Originally created 09/12/99

Dorsey: Yellow Jackets try to maintain their focus



TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Maybe the best description of playing the Florida State Seminoles in football came from a North Carolina linebacker three years ago in what was then dubbed "The ACC Game of the Century."

This senior linebacker, Kivuusama Mays, compared the experience to a Broadway production.

"MGM theatre in shoulder pads," Mays said then.

And no other major college football power uses fire in the pregame show so well.

For the uninitiated, two members of the Marching Chiefs each juggle three batons, all with flames spewing from the ends. You wonder what tryouts and rehearsals must be like.

Then, with five minutes till kickoff, Chief Osceola, a student dressed in Seminole Tribe-approved clothing, rides a white Appaloosa horse, Renegade, to midfield in a menacing, pulse-thumping way to anticipate a football game.

The chief carries a spear, one he waves up and down with considerable venom. The spear is then lit, and as the pogo-stick Seminoles look on with helmets raised high, Osceola stares at the visitor's bench, slamming the spear into the midfield logo.

Amazingly, Chief Osceola and Renegade have yet to draw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from hard-line referees.

And they haven't torched the field yet.

Seeing FSU in Tallahassee is like watching the Phantom of the Opera of football. The other ACC foes are nothing but off-Broadway skimp shows.

It's Las Vegas pageantry mixed with Denver Broncos horsepower.

No team in America makes you feel more defeated before a game's first snap. At Tennessee, and Michigan, and Penn State, the enormity the stadium makes you feel like a munchkin. At Florida State, the glitz production can leave you cheering for an encore.

That's part of the Seminoles' way: seduce you with mind games before superior talent and depth can overwhelm you.

Then there's the whole issue of the nauseating tomahawk chop. If you're an 18- or 19-year-old kid who's never seen 80,000 folks waggle their right arms in unison, listening to the chant over and over again, it might seem like a chandelier has just fallen on your head.

Ohhh-oh-ohohoh ... awe, just shut up, will ya.

"How do you prepare for what they do?" Tech's George O'Leary said earlier in the week. "Go to a Braves game."

All this showmanship is a major reason why the 'Noles have America's longest home winning streak at 40 games heading into Saturday night's game with 10thranked Georgia Tech.

OK, the talent pool, one that's produced 45 FSU players on current NFL rosters, may have a little more to do with that than a guy on a horse with a piece of wood doused in lighter fluid. But don't think wide-eyed college kids don't feel at least a little in awe of this game night's environment.

They haven't lost in Doak Campbell Stadium (Doak Shambles before the renovations) since Wide Right I, a 17-16 loss to Miami in 1991. Against ACC teams, FSU is a whopping 29-0 here, pitching eight shutouts since 1992.

Tech's coaches preached to their players about not getting lured into the mesmerizing surroundings. It's hard not to, but when the chief speared the midfield logo, most of the Ramblin' Wreck's sidelines were engaged in meetings.

Most of the huddles probably were a reminder that Tech has to find a way to tackle Peter Warrick, not Chief Osceola.

Stopping Renegade might be easier than slowing Warrick.

REACH Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219 or rdorsey@augustachronicle.com