Polley comes up big, but 1 rush too many leaves a sour taste

Blocked punt a highlight, but blitz causes injury to knee, ending his night


January 05, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS -- Florida State linebacker Tommy Polley had pointed for the past month to last night's Sugar Bowl national-championship game against Virginia Tech.

It was not only to reverse what happened to the Seminoles last year against Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl, but to redeem himself for what the redshirt junior from Baltimore had considered a lackluster performance.

Everything was going well for the former Dunbar High School star throughout the first 20 minutes of Florida State's 46-29 victory.

Maybe too well.

After making a couple of early tackles, Polley blew through untouched and blocked a punt by Jimmy Kibble in the Virginia Tech end zone that was picked up and returned four yards by Jeff Chaney for a Florida State touchdown. It gave the Seminoles a 14-0 lead.

"I knew I had a chance to get it," said Polley, who had blocked a punt earlier in the season against Florida, as well as a field-goal attempt against Miami. "It felt great."

It was to be the last big play Polley made all night.

Early in the second quarter, Polley went to rush Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick on a blitz. He planted his left knee, and collapsed to the turf. He came out of the game with what was initially described as sprained left knee.

Polley did not return, and said the knee will be examined further when the team returns to Tallahassee today. He said there was a chance he might have torn a ligament.

"It's bittersweet," Polley said as he limped along the sideline in the waning moments of the game. "But God works in mysterious ways. He has a plan. Now I just have to get my knee better."

It was a frustrating end to Polley's best season at Florida State. He had been injury-free for the first time in his career, led the Seminoles in tackles and was named first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference.

After leaving the game, he sat on a chair next to the bench. He returned in the second half, spending most of his time playing cheerleader. When the final gun sounded and his teammates ran into the middle of the field, Polley merely waved a towel to exhort the crowd.

Athletic director Dave Hart came over and gave Polley a hug.

"I'm happy that we won," Polley said. "I just wish I could have played the whole game."

Weinke rates an `A'

While Polley didn't quite complete his redemption, Chris Weinke did. The fourth-year Florida State junior quarterback, who sat out last year's national-championship game after sustaining a season-ending, career-threatening neck injury, was superb last night.

Helped by an offensive line that neutralized Virginia Tech's potent rush, and throwing to a stable of marvelous receivers, Weinke completed 20 of 34 passes for 329 yards. He threw four touchdown passes and had one interception for the night.

"Personally, this is something I've been waiting for," said Weinke, who now must decide whether or not to come back for his fifth year.

Asked about the future, the 27-year-old former Toronto Blue Jays farmhand apparently will turn pro.

"I do have a few days to sit down and decide," he said. "What a great way to go out, but there's a lot of things out there for me."

Moore stopped cold

Virginia Tech's Corey Moore, the Big East's Defensive Player of the Year the past two years, was credited with making only one tackle the whole game.

Moore was constantly double-teamed, and redshirt Seminoles freshman Brett Williams did a wonderful job of keeping Moore from getting anywhere near Weinke.

Presidential call

Hokies coach Frank Beamer said that he received a call from President Clinton after the game.

"It's great that the president of the United States took the time to call the coach of the losing team," said Beamer.

$500,000 completion

Bob Modernak, who spent 30 years as a teacher and administrator in a Colorado school system before retiring last August, won $500,000 in a halftime contest sponsored by Nokia.

After being tutored by retired Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, Modernak made a 15-yard throw through a target. He could have made up to $2 million had Theismann connected on all four of his throws. Theismann made one.

Ticket takers

Sugar Bowl officials estimated the crowd outside the Superdome before kickoff at 120,000. There were about 73,000 seats for the game, leaving ticket-sellers with a brisk business.

Scalping is illegal in New Orleans, punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine, and undercover officers were working the area. Buyers and sellers, however, did not seem intimidated.

Tickets with a face value of $85 were selling for as much as $600, according to some buyers outside the Superdome. Tickets in prime locations were reportedly selling for as much as $1,500 earlier in the week.

Underdog's game

Being the underdog at the Sugar Bowl has paid off in the past when No. 1 and No. 2 have squared off. In the first three such meetings, No. 2 won.

No. 2 Alabama beat No. 1 Penn State, 14-7, in 1979; No. 2 Penn State beat No. 1 Georgia, 27-23, in 1983; and No. 2 Alabama beat No. 1 Miami, 34-13, in 1993.

Florida was No. 3 when it beat No. 1 Florida State, 52-20, for the national title in 1997.

Bonus boys

Winning paid off for both coaches. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer received three months' salary, about $45,000, for making it to the game; had he won, he would have received another $100,000. Florida State coach Bobby Bowden got a $75,000 bonus, win or lose.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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