Palm Beach Post – Sept 8, 2004 – Tom D’Angelo – TALLAHASSEE â€? Fate cannot be that cruel. It can’t happen again. Five failures in 13 seasons. Three times since the turn of the century.
If Florida State’s hopes of beating Miami on Friday in the Orange Bowl come down to a field goal, Xavier Beitia will be reminded of the Seminoles’ inglorious past â€? by his own memories as well as the roar and taunts of the Hurricanes’ fans.
And if Beitia is asked to end Florida State’s five-game losing streak against UM with his foot, one professional hopes the senior kicker has done something in private that he has not done publicly in the past eight months.
Talk about his failures.
“I feel sorry for him if he didn’t get significant help,” said John F. Murray, a licensed sport performance psychologist from West Palm Beach. “When a person does this twice they have a traumatic memory, a stimulus response. When he gets in that situation again, he’s going to have that same response.”
Beitia is a member of Florida State’s infamous “Wide Right Club,” one that includes three other kickers, all of whom have missed a potential game-winning or game-tying field goal wide right (Beitia also is the charter and sole member of the “Wide Left Club) against Miami.
The most recent was the 2004 Orange Bowl Classic, in which Beitia pushed right a 39-yard attempt with 5:30 remaining that would have given Florida State a one-point lead. Miami hung on for a 16-14 victory.
Two seasons ago, Beitia missed a 43-yard attempt wide left as time expired, preserving Miami’s 28-27 victory.
“I’d hate for my son to go through that,” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. “To walk off that field, man, it’s tough. But it happens all the time. It’s the nature of the job. And it happens in pro ball for millions and millions of dollars. If the kid ain’t tough, he can’t make it. Thank goodness, Xavier has got a little toughness about him.”
Is a “little toughness” all it will take? Most psychologists say no. Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Art of Failure, believes that once an athlete “chokes,” the odds of a repeat improve the next time the situation presents itself.
His example is Jana Novotna in the deciding set of the 1993 Wimbledon final against Steffi Graf. Leading 4-1 and serving at 40-30, Novotna lost five consecutive games. Two years later, in the third round of the French Open, Novotna lost to Chanda Rubin after leading 5-0 in the third set.
“It seems little doubt that part of the reason for her collapse against Rubin was her collapse against Graf Ã¢â‚¬â€? that the second failure built on the first, making it possible for her to be up 5-0 in the third set and yet entertain the thought ‘I can still lose,’ ” Gladwell wrote.
Before the Orange Bowl, Beitia said his confidence was high and that the 2002 miss â€? after which Beitia was inconsolableâ€? was erased.
Former Florida State kicker Bill Capece has mentored Beitia since he arrived from Tampa’s Jesuit High in 2001. Capece, a Leon County sheriff’s deputy and a former NFL kicker, holds several school records. He talked to Beitia last season about forgetting his first miss. This off-season, the talks became more serious.
“He’s talking to somebody who’s been through it, not just with somebody who has 20 college degrees,” Capece said. “He is able to let it go with somebody who can say, ‘I’ve felt the same thing and this is what I heard and this is what I did.’ ”
Capece and Beitia spoke about concentrating from the time he walks on the field for pre-game practice.
“He knows when he comes out of that tunnel in Miami, he’s going to hear it,” Capece said. “I said, ‘If you can stay in the game and just worry about kicking the ball, then that stuff will bounce off you.’ ”
Beitia has the failed-kick triple crown. No only has he missed right and left against Miami, but last season his game-winning attempt against North Carolina was so low that it was blocked. Florida State won the game in overtime.
When asked if Beitia’s failures in the clutch are mental, Capece first said, “I really don’t believe that.” Then, he added. “That’s hard to say because I’m not in his head.”
Murray knows the answer.
“A skill that is automatic in practice, you start blowing the situation out of proportion,” Murray said. “The problem with this guy is he’s going to have the possibility of choking much higher.”
Beitia spent more time in Tallahassee this summer, mainly to work with a new snapper (Myles Hodish) and a new holder (punter Chris Hall). With the signing of Gary Cismesia of Bradenton, he was pushed during practice more than any time since he arrived.
“It has helped in a lot of aspects,” Beitia said of the competition. “The fact I’ve got to be on my game every time I come to practice. The fact that I don’t have to kick 100 balls in practice, because I had other guys to help out and save my legs.”
But has it helped Beitia’s psyche? That is a question that will be answered only if the outcome of Friday’s game rests on his foot.
“Napoleon said the battle is often won in the mind, or the mind is more powerful than the sword,” Murray said. “If it’s not, patterns have tendencies to repeat themselves. You have to figure out a way to break the pattern.”