Nov. 2, 2000
By Eddie Pells Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – If the idea of a father coaching against his son seems awkward, consider the scene in a handful of living rooms scattered across the South last winter.
Walking out the front door after making his pitch would be Florida State’s chief recruiter, Bobby Bowden. Walking in would be his son, Tommy Bowden of Clemson.
So, how does a 70-year-old grandpa with only a handful of years left in his coaching career convince a recruit that he, not Tommy, has the player’s best long-term interests in mind?
“I always say, `Ask Terry,”‘ Bobby Bowden said, referring to another son, who left Auburn unceremoniously two seasons ago. “Terry used to say he’d be around longer than me, and where’s he right now?”
Bowden says that kind of tongue-in-cheek, but there’s some truth there, and an even deeper reality beyond that. The recruiting game is almost always personal, and now it’s a high-stakes family affair between Clemson and Florida State.
That’s especially true now that No. 10 Clemson (8-1, 6-1) has emerged as the main threat to No. 4 Florida State (8-1, 6-0) in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The recruiting trail gives way to the football field Saturday, when father and son meet again, in Bowden Bowl II.
“I don’t think you ever really get used to it,” Tommy Bowden said. “It’s just not a normal occurrence”
Ann Bowden will be will be sitting in the stands as her husband and son square off in just the second father-son coaching matchup in major college football history.
In the first meeting last year, there was history on the line. In addition to the first-of-its-kind matchup, Bobby Bowden was trying to become just the fifth Division I-A coach to reach 300 victories.
This time, it’s the future at stake.
Because, as much as the share of the ACC title that’s essentially riding on this game, this is a chance for Clemson to truly re-enter the landscape of college football powerhouses. It’s a land the Tigers helped define decades ago, only to see the program ravaged by years of scandal and struggle.
“I know what’s on the line for us,” Tommy Bowden said. “But there are other things that need to be accomplished before that.”
Still, it’s a testament to Tommy that he has taken this program so far in such a short time.
Were it not for a spectacular catch by Georgia Tech’s Kerry Watkins last week in the waning moments, the Tigers would come here undefeated and this game would truly be a national-title playoff game.
Either way, Clemson would have been considered a major underdog – the Seminoles are 18 1/2-point favorites – simply because of the program Bobby Bowden has built over the span of 25 years.
In an era where storied programs fall and rise and fall again – see Alabama and Oklahoma this year – FSU maintains its high status. The Seminoles have won at least a share of the ACC title every year since they entered in 1992.
They have yet to lose a conference home game, an impressive feat no matter what the critics say about the strength of the conference.
These are daunting facts for anyone who thinks about knocking off the Seminoles. And the foundation is built not as much on Bobby Bowden’s Xs and Os, but on his power of personality, a trait that hits home in the living rooms of those recruits, then pays off on campus, and on the scoreboard.
“If you’re going to beat them, you have to play a lot of people,” said Georgia Tech’s George O’Leary, the last coach thought to be the big threat to Bowden and FSU. “You have to get your depth to where you can play people and not have a major drop-off between the first and second teams. Because that’s what you’re really facing when you play Florida State.”
The overriding feeling is that Tommy Bowden hasn’t reached that point yet, but he’s getting close.
If he does knock off Florida State, there’s some sentiment, especially among those who know these coaches best, that the end might follow shortly for daddy.
“My mother is 100 percent Florida State,” Terry Bowden said. “It’s not the boy’s time to beat the old man. My parents are smart enough to know that people will quickly want to put you out to pasture when you lose one or two games.”
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