Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer's eyes were red and tired, his hair a little disheveled as he fell into a chair this morning for his final official Sugar Bowl appearance. But saying he was exhausted from an emotionally charged week that ended with Tuesday night's 46-29 loss to Florida State in the national championship game would only be telling half the story.
He also was disappointed and proud. And when told that the Hokies had finished No. 2 in the final Associated Press media poll [Poll results on Page D3] despite the loss--perhaps the biggest indication yet of Virginia Tech's increased national respect--he was speechless.
"Is that right?" Beamer asked, a smile appearing on his lips. "Pretty amazing, isn't it?"
The program's new profile, of course, is accompanied by new issues for Beamer to face. For example, junior cornerback Ike Charlton, who graduated in December, said late Tuesday night that he will make himself eligible for the NFL draft.
Beamer said today that he will meet with Charlton on Friday, and indicated he may try to talk Charlton into staying for his final season. "We just want to make sure he's making the right decision for himself," Beamer said.
Meanwhile, Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden luxuriated in the glow of victory. He constantly is asked if he will retire, especially now that he has two national championships (the other came in 1993) and a perfect season on his resume. But every time he hears that he laughs.
"I'm not going to ride off into the sunset? Where's a 70-year-old supposed to ride off to? Is there a saloon out there or something?" Bowden said. "I still have that same fear of losing, still have that same desire to win and love of the game. I love to work with the kids, and I can do more for them now.
"I'm a little nicer than I used to be. I used to fire them at the drop of the hat, I used to kick them off teams all day. If you sneezed wrong, you were gone. But . . . I've learned not to cut my nose off to spite my face."
A case in point: Bowden's refusal to dismiss star wide receiver Peter Warrick after Warrick was arrested on theft charges. Warrick stood by Bowden last year, forgoing the NFL and its millions to return for his senior season with the Seminoles. Tuesday night, Warrick completed it in dazzling fashion.
He opened the scoring with a 64-yard touchdown catch and gave Florida State a 28-7 lead early in the second quarter with a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown. Virginia Tech scored 22 consecutive points to take a 29-28 lead late in the third quarter, but Warrick helped the Seminoles take charge again in the fourth quarter, catching a two-point conversion pass following the go-ahead touchdown and sealing matters with a 43-yard touchdown reception with 7 minutes 42 seconds to play.
"Coach Bowden is a great man, and I came back because of a love of him," Warrick said. "It's great to know people care about you. When I got into that trouble, Coach B. stepped up for me, and so I won this for him."
Even with Warrick playing in the NFL next season, the Seminoles should have enough quality returnees to contend for the national title again. Starting quarterback Chris Weinke may give up his final season of eligibility to turn pro, and place kicker Sebastian Janikowski and starting defensive tackles Corey Simon and Jerry Johnson will be gone, but 13 other starters are scheduled to return--seven on defense.
Virginia Tech, if Charlton returns, will have to replace seven defensive starters, including star ends Corey Moore and John Engelberger. However, one player coming back--at least for one more season and, if he chooses, three more--is quarterback Michael Vick, the best of nine offensive starters scheduled to return. (Only center Keith Short and wide receiver-punt returner Ricky Moore have completed their eligibility.)
After finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting and being named a second-team all-American, Vick lived up to his honors Tuesday night. He completed 15 of 29 passes for 225 yards and one touchdown and carried the ball 23 times for 97 yards.
He took a tremendous pounding, but said: "I knew that was going to be part of their strategy. But for you to get me out of the game, you got hit me with a brick or something. If I want something I'm going to go get it, and I wanted that national championship. I wanted that trophy. I'm proud of my performance, of our performance. We showed everybody that we are champions."
Vick did make some mistakes, though. The most costly one came on the game's opening drive. After starting at their 20-yard line, the Hokies faced fourth down and inches from the Seminoles 4. Beamer elected to go for the first down rather than a field goal try, but Vick turned the wrong way after taking the snap and instead of handing off to fullback Jarrett Ferguson--as he was supposed to--he was stripped of the ball as he spun around. Florida State recovered the fumble in the end zone.
"That was crucial," Vick said. "I couldn't believe I did that. I've been running that play for 11 football games and to come out there and turn the wrong way . . . that's crazy. I don't know what happened.
"I've still got a lot of growing to do. I'm only a freshman. I've got three years. Hopefully I'll have a chance to come back."
Vick will have added help from a familiar friend. Former high school all-American wide receiver Andrae Harrison, who redshirted this season, was Vick's favorite target in high school in Newport News, Va., and will join leading receiver Andre Davis to give the Hokies tremendous speed next season.
"I don't expect us to do too much losing next year," Vick said. "Hopefully we won't miss a beat next year."
Said Beamer: "I'm very disappointed we didn't get it because I think when we look back we're really going to see how close we were, how we were right there to get it. But I fully understand what a great season it's been. I think Virginia Tech in the last month has taken on new meaning."