Wily old Bobby Bowden knew the answer before he posed the question. "Son," he asked, fixing his basset hound eyes on the young man seated across from him, "have you ever failed in an athletic endeavor, ever come in second?"
Scott Bentley said no, as Bowden knew he would. "Then this will be good for you," said the Florida State football coach. Thus did Bentley learn, on Oct. 24, that he was benched.
Bowden's bombshell completed a kind of misery trifecta for Bentley, theretofore the Seminoles' No. 1 placekicker. In his 15 months in Tallahassee, Bentley already had been perceived to be a disappointment on the field and had been accused of caddish behavior off it.
Last May, less than five months after he nailed the field goal that beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and won the 1993 national championship for Florida State, Bentley pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of "prohibited interception and disclosure of oral communication." The background: Florida is one of only a few states in which it is illegal to tape someone without his or her consent. Bentley, who says he was ignorant of that law, taped a sexual encounter with a 21-year-old Florida A&M prenursing student in February. Later he played the tape back for three of his friends—not as a piggish, guess-who-just-got-lucky stunt, Bentley says, but so he would have witnesses against possible false allegations of date rape. The last of the romantics Bentley is not.
December 26, 1994
Nor is he the kicker he was cracked up to be coming out of high school in Aurora, Colo. He couldn't be. The publicity attending his signing with the Seminoles tended toward hyperbole, with SI leading the way. We put Bentley on the cover of our 1993 college football preview issue and titled the story on him "A Sure Three." A more accurate headline might have been "A Possible Three" or "An Iffy One." As a freshman Bentley converted a so-so 13 of 20 field goal tries and was a duck hook waiting to happen on points after touchdowns. He missed six of his first 23 extra point attempts before settling down and converting 39 of his last 41.
Compared with the high adventure of that first season, Bentley had been a model of consistency on PATs as a sophomore, flubbing just two of 27 attempts before Bowden gave him the hook halfway through the season. But he missed three of seven field goal tries, including his last two in a row. In all, aside from making the kick he was imported to make—that title-clinching chip shot (his fourth field goal of the Orange Bowl, incidentally)—Bentley hasn't had a storybook college career.
Has his benching left the nation's best-known backup kicker angry with his coach? Has it filled his head with mutinous thoughts—thoughts of transferring?
"Never seriously considered it," says Bentley. While he does think his benching was precipitate, he blames himself for it. "Bottom line," he says, "I was missing kicks that I should make."
His current struggles were foretold two winters ago by his father, Bob, a 1967 graduate of Notre Dame. When Scott told Bob that, rather than kick under the Golden Dome, he longed to win a national championship for the Seminoles, Bob asked, "Why would you want to go to the Bermuda Triangle of kickers?"
Bob had a point. Bowden's kickers tend to plunge from the radar screen. In the previous two seasons Bentley's predecessors, Gerry Thomas and Dan Mowrey, had missed—wide to the right, as perhaps you've heard—field goal attempts against Miami that might have won Florida State the national championship.
Kicking for the Seminoles is not like kicking for other teams. As Bob says, "There arc two kinds of kicks at Florida State—boring and life-threatening." Seminole kickers are either lining up for window-dressing field goals in games in which Florida State leads by 45 points, or they're preparing for kicks with national-championship implications. Although he has yet to miss a pressure kick, Scott hasn't performed well when the stakes have been low.
Still, he won't take a shot at Bowden, and he has nothing but praise for Mowrey, who took the starting job from him. The two kickers, in fact, arc fast friends. When Bentley arrived on the Florida State campus in August 1993, Mowrey had been reduced to a footnote in Seminole lore, the poor sap responsible for Wide Right: The Sequel. Bentley had supplanted him by the simple act of signing his letter of intent.
Says Mowrey, "At first my attitude was, If they're going to give this guy the job without a competition, I'm not going to make it any easier on him." His silent treatment of Bentley lasted less than a day. "I couldn't help it, I liked him," says Mowrey. "He was cocky, a little arrogant. He reminded me of myself."
Mowrey handled Bentley's arrival like a good company man. After Bentley's successful kicks, Mowrey was the first on the field to high-five him. It now falls to Bentley to be a cheerleader for Mowrey, whose return to the starting lineup for the last half of his fifth season has been widely interpreted as a reward for the grace with which he handled his demotion. And as the Seminoles went 4-0-1 in their last five games, Mowrey connected on seven of 10 field goal attempts and 21 of 23 PATs.
The Mowrey-Bentley friendship is partly one of convenience. Both know far more about kicking than does Bowden or anyone on his staff: They arc each other's kicking coach. Mowrey is also trying to make a deer hunter of Bentley, whose cluelessness as an outdoorsman is a rich source of amusement to his country-boy crony. Though Bentley has been hunting several times, he has drawn blood only once. The gore was his own: The recoil of the 30-30 he fired drove the scope into his brow, opening a semicircular cut.
Bentley cites his new hobby as evidence that he is, as he puts it, "broadening my interests." Last summer he worked at a Tallahassee law firm—"as a runner, mostly," he says. The experience convinced him to major in political science; he now aspires to law school. After flirting with academic ineligibility his first fall semester, he rallied with a 3.4 last spring and now has a cumulative 2.89.
He's also back with his high school sweetheart, who broke up with him after he told her about the tape-recording incident. "It was a real embarrassing situation," he says. Painfully and ever so publicly, Bentley is growing up.
When the woman whom Bentley taped found out about it—one of his friends told her—she decided to press charges. "He basically raped my mind," she told the Tallahassee Democrat. "[He] made me look like absolutely nothing. I don't trust anybody now."
"I understand how she feels," says Bentley, who apologized to the woman and voluntarily reported to the state attorney's office to answer questions. "I made a mistake, but I'm still a good person. People say things behind my back, but I can't worry about that. I'm trying to learn from my mistakes and move on."
After the incident Bowden, a devout Baptist, suspended Bentley—for the summer, thereby conveniently allowing him to return to the fold a week before the start of training camp. The county court fined Bentley $500 and sentenced him to 40 hours of community service, such as lifting bales of hay and digging ditches. "I just took my place in the work crew," he says. "No one knew I played football, no one put me on a pedestal."
He relished the anonymity. The '93 football season, which had begun with Bentley and his Seminole holder, Danny Kanell, on the cover of SI's Aug. 30 issue (actor-Florida State alumnus Burt Reynolds was Bentley's holder in a picture inside the magazine) ended with Bentley on the steps of the capitol building in Tallahassee, addressing 6,000 Seminole fans who were raucously celebrating the national championship he had helped deliver to them. But those high points book-ended a turbulent five months in which Bentley conducted 90 media interviews; feuded publicly with Lou Holtz, who had lost to Bowden in the race to recruit Bentley; and, for the first month of the season, missed every fourth extra point he tried.
Having drawn a crowd of several hundred people on the first day of practice, Bentley determined to prove to them, he recalls, "that I was everything they'd heard about." He kicked 100 balls, strained his right hip flexor and a groin muscle and missed the next 10 days. Soon, however, Bentley was just as determined to escape the inordinate attention he received on campus. On the first day of classes his math professor singled him out, saying, "So you're the guy who's going to solve our wide right problem?" When Bentley dropped by the Moore Athletic Center, he drew crowds. He ended up spending more and more time in his room, and his loneliness was compounded by acute homesickness.
This season has been different. "People don't seem to notice me as much," says Bentley, lounging in his apartment one afternoon in the lull preceding the Seminoles' Sugar Bowl rematch with Florida—in which Bentley will handle only kickoffs. "I've enjoyed the lack of attention."
"Best thing for him," says Kanell, Bentley's roommate and the Seminoles' starting quarterback. "It's taken the pressure off him. You watch, he'll come back next season and kick great."
Neither Bentley nor Kanell so much as looks up when Mowrey bursts into the place and begins rummaging through the cupboards. "Need some pepper," he says cheerfully. "I'm making soup." More precisely, he is opening a can of soup.
"Mowrey's the biggest mooch on the team," says Kanell, but he has little room to talk. As he speaks he is chewing on a hunk of smoked sausage pilfered from a Christmas gift basket in the room of wideout Aaron Dely.
This is Kanell's and Bentley's second year as apartment mates. Kanell feels so close to his roomie that he didn't hesitate to make a request of Bentley last January, seconds before they jogged onto the Orange Bowl field for the kick that would decide the national championship. "After you make it," Kanell said, "be sure to jump into my arms, so I can be on national TV too."
Even though Kanell has led Florida State to a 9-1-1 record—including a 31-31 tie with Florida secured by a barely believable four-touchdown fourth quarter—and was named the All-ACC quarterback, the feeling among spoiled Seminole fans is that he has struggled. Kanell and Bentley spent much of this season exchanging encouraging words.
Things were particularly funereal in their pad after Florida State's game against Clemson on Oct. 22, a 17-0 Seminole win in which both Kanell and Bentley sat on the bench. Kanell won his job back, but two days after the game Bentley was formally demoted. He moped for a week or so—and fleetingly considered transferring—until a letter arrived that put an abrupt end to his pity party.
To his son, Bob wrote, "It's so easy to get into issues of transfer, of 'When will I get in again?' of 'Was it fair?' These, none of them, arc The Real Issue...The Real Issue is Discipline Through Concentration!" Bob saw that, except on pressure kicks, Scott's concentration tended to ebb. He wrote, "Do you know what kickers arc called who have your talent, and DISCIPLINE? Professionals!"
Paternal pride run amok? Perhaps not. "Scott still kicks the ball better than any field goal kicker I've seen," says Ronnie Cottrell, who coaches middle linebackers and coordinates recruiting for the Seminoles. "You ought to see him in practice—he's out there kicking 65-yarders every day. He'll come out like gangbusters next year. He'll probably set records."
Bentley may set no records, may never kick professionally. That wouldn't bother his father. He'll be happy if Scott can regain his job for his last two seasons—if the Bermuda Triangle does not claim him as its latest victim.