| ||Wednesday, October 13|
|Hours before Florida State risked its No. 1 ranking against
Miami, a car pulled out of the parking lot of a Tallahassee hotel
with a message painted on the rear window:
"Hilfiger or Heisman? U make the call."
Less than a week ago, the call was simple: Peter Warrick, the Seminoles' sensational wide receiver, was the clear favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, college football's grandest individual prize.
The choice is not so easy anymore. Warrick was suspended indefinitely last week following his arrest for felony theft -- underpaying for designer clothes at a Tallahassee department store. He missed Florida State's 31-21 win over Miami, and is expected to sit out Saturday's game against Wake Forest.
And as he waits for his lawyer to sort out his legal mess, Warrick's Heisman chances have all but slipped away.
A sampling of several dozen Heisman voters nationwide indicate Warrick has little or no chance to win the award presented by New York's Downtown Athletic Club on Dec. 11.
"Peter Warrick is out of it, in my mind," voter Steve Kirk of the Birmingham News said. "And not because of the moral issues. He missed a big game and there's only 11 of them. You can't miss a big game."
Ron Bracken, sports editor of the Centre (Pa.) Daily Times, said he would have a tough time voting for Warrick because, "you want that guy standing up there getting that trophy to be somebody that can be looked up at and admired and a youngster can say, `I want to be like him."'
Warrick may be the nation's best player whether he misses one, two or more games, but Heisman voter Bruce Hooley of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer adds, "I also think the Heisman stands for something more than what he stood for at Dillard's (department store)."
By winning the Heisman, a player is guaranteed lifelong recognition by football fans everywhere. Now, Warrick is likely to be remembered as the first player to lose it because of his misadventures in a mall.
With Warrick on the sideline, the leading Heisman contender looks to be Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton, the nation's top-rated passer with 1,347 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's also run for 321 yards and six TDs for the eighth-ranked Yellow Jackets, whose only loss came against Warrick and the Seminoles.
Also moving up on voters' ballots is Alabama's Shaun Alexander, who averages 203.6 all-purpose yards _ second in the nation _ and has 14 TDs. Others still being considered by the 921 Heisman voters are Purdue quarterback Drew Brees, Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne and Warrick's teammate, quarterback Chris Weinke.
"Everyone seems to think Warrick being out has automatically given the award to Joe Hamilton," Heisman voter Andrew Bagnato of The Chicago Tribune said, "but I don't think that's a given just yet."
Vinny Testaverde, the 1986 Heisman winner from Miami now with the New York Jets, has reserved judgment on Warrick, but says, "if it's true, I'm sure it will hurt him, but if it's not true he's right up there."
Warrick may be the first to lose the Heisman because of felony theft _ Florida State policy calls for an automatic suspension if an athlete is charged with a felony _ but at least one player has won the award without playing every game.
In 1957, Texas A&M's John David Crow missed three games with an injury and won by playing in just seven games. He ran for 562 yards and six TDs, threw for five scores, caught two TD passes and had five interceptions.
"I don't think Warrick's out of it, but he's got to come back and miss only two games." Tony Barnhart of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said. "I think that's the magic number. The fact that he's apologized, and if he plays well, I think enough Heisman voters will give him a second chance."
Says Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald: "I've suspended Warrick from my ballot."
So has Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "I will not vote for Peter Warrick, even if he is cleared of criminal charges and returns to play. I thought what they did last week by putting him on TV, having him address the team and be on the sidelines, they were trying to make a celebrity of him, and I thought it was an outrage."
By Heisman rules, Warrick remains a candidate, but William J. Dockery, president of the award, said the receiver would become ineligible if convicted of a felony. Should he win the Heisman and then be convicted, the award can be taken away.
On Sunday, a day after the Seminoles held off the Hurricanes, Bowden said he, too, doubts Warrick has a Heisman hope left.
"When he comes back I would tell him to take a very back seat, a very back seat," Bowden said. "You go out and play the best you can play, and don't even think about the Heisman. That's probably blown."
A week before the Heisman winner is announced, the Downtown Athletic Club invites the top four or five vote-getters at the time to attend the ceremony. Warrick may or may not be among them.
"It's unfortunate that now that he finally has his ensemble to wear to the Heisman announcement," Tom Luicci, a Heisman voter from The (Newark) Star Ledger said, "that he may not be invited."