Florida State’s Weldon Starts With an Unbeaten Record


Subtract seven Saturdays from the life of Casey Weldon and the rest of today’s space is devoted to someone else, most likely Brad Johnson.

Subtract seven Saturdays from the life of Casey Weldon and what’s the point, what’s the angle?

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Through his first 2 1/2 seasons as a quarterback at Florida State, Weldon was a full-time, full-scholarship caddie. He sat through the Chip Ferguson era, he sat through the Peter Tom Willis era, he sat through his own error, which was to lose the job Bobby Bowden hand-delivered to him in the spring of 1990.


“There was no doubt in my mind that he was gonna be our quarterback for the next two years,” Bowden says. Seeing is believing, though, and what Bowden saw during those spring drills was Seminole skill obstructed by semi-know-how. “He wasn’t concentrating, he wasn’t studying films, he was making terrible mistakes,” Bowden says. “Brad Johnson just plain beat him out.”

More than that, Johnson rubbed it in. He passed for three touchdowns in a 45-24 rout of East Carolina. He passed for 254 yards in a 39-28 triumph over Virginia Tech. Four Johnson starts, four Seminole victories, nearly 41 Seminole points per game.

Then came the traditional Miami showdown, followed shortly thereafter by the traditional Florida State defeat. Bad break for Johnson. Impatient Tallahassee turned its eyes to Weldon, the hometown hero from North Florida Christian High, and even Bowden sneaked a peak. “We, as coaches, were asking ourselves, ‘Have we got our No. 1 guy in the game,’ ” he says.

Bowden gave Johnson one more quarter. The next week, Florida State fell behind, 7-0, in the first quarter and that was that. Weldon started the second quarter . . . and the third . . . and the fourth . . . and the last six games on the schedule.

As a reliever, Weldon was winless. But he was 6-0 as a starter, completing 61.5% of his passes for 1,600 yards, 12 touchdowns and a 152.7 efficiency rating--second in the nation behind Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer of Brigham Young.

Tonight, Weldon and Detmer share common ground again, and not just on the floor of Anaheim Stadium, where the second Disneyland Pigskin Classic will be played. At a pregame press conference Wednesday morning, Detmer and Weldon were introduced by their 1991 handles, Heisman Trophy champion and challenger, which elicited the usual response from Weldon--a jerk of the shoulders and an irrepressible giggle.

“I think it’s pretty hilarious,” Weldon says. “It’s funny just to even think about. That shows what a couple of games will do for you.”

One game did it for Detmer. He upset last year’s preseason No. 1, Miami, in early September and that was all the juice he needed to outkick Notre Dame’s Rocket Ismail and Houston’s David Klingler. First impressions are indelible among Heisman voters and Weldon would have to be blind to miss the opportunity at hand this evening.

“I realize I could do a lot for myself in this game,” he says. “It’s on national TV, it’s the opening game of the season, people are going to be watching to see Ty Detmer and you could have them saying, ‘Wow, who is that other guy?’ I realize that.”

But the field is stacked, arm-deep in quarterbacks. If not Detmer, there’s Klingler. If not Klingler, there’s UCLA’s Tommy Maddox. If not Maddox, there’s Georgia Tech’s Shawn Jones.

“The only way I win it,” Weldon says, “is if we win the national championship. I’m not going to have the numbers of a Klingler, a Detmer or a lot of those guys . . . The only way I’m in the picture is if we go undefeated.”

So, in a word, yes, Weldon has a shot. A promising sign: Florida State, packed with 19 returning starters, is the No. 1 choice in most preseason polls. A more promising sign: Sports Illustrated tabbed Michigan.

But Florida State has been here before--in 1988, when the Seminoles’ preseason No. 1 ranking barely made it to Labor Day, when opportunity knocked and the Seminoles mistook it for a drum machine.

“That ’88 team had Sammie Smith, Deion Sanders--we were loaded,” Weldon says. “But we hadn’t played a game yet and we’re in Tallahassee recording a rap song. We open with Miami and we’re doing a damn rap song.”

Ice Cube, Ice-T, Miami Ice. Florida State got dissed, 31-0, and has since sworn to stay out of the studio.

“That has been brought up a few times this year,” Weldon notes. “But with this team, no one needed to bring it up. We know what happened. We’re not going to let it happen again.”

The past can be one hellacious motivator. Weldon has lost this job once before. Stumble against BYU, or Michigan next month, and it could happen again.

From behind the podium Wednesday, Weldon said, “It could very easily be Brad Johnson standing here. He’s a great quarterback. It’s just a flip of the coin. Very easily, it could have gone the other way.”

Rest assured, Weldon has big plans. He has already purchased an insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London because his NFL prospects “look pretty good.” Ask him about taking the back seat to Detmer in the season opener and he reaches for the steering wheel. “I like to think I can play with anybody in the nation,” he says. “If I don’t feel like I’m one of the best in the country, I shouldn’t be playing.”

That’s the reason Bowden started playing him in the first place.

“He might be a great quarterback,” Bowden says. “He might. He does some things in practice that we coaches cannot believe.”

And undefeated is undefeated. Bowden has to go with his hot pitcher. Six-and-oh got Weldon this far. Double that again and the Heisman Trophy might not be a laughing matter.