Is Charlie Crist Florida's Next Governor?

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Over the next year, tension mounted between Crist Sr., who was also the team's physician, and the coaches regarding his son's playing time. "His son was getting closer to the point of becoming a senior and graduating," says David Grassman, the defensive backs coach, during a trial deposition. "And Dr. Crist seemed to be becoming more and more involved, interfering with coaches [regarding the] way his son was being handled."

On one occasion, Crist Sr. called Grassman while he was teaching and expressed frustration. Charlie wasn't getting the time he needed to throw, his father said. The coaches were coddling the team's starter, Jerry Lewis. His son had to play, he informed the coaches over and over again.

After Grassman was fired, the team limped to a 3-7 record while playing both Charlie and Jerry. Soon, Page resigned. But in truth, the coach told buddies at a local jock hangout called the Edgewater, the Crists had forced him out. Charles Graham, a close friend of the coach, says Page blamed the Crists. "Charlie is a sissy," Graham recalls the coach, who died in 1983, saying that night. "And I wasn't going to play him. He wasn't good enough for playing time."

Crist went on to compete at Wake Forest University but foundered there as well and never made varsity, his family says. But in later years, Crist would often talk of his quarterback days, sometimes glossing over that fact. He boasted to New Times that Virginia Tech and Rice University recruited him in high school. His official state Senate bio in the mid-'90s was terse: "Wake Forest University, 1974-76: quarterback, football team" — without mentioning the practice squad. And Crist Sr. says his son "could pass a mile" and "throw the ball 65 yards." Even during his 2012 Democratic National Convention speech, Crist said, "I used to play quarterback right down the road here at Wake Forest."

But Crist's ex-wife, Mandy Morrow, who met him around that time, says, "He was never good at football, not good in high school, and not so good in college." During college, Morrow and Crist were an inseparable and striking pair — she blond and fair, he tall and dark — attending dances and concerts.

But after the two wed in 1979, following Crist's transfer to Florida State University and graduation, their marriage quickly dissolved. Everything was an argument, Crist says. That fall, he drove home from Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama, filled with anxiety. He kept thinking, No one in my family has ever divorced. He was terrified what his father would think. When he arrived, his sister Cathy didn't recognize him. "He didn't have that smile or confidence," she says. "It really upset me."

That night, after consulting his father, Crist decided to divorce Morrow, Cathy says. He told his wife the next day; both recall they spoke once more and never again. Morrow says she didn't have any warning and soon after moved to Dallas. "It came out of nowhere," she recalls. "And then we just lived our lives."

Crist graduated from Cumberland in 1981 and later took a job as the general counsel for Minor League Baseball in St. Pete. A decade later, he was elected to the state Senate and began a remarkably seamless ascent through state politics.

Until he failed at that too.

Visit with Charlie Crist in his St. Petersburg neighborhood along the bay and you don't sense internal conflict or regret. There's only the frenetic energy, good grooming, and restraint that got him so high so fast. While others schlep about in jeans, he's wearing a suit and planning big things. But despite his likability, few people really know Charlie Crist. Affability is his shield.

This refrain emerged often among the dozens of people interviewed for this story: Even at extreme moments, like an electoral defeat, he's almost incapable of melancholy or anger. "He's a friend, and open, but he doesn't share with anybody," says a Tallahassee lobbyist close to Crist. "You think you know him, but beneath the surface... I've always been surprised. If you find out, let me know."

It's not a manifestation of fame. He's always been this way — his father says it goes to his core. When he disagrees with you, rather than risk confrontation, he becomes either quiet or more jovial.

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Terrence McCoy