A strange sound grew from the well of the Orange Bowl as the
clock slowly died. It started in the field-level seats behind
the Florida State bench and climbed through the upper deck. The
noise was unmistakably the Seminoles' war chant, the same
droning cry adopted by fans of the Atlanta Braves long after it
was created in Tallahassee. "A sweet sound, a good sound; here
we are eight hours away from Tallahassee, and you feel right at
home," Florida State senior defensive end Peter Boulware said
later in the locker room. In Miami the chant is blasphemy, and
early last Saturday evening it was a gloating insult as well.
The Orange Bowl is made only of aging concrete and steel, and is
slowly deteriorating. The Miami Dolphins are long gone to Pro
Player Stadium (ne Joe Robbie Stadium), and the Orange Bowl game
will follow this January. Yet whatever vestige remained of the
freewheeling Miami Hurricanes dynasty that won four national
championships between 1983 and '91 had lived in the Orange Bowl,
especially on the Saturdays when Florida State came to play.
Five times since '84 the Seminoles had come to Miami; five times
they had lost. In daylight, in arc light, by wide right and wide
margins, they always lost. Now as Florida State senior defensive
end Reinard Wilson nailed Miami junior quarterback Ryan Clement
on the last play of the game, even that small slice of Orange
Bowl glory became history.
Flush with a 34-16 victory that pushed their record to 5-0,
Florida State players danced in the center of the field. Some
tore up slabs of sod for transport north, others sought out old
friends from the enemy side, because the Seminoles versus the
Hurricanes is most of all a neighborhood fight.
Clement passed through the celebration on his way to the
Hurricanes' locker room, black grease smeared on his cheeks,
tears welling in his eyes. A year ago he had made his first
college start in an embarrassing 41-17 loss in Tallahassee. "I
felt I had the weight of the world on my shoulders," he recalled
during the week leading up to this year's game. He was certain
the result would be different this time. Clement had quelled his
awe for Florida State's defenders by reducing them to numbers
instead of names. "That's all they are--number 58, number 55,
number 85," he said.
October 20, 1996
Those numbers dropped the earth on Clement on Saturday, sacking
him six times and decking him many others. They made him pay for
nearly every one of his 20 completions, which served to keep
Miami (4-1) within reach at 20-16 at the half and 27-16 deep
into the fourth quarter. "Tough guy," Wilson said after the
game. "We hit him a lot." Clement rubbed his rib cage with his
right hand as he shuffled into the tunnel leading to the
Across the field Florida State coach Bobby Bowden ran excitedly
toward his own locker room. Lord, how he has been cursed by
Miami, four times missing a chance to coach the Seminoles in
national championship games because of losses to the
Hurricanes--three of which came at the Orange Bowl. (In 1991,
after the first of the two losses in which a game-winning field
goal attempt would sail wide right in the final minute, Bowden
said his epitaph should read, "He played Miami." On Saturday he
said, "I might not die at all now.") He had told his players to
approach the game like this: "Don't matter if Miami runs out
through smoke, don't matter what color uniforms the Hurricanes
wear or what happened here in the past. Block and tackle is all.
Throw and catch." In short, never mind the ghosts. After the
game Bowden stood in a small room off the visitors' dressing
room, pleasantly disheveled. "I didn't want to let the stadium
beat us," he said.
The Orange Bowl would not beat this Florida State team. It would
not unhinge Seminoles junior quarterback Thad Busby, who had
heard so much about the ill fates of first-time starters in this
game: He threw for 125 yards and never made the crucial mistake
that could have given Miami breath. "Everything I heard all week
was negative, negative, negative," said Busby afterward. He's a
6'3", 220-pound former Parade All-America (aren't they all at
Florida State?) who waited three years for Charlie Ward, the
1993 Heisman Trophy winner, and then Danny Kanell to finish
their Seminoles hitches before getting his chance.
Nor would the Orange Bowl keep Florida State junior linebacker
Daryl Bush on the bench, even after a vicious first-quarter
collision reopened a twice-stitched gash on the bridge of his
nose and may have left him with a slight concussion. "I'll
probably need plastic surgery on this thing," Bush said after
the game, fingering two wide strips of tape covering the gore,
"but there was an urgency to get back on the field. This was
Miami." No surprise here. Bush is an Academic All-America with a
3.85 GPA in his major, business, who writes poetry in his spare
time, but he's also known to his teammates by an assortment of
nicknames--Death Row, Psycho and Butkus--all of which honor his
on-field madness. His return after missing 32 plays helped the
Seminoles hold the Hurricanes to 42 yards on the ground.
Most of all the Orange Bowl would not bother one little man and
one big man, two seniors who were the soul of this victory.
Warrick Dunn, Florida State's 5'9", 185-pound tailback, and
Wilson, its 6'2", 255-pound pass-rush specialist, have weathered
much sterner tests than a football stadium can administer. On
Saturday, Dunn rushed for 163 yards on 22 carries, including an
80-yard first-quarter touchdown run that was the longest of his
Seminoles career. Wilson sacked Clement four times and
terrorized him all afternoon, bull-rushing and skirting a
succession of Miami blockers with an arresting combination of
strength and speed. They have little in common, these two, save
for an abiding maturity and the central roles they played in
The story has been told often about Dunn's mother, Betty Dunn
Smothers, a Baton Rouge policewoman who was moonlighting as a
security guard when she was shot and killed during a robbery
attempt. About how his mother's death left Warrick, then a high
school senior, the de facto father to his five younger siblings.
About how he calls home every day to make sure things are
running smoothly. But even after the story has been milked, the
life goes on. Dunn has played four brilliant years for Florida
State, during which time the Seminoles have gone 37-4-1, and he
has rushed for more than 3,000 yards, caught passes for more
than 1,000 yards and scored 40 touchdowns. Yet he remains one of
the most underappreciated players in the country.
He also remains a father to his three brothers (Derrick, 19, who
attends McNeese State; Bricson, 15; and Travis, 14) and two
sisters (Summer, 18, a freshman at Southern, and Samantha, 13).
It has become almost axiomatic that major college football
players remain in training year-round. Schools brag about the
number of guys who stay for the summer, lifting and running and
such. Florida State had a huge contingent last summer, but Dunn
was not among the group. After winning All-America honors as the
third leg on the Seminoles' 4x100-meter relay team, he went home
to Baton Rouge to help his 59-year-old grandmother, Willie
Wheeler, raise not only the five siblings but also the two
cousins who have since joined them. "I never thought about
staying at school," Dunn says. "This is my role in life. I
believe the other guys on the team understand, but it doesn't
matter. I do what I have to do for my family."
Dunn lives alone in a Tallahassee apartment, and the isolation
of his college life was deepened in late August when Chuck
Tanner, an elderly Tallahassee resident who had befriended Dunn
and Ward three years ago, died of a heart attack. "Mr. T was the
closest thing I ever had to a father," says Dunn, who is still
only 21 yet is much more a parent than a child. Tanner gave him
rare moments to find his youth, and Dunn, leaning forward on a
wooden bench in the dressing room, spoke softly about his friend
on Saturday evening. "People don't think I need to talk to
somebody like that, but I really enjoyed it."
At that moment Bowden happened past in a frenzied rush. "There's
my baby," he shouted at Dunn, rubbing his hand on the top of
Dunn's head. "Good job, buddy. Good job." Dunn tried not to
smile, eventually failing.
No more than 30 feet from Dunn, against the opposite wall, sat
Wilson. There was no lack of fatherly guidance in his life,
except that James Bernard (Charley Horse) Wilson taught life's
lessons in a way that turned a boy into a hard man-child and,
eventually, into a fearsome athlete. It was love of the variety
that is taught in rural Florida, or rural anywhere.
James, 47, was raised on the same 55-acre farm eight miles
outside Lake City, Fla., on which he and his wife, Patricia,
would later raise Reinard and his 17-year-old sister, Kandi.
James tells of having been a high school football star who hit
opponents with such force that they would eventually leave the
game with charley horse, hence his nickname.
Father and son share a foundation in manual work, a form of
cross-training that won't soon be advertised in sneaker
commercials. When Reinard was 10, James started a land-clearing
business, using a bulldozer, a front-end loader and a dump truck
to flatten large parcels of land for farming or development. He
started the business because, having watched Reinard help
harvest tobacco on a neighbor's farm, he knew he would have an
able righthand man. "When he was 11 he could handle all the
equipment, come in right behind me and help with the work," says
James. In fact, when Reinard left for college, James folded the
business, wanting for help. He now operates a bulldozer for
somebody else's company.
In the autumns of Reinard's adolescence his days went like this:
farm chores before dawn, school, football practice, land
clearing until dark. In the summers he worked all day. "I
imagine that type of work makes you a better football player,"
Animals were a part of his life. He once caught a three-foot
baby alligator and brought it home to live in the family farm's
pond. Patricia, a sensible woman, ordered the creature removed,
so Reinard marched out to the pond that very night, hauled the
alligator out of the water and returned it to the swamp.
In the summer before his freshman year at Florida State, Reinard
was helping his father inject calves with worm medicine when one
of the critters broke loose and ran into the same pond.
Undaunted, Reinard waded into the water and bulldogged the
350-pound animal back to shore. "Reinard split open his lip
pretty good," James says, "but I wasn't worried about Reinard. I
was worried he'd hurt my calf."
However, if there is a central tale to Reinard's upbringing, it
is this: When he was 10, he stayed past dark--past his
curfew--at a cousin's house. When Reinard called home asking for
a ride, James told him, "Walk home. Next time you'll leave
before dark." So Reinard walked three miles through swampy
woods, finally emerging on State Highway 41, where his father
sat in a pickup, lights on, waiting. "Never did call again,"
The sky above the Orange Bowl has opened, rain coming in sheets
from the night clouds. At the end of the narrow tunnel that
leads from the stadium to the parking lot, three buses sit
idling, awaiting the Seminoles. Dunn is nearly the last,
shuffling aboard. Wilson follows, stopping to shake hands with
his father--the two old earthmovers--and to embrace his mother.
The Seminoles' season is full of promise, and soon they'll begin
to catch whiffs of Nov. 30 and a Tallahassee showdown with the
Florida Gators, currently ranked No. 1 in the land. It's safe to
dream of a national title.
The last to exit is Bowden, hustling down the narrow corridor
alongside Florida state trooper Major Billy Smith, his personal
escort. Bobby's wife, Ann, jumps from behind a metal barrier and
hugs him so hard that the blood leaves her hands. Bobby hugs her
back and then jumps into one of four Highway Patrol cars for the
20-minute ride to the Miami airport. Lights begin flashing,
sirens briefly pierce the night, as the cars roll away. The
buses follow, leaving behind the Orange Bowl. Girders, grass and
paint. Nothing more.