FSU's Bentley gives demons swift kick

January 03, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

MIAMI -- He stood behind a railing outside the Orange Bowl, stood with hundreds of Florida State fans, stood at 1:15 a.m. waiting for his son. Bob Bentley wore the green-and-gold Florida State cap the Seminoles so brazenly sported at Notre Dame. It was the perfect symbol of his mixed emotions.

Notre Dame grad, Florida State dad, and now this. An hour before, Scott had lined up for the kick of a lifetime, the kick to exorcise all demons, the kick that would give Bobby Bowden his first national championship. Bob Bentley turned away, unable to watch. Twenty-one seconds left. A 22-yard field-goal attempt. Nebraska 16, Florida State 15.

"That wasn't a kick," Bob said. "That was his whole life."

This was why Scott came to Florida State, wasn't it? Bob, Notre Dame '67, badly wanted his son to attend his alma mater. But Scott couldn't resist the greater challenge. Boston Red Sox fans say, "Bill Buckner." Florida State fans say, "Wide right." "The Bermuda Triangle of kickers," Bob called it, even in Scott's moment of triumph, as if nothing will change.

Like Bowden -- like every Seminoles die-hard -- Bob wasn't so much happy as relieved. So much his boy went through, just to get to this moment. A preseason appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A slump in which he missed six of his first 23 extra-point attempts. A legion of skeptics, all recalling Lou Holtz's biting words: "Son, you didn't just make a four-year mistake, you made a 40-year mistake."

Holtz said that Scott broke an oral commitment to attend Notre Dame, but now he's off on another crusade, with Florida State No. 1 in the final rankings and Notre Dame No. 2. Holtz couldn't break Scott's spirit. No one could, not even when Scott was at his lowest earlier this season, wondering if he had tackled too much.

"A lot of people said I wasn't what I was made out to be, wasn't a pressure kicker," Bentley said. "After being on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I kind of went into a daze. I was in over my head. Who wouldn't be? I was a freshman. I hadn't played one game. But it [the cover] was the chance of a lifetime. I wanted to do it."

That's Bentley. From youth soccer to high school football, he was always scoring the winning goal, kicking the winning field goal, going for it all. "His whole life has been like this," Bob said, recalling Scott's childhood in Aurora, Colo. "I've seen it before. Y'all are just seeing it for the first time."

And what had we seen? Bentley missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt early in the first quarter, then told himself he wasn't going to miss another. He made field goals of 34, 25 and 39 yards -- the third one into the wind to give Florida State a 15-7 lead late in the third quarter. Then, after the Seminoles' last, frantic, penalty-assisted drive, he lined up for the game-winner.

Charlie Ward said: "I knew it was good as soon as he walked onto the field," but Bentley wasn't nearly as sure. "I probably was as nervous as I've ever been in my life," he said. "In the back of my mind, I knew everyone had expectations that I'd win the national championship. If I didn't, I don't know what I'd go through. But I didn't even want to think about that."

Bentley faced a severe angle from the right hash mark, the side from which each of his seven regular-season misses had occurred. Danny Kanell, his holder and roommate, told him: "You'd better jump into my arms, because you're going to make it." Sure enough, that's what happened. "I couldn't even watch, but I heard the roar," Bob Bentley said. "I knew it was good."

Tears came to Scott's eyes, but it wasn't over. The other kicker got one more chance. The other kicker attempted a 45-yarder. The other kicker missed wide left. "When they spotted it at the 28-yard line, I thought, 'Well, I had about two minutes of glory,' " Scott said. "But when he missed, I knew it was a dream come true."

Not just for Scott.

For an entire team.

"We lose and lose by field goals, and all of a sudden, we win the national championship by a field goal," senior wide receiver Kevin Knox said. "I just want to thank all the coaches who recruited Scott Bentley. What can I say? He was the Sports Illustrated cover boy. Put him on again."

Outside the Orange Bowl, Bob Bentley was in no hurry for that. He was thinking about Ryan Bucchianeri, the Navy freshman who missed a game-winning field goal against Army. He was thinking about his son. "He could have done a lot of things differently," Bob said. "Why come in here and fight the legacy, the history, the scrutiny when he could have gone anywhere?"

Well, someone said, it's over now.

"This was one night," Bob Bentley replied. "He's got three years left."

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