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'What happened to Pete?'

9-19-02, 4:55 p.m.


Back in the fall of 1999, Peter Warrick was Can't Miss TV. P.Dub. highlight footage became as much a part of the networks' package as "ER," and "N.Y.P.D. Blue."

Sunday night Warrick returns to the national airwaves for the first time since he was the MVP of the 2000 Sugar Bowl in leading Florida State to the national championship with touchdown catches of 43 and 64 yards and a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown against Virginia Tech.

But he lines up against the Falcons after a season he scored just one touchdown. After scoring 20 points in the foot lights that wondrous night, he has just 48 points in 34 NFL games since the Bengals took him with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft. And only one catch of 40-plus yards, and that was in his first game.

He has been reduced to going home and watching his high school and college tapes and saying "Why can't I do that here?" to himself

"The hardest thing," Warrick mused before Thursday's practice, "is hearing people say, 'Well, what happened to Pete?'"


Here are some reasons. It's not college anymore, it's the NFL. The Bengals have never really found a way to use him, and when they have, he hasn't delivered the numbers. They don't send him deep down the field like the Seminoles did. Like he says, "I can't call the plays." The Bengals would like him to focus more on details, such as constantly wearing his contact lenses. He's trying to find himself after a college career he was "The Man," when he followed The Man."

"It's all tied into together," Warrick said. "Part of it is my life. When I was was in college, I was more into God than I am now. Here, we play on Sundays, and I shied away from God. I know if I got back the other way and let God be my leader, it would be a turnaround. I think I just shied away from God. I need to get it back right."

Sunday in Cleveland may have been the lowest point. He had just one catch

for three yards and blew a gasket when quarterback Gus Frerotte couldn't get the ball to him when he was running wide open across the field to the sideline. Warrick knew it was a tough play for Frerotte because he was being flushed out of the pocket the opposite way. Frerotte would have liked for Warrick to have slowed down a bit because he was so open, but Warrick said, "I was running my route."

The lack of production is gnawing away at him. After two seasons of averaging just 10.4 yards per catch and complaining he's nothing but a glorified tight end, the third season has opened in much the same fashion with five catches for 38 yards with a long of play 12.

"You don't understand," Warrick said. "When you're at one level and you do so much and then you go to the next level and it's hard to show out. I feel like I need the ball more than one time. It's just not me. Everybody says the same thing. But it's a product of making it happen."

Receivers coach Steve Mooshagian has been Warrick's staunchest supporter and says he's the victim of the high-pick syndrome. He doesn't view him as the bust the media has.

"The expectations are just so high and at times unrealistic," Mooshagian said. "This is a faster game, a different game than college. He's had a lot of catches in his career (126) and that's production. I think this year he has matured and become more focused. I don't think there's one NFL wide receiver that thinks he's getting the ball enough."

The 5-11, 195-pound Warrick wants to go deep down the field, but the trend is sending the bigger, taller receivers that way. Last year, every receiver in the NFL's top nine was at least 6-0 or 200 pounds, ranging from 236-pound David Boston to 6-4 Randy Moss to the Warrick-like Torry Holt at 6-0, 190. The 10th player on the list, New England's 5-10, 193-pound Troy Brown, got a lot of his 101 catches where Warrick gets his, on crossing routes and in nooks and crannies.

Warrick loved the reverse the Bengals ran to him on the first series in Cleveland when they sent him to the weak side for 11 yards. He would have liked another.

"I don't think they use me in a bad way," Warrick said. "It's just different than in college. When I was at Florida State, I just made things happen. A lot of it is my life and stuff, too."

Warrick decided to buy a place of his own this season in Northern Kentucky with at least an acre so he wouldn't be living, "where the houses are so close together. I wanted some space. I don't even know how many acres."

Last year, Warrick "had one of my home boys," living with him and there was always somebody to go out with and with whom to talk. Now he's by himself and he's taking time to think a little bit about how he's been living his life.

"Just looking at God more," Warrick said. "I still go out. I'm still me. But I don't go out like I did the first two years. Not as much clubbing and partying. I was living the life. I'm still living my life, but I'm trying to do it differently."

Warrick hopes it helps translate. He has missed the first two days of practice this week with a bruised leg, a rarity for him. He has yet to miss a game and "It's hard with all the work and all the practices and having nothing to show for it."

The easier lifestyle has allowed him to rewind some of those plays from Florida State and Florida's Bradenton Southeast High.

"I look at them and I say, 'How did I do that?'" Warrick said.

He hopes Sunday night isn't a re-run, but the pilot his of NFL series. Like MAS*H, it just took a few seasons to catch on before it became a classic.

"I love playing on TV." Warrick said. "I'm a TV guy."

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