Oct. 22, 1999
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – We probably know more about the Bowdens than any bunch since the Bradys. Because for nearly four decades now, the first family of college football has kept few secrets from us or one another.
If you wanted to know whether Tommy really had a master plan to become a coach in sixth grade, all you had to do was ask Ann, his mother. The term paper that came back from school that day marked “A-plus” went straight into a drawer, where it still sits today.
Or say you wanted to know how upset Bobby really was when some boosters and bigwigs at Auburn forced Terry out as coach. Then you asked Jeff, the youngest son.
With a knowing smile, Jeff would say forget the neutral mumbo-jumbo their dad mentioned at the time and look at how much Auburn coughed up – $500,000 – to cancel a scheduled game against Florida State rather than incur the old man’s wrath.
And just think: All that candor was just a rehearsal for the jabs, jokes, stories, trick plays, offensive schemes and uncensored material the Bowdens have been swapping freely among themselves over the dinner table for nearly 40 years.
Or used to, anyway.
Because something changed drastically two months ago, just as college football was about to kick off. That’s when the father, about to begin his 24th season at Florida State, called in his second-oldest son, about to begin his first at Clemson.
“No way can we share the things we usually do,” Bobby Bowden told Tommy. “We’re all usually on the same page. Now that we’re playing, I have to be very careful. I don’t reveal any secrets.”
If this seems harsh, remember what the old man has on the line Saturday, when father faces son as coach for the first time in the 113 years colleges have played one another. Bobby Bowden will be looking to pick up his 300th win, keep his record unblemished and his chances for a national championship alive.
And what about Tommy?
“If we lose,” he deadpanned, “we’re 3-4.”
But father vs. son won’t be the only tie that binds the sidelines in this game. Jeff coaches receivers for his dad at Florida State. Jack Hines, who coaches the secondary for Clemson, is married to the Bowdens’ oldest child, Robyn.
To top it off, Terry, who took his buyout from Auburn and went to work for ABC Sports, will be in the studio analyzing the game.
That in itself will give Tommy and Bobby something to talk about before kickoff.
They’ll wonder, Tommy said, “How much Terry will criticize us both.”
That may be the last laugh they share for several hours. Because Saturday will be one of those days the grownups in the Bowden household have dreaded since Bobby started lecturing his own about the ugly side of his profession. The poor job security, the gypsy-like existence, the constant politicking – things he used to hope his sons would never know.
Lot of good that did him.
Even seeing their father hung in effigy had little effect on the boys. It happened 25 years ago one Sunday morning when Bobby was coaching at West Virginia and driving his family to church.
Only Steve, the oldest boy, bypassed dad’s world completely and became a financial planner. Even the Bowdens’ two daughters married football players. To find the reason why the kids chose football, and why Saturday will be less about pain than gain, you don’t have to scratch the surface very deep.
Bobby Bowden is – to use his own words – so “dad-gummed competitive” that that singular gene appears to have taken hold above all the others he and Ann bestowed on their children.
Bobby has the family’s only national championship. The two sons both have unbeaten seasons – something their father wants. Terry got his the year Auburn was on probation and ineligible for a bowl. That enabled him to steal coach of the year honors from Bobby the season he won the national title. Tommy completed his perfect season last year at Tulane. You can be sure the three boys never fail to remind one another of the details.
That’s why Bobby quit talking strategy before September rolled around. It’s why Tommy would like nothing better than to derail his dad’s express, and why Ann will be sitting in seats at Memorial Stadium far above the field to root for her husband and wrestle with her conscience.
That much is understood by the rest of the family. Jeff used to say his mother always said she’d cheer for whichever Bowden has the most to lose.
“If there wasn’t so much at stake in this ballgame for Bobby, I wouldn’t even think twice about rooting for Tommy,” Ann said. “There is not a lot at stake for Tommy. This is his first year. He’s not expected to win like we are.”
By JIM LITKE AP Sports Writer
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