MIAMI -- It was only the most important game of the kid's existence. That's all. He had started at quarterback three other times, but those games meant nothing now. This opponent was much larger than San Jose State. The 62,602 hissing people told you that.
University of Miami coaches advised Gino Torretta not to worry. Torretta, a 19-year-old freshman, seemed to understand. But then, the Florida State drums started pounding and the masses started chanting and the defenders started acting as if Torretta had done something really bad to them.
And the soothing message got lost somewhere beneath the noise.
Torretta will return to Tallahassee at noon Saturday, two years after stumbling through the worst game of his career. He says he is not worried about going back to FSU. The place isn't haunted, he says.
Besides, things can't be as bad as they were last time.
Torretta suffered four interceptions on Oct. 28, 1989. That hasn't happened since. He suffered an interception on his first pass. That hasn't happened since. He suffered an interception 1 yard away from the end zone. That hasn't happened since.
And Gino Torretta lost.
That hasn't happened since.
"As a quarterback, you are judged on whether you win or lose," Torretta said, slowly resurrecting the memory of Miami's 24-10 loss in 1989. "People are going to have doubts about me until we play again. I'm tired of talking about FSU. I'm ready to play."
Coaches for both teams say Torretta is vastly different now. "There is no comparison," Miami coach Dennis Erickson said.
Torretta's blond hair, blue eyes and freckles are still there, but something has hardened underneath it all.
Bob Bratkowski, Miami's offensive coordinator, is asked to explain
the difference between today's Torretta and yesterday's. He twists a toothpick in his mouth and spits out the following analogy.
"The Philadelphia Eagles have a rookie at quarterback," Bratkowski said. "He is big and strong and looks good. But he can't move the offense at all. Then the Eagles put in Jim McMahon. His knees are bad. He is hobbling. He has a sore arm. But the offense starts moving."
"The difference," Bratkowski concluded, "is experience."
Torretta was a football infant in 1989. He had started but three games in place of injured starter Craig Erickson.
Receiver Lamar Thomas, then a freshman, recalls entering the huddle and noticing that Torretta was nervous. Thomas recognized the look. It was like looking into a mirror. Thomas, coming in from the sideline, promptly relayed the wrong play to Torretta.
"Gino didn't know what to expect," Thomas said. "Neither did a lot of guys. Back then, he was just a guy in the huddle. He didn't take charge. He is a leader now."
"The difference between now and then is maturity," FSU Coach Bobby Bowden said of the fourth-year junior. "He was young, innocent and fresh-faced back then. He is a man now."