
"I can't tell you all the things Charlie does for people," says Florida State's football information director, Donna Turner. "You just don't know. Like, he's the adopt-a-brother for a four-year-old boy in Tallahassee. He works with teenagers at risk. He's gone to Tampa to talk to kids from orphanages and low-income homes. He's done stuff for the Children's Miracle Network, and the Epilepsy Foundation, and United Way, and Say No to Drugs, and Muscular Dystrophy, and, oh, thousands of others. He's always speaking to schools and churches. He was the student chair of the local March of Dimes last season. He's done stuff for the American Heart Association and the Police Athletic League, and he's gone to old-folks' homes, and...."
"When he's in my class," says Florida State public-speaking teacher Kristina Schriver, "he sort of slips in quietly and then slips out. But it's funny. The students look to him as a role model. Nobody leaves the classroom until Charlie does."
"I'm just so tickled to see somebody around like him," says football coach Bobby Bowden. "He takes you back about 30 years. So much of college football now is about I and me. But with Charlie, it's about we and us"
Maybe it's just easier to put it in the record this way: In the year 1993, in the age of Beavis and Butt-head, shock radio, Marky Mark, and brassieres as outerwear, the best athlete in college sports is a former choirboy, vice-president of the student body and honor-roll student who is no louder than a convent cat and about as trendy as a firm handshake.
Take, for instance, this one day in October when Charlie went to a midget league football practice to talk to kids about his two favorite topics: staying in school and staying off drugs. Just as he arrived, one 10-year-old stepped on another's water bottle.
"Hey, watch it, you faggot jackass!" yelled the second kid.
Charlie's jaw hit his belt. When it was his turn to speak, he hadn't forgotten. "You know, when I first got here," he said, "there were some things being shouted that shouldn't have been said. Sometimes things slip out, but they shouldn't. You should never let that happen again. You have to show respect for your friends and your peers."
The kids looked as if they had just been scolded by Saint Christopher.
"Being a real straight arrow is something that a lot people are offended by, I guess," says Charlie. "But that's the way I've been all my life. It's just fun to be one of a kind."
One of a kind? Athletically, Charlie is one of a kind. As a celibate—though one with a girlfriend, a law student named Tonja Harding—Charlie is one in a million. Florida State's football team has fathered dozens of children. "It's not like I've been an angel my whole life," Charlie says, "but I've stopped now. If you're planning on marrying the young lady, and then you have sex before marriage, what is there to look forward to?"
So what Charlie does is make like a very hip Aunt Bee. On your typical dance-crazed night, Charlie hangs with the other players as they get dressed, jokes with them as they primp in the mirror, messes with them as they put on the cologne. Then he walks them all out to their cars and tells them to drive carefully and not get too wild, and then he goes back to his room. He does everything but give them sandwiches.
And yet Charlie is the biggest man on the team. If you were ever on the Seminoles' team bus when Charlie got on, you would notice the volume on the jam boxes go down about three notches and the trash-talking zip off and everybody straighten up just a little in his seat. Then you would see Charlie smile, sit down, slip on his headphones and flip on his favorite gospel tape.
Born in Thomasville, Ga., in 1970, Charlie is the third of seven kids in a family that still has Bible study around the kitchen table on Sunday nights. His father, also named Charlie, is a high school history teacher and a church deacon, and his mother, Willard, is a school librarian. The Ward kids all grew up with two rules in life: Respect people and stay humble. "Be humble, Junior," Charlie's father would tell him, "because the people who put you on a pedestal are the same people who will try to knock you off of it."
Those words have ruined more interviews with Charlie than dead microphones. "Charlie doesn't put any life in his interviews," says Seminole cornerback Clifton Abraham. "He'll be doing some conference call, and we'll say, 'Charlie, you're so dull, they're gonna hang up on you, son!' "
Charlie is what is known in journalism as a leaner, meaning you have to lean forward to make out what he says. His freshman year, in one of his first games on the Florida State basketball team, Charlie heard coach Pat Kennedy excoriate his players during a timeout, cursing a few times for emphasis. Charlie turned to somebody on the bench and asked, "Can't he say that without yelling?"
Kennedy figured out a funny thing: He could.
You can learn a lot from Charlie. If you lean close enough, Charlie can be very interesting. His father is a terrific history teacher, and his mother was arrested in a civil rights demonstration in Tallahassee in 1963, when she was a student at Florida A&M. Today, Charlie Jr. believes, for instance, that Proposition 48 is a bad idea. Failing a standardized ACT that may be culturally biased, he says, can keep a lot of good minority students out of school. "There are a lot of guys playing football right now and doing very well in school who are living proof of that," Charlie says. Come to think of it, Charlie is one of them. Though he had good grades in high school, his ACT score was low enough to make him a Prop 48 casualty and deny him admission to Florida State. But Charlie didn't want to be a Prop 48 casualty, so he went to Tallahassee Community College for a year, retook the test and made it into Florida State. When he graduated on Dee. 18, he had a grade point average of 3.3 in his major, therapeutic recreation.
Charlie also thinks it's time for schools to set up trust funds to pay athletes after their college playing careers are over. Each athlete would sign a contract in which he agreed to meet certain goals—such as finishing school. When he graduated, he would get his small percentage of the profits he helped the college earn.
Not that Charlie will ever have to worry about profits. The only question he has to answer is which sport should start writing him checks.
•It ought to be basketball. "If he chooses the NBA, there's no question he can make it," says Cleveland Cavalier scout Pete Newell. "He may not be that good a shooter, but he can work on that and get better. His decision-making is excellent."
True, Charlie is not much of a scorer, but last season he made nearly three times as many assists as turnovers and had more steals than turnovers, too. Your average NBA general manager will send a limo to your house every afternoon if you can do that.
"Remember, now," says Kennedy, "he doesn't even pick up a basketball until January. If I'd had him all year for the last four years, he'd have an excellent long-range jumper. It's all in the wrists, just like in football. And he's got great wrists."
North Carolina coaching god Dean Smith once said that if he could pick one player from Florida State's roster, it would be Charlie Ward. NBA scouting god Marty Blake has said that "Charlie is the best point guard in America."
•It ought to be football. In two years Charlie has lost only two football games. Almost every ball he throws ends up where it's supposed to. He completed nearly 70% of his passes this season—a school record—and threw seven times as many touchdowns as interceptions.
His receivers find him very catchable ("like Montana," says Seminole quarterbacks coach Mark Richt), and defensive linemen find him very uncatchable. This year he has been sacked only once for every 38 times he has passed. You talk about doing a nifty little cha-cha.
Virginia defensive tackle Ryan Kuehl said in October, after the Seminoles swamped the Cavaliers 40-14, that Charlie made his team "look like fourth-graders out there." Seminole wide receiver Tamarick Vanover says, "Playing with Charlie Ward is like going to Disney World. He's a magical person." Miami coach Dennis Erickson says Charlie is "phenomenal."
"If I had to play against him," says teammate Abraham, "I'd be sure to get the chicken pox."
Some NFL scouts aren't crazy about Charlie's arm strength on deep sideline routes, but most aren't worried. And in this era of the no-huddle shotgun quarterback, who would be better than Charlie? In fact, Charlie handles reads and offenses so well that Bowden finally just gave up and instituted an offense—the Fast Break—that allowed Charlie to improvise from the shotgun.
Charlie isn't saying which way he's leaning, but one of his goals is to be taken in the first round by both the NFL and the NBA, a feat never accomplished in the history of the two leagues. "That," says Charlie, "would be a dream."
He could play in both, you know. Play a full NFL season, rest a bit, and then try his luck with some 10-day NBA contracts in the last quarter of the basketball season. "Hmmmmm," says Charlie. Nah. "I could do it." he says, "but I'm not going to. I want to have a life."
Former Redskin Super Bowl quarterback Doug Williams thinks Charlie would be crazy not to choose football. "I doubt there are four NFL starting quarterbacks better than Charlie Ward," he says.
Of course, you can't call Williams objective. Williams went to school with a woman named Betty Dunn Smothers, who became a police officer in Baton Rouge. Last January, Officer Smothers, working off-duty, was escorting a grocery store owner to a night bank depository when they were fired on by three men who jumped out from behind some bushes. She was dead before she could defend herself.
Four thousand people went to her funeral. One week later, her son, a high school quarterback named Warrick Dunn, went to Tallahassee on his official visit. He decided Florida State was where he wanted to go to college, and he was offered a scholarship as a running back. Williams called Charlie Ward, whom he had once met, and asked him to "look out for" the kid when he arrived.
But Charlie didn't just look out for Warrick. He made Warrick his roommate. Checked him straight into Charlie Ward. How many Heisman-candidate senior quarterbacks would make a frosh nobody their roomie?
Charlie and Warrick liked each other right away. "He's like my big brother," Warrick tells people. And seeing as how Warrick is one of the few human beings on earth as quiet as Charlie, they might as well be brothers. "Warrick doesn't party much," says Charlie. "Actually, he's like me: he doesn't party at all."
Under Charlie's wing Warrick has blossomed, not just as a player—he led the Seminoles in touchdowns, and now he's being talked about as a future Heisman candidate—but also as Charlie, Part II. "He takes me everywhere," says Warrick. "To churches, the mall, all over.... He's taught me to just stay calm and be patient, just go with the flow—whatever is going to happen will happen. He's taught me to be real courteous and always be on time. I can tell already, I'm going to miss him."
You and everybody else in northern Florida. The other day somebody asked Bowden what he would do after Charlie Ward left.
"I don't know," said Bowden, "but I guess I better get my contract renegotiated right quick."