CLEMSON, S.C. — He threw everything in the playbook at his dear old dad--fake punts, reverse passes and a shocking 11-point first-half lead, but the gamble Tommy Bowden did not take in the end may have cost him a chance at preempting his dad's date with destiny.
With Ann Bowden torn in the stands Saturday night, rooting for her husband but feeling for her son, No. 1 Florida State rallied to defeat Clemson, 17-14, before a record crowd of 86,200 at Clemson Memorial Stadium.
After fooling his father all night--"You out-tricked me!" Bobby said to his son afterward--Tommy played the percentages with a chance to pull off the upset of the season.
Trailing by three points with 2:01 left and facing fourth and one at the Florida State 25, Tommy Bowden called for the field-goal team.
But Tony Lazzara's 41-yard attempt was partially tipped by Tay Cody and fell short and left of the goal post.
"I was fortunate to get a hand on the ball," Cody said. "Our season depended on it."
Tommy Bowden didn't second-guess his decision.
"I did not want for the kids to play that hard and not have a chance to win the game," Tommy said. "I didn't have any trick plays left. I used them all."
And thus ended one of the stranger sagas in recent college football memory.
Ann Bowden, Bobby's husband for 50 years and Tommy's mother for 45, sat nervously in the stands wearing half a sweatshirt from each school, stitched up the middle.
She loves her son, but her loyalties were tied to Bobby. And with Clemson holding a 14-3 lead in the third quarter, Ann Bowden was getting nervous.
"It was just what I prayed for," Ann said of the close finish. "It was pretty tough. It didn't really hit me until the third quarter. I said, 'Tommy, that's enough.' We did not need to lose this ball game, and Tommy didn't have to win."
Ann reasoned that Florida State (8-0) had more to lose with a possible national title at stake, while Tommy and Clemson (3-4) are in a rebuilding process.
Her decision process didn't set well with her son.
"I think she's a traitor," Tommy joked. "Like I've said before, she's not my mother, she's my father's wife."
Florida State, clearly, seemed affected by the week's distractions. Lurking in the backdrop of Bowden's quest for 300 against his son was the case of star receiver Peter Warrick, reinstated Friday after pleading guilty to petty theft for his role in a department store scam.
Clemson fans screamed "Jailbird, jailbird," at the Seminoles' senior, and he responded with a shaky performance. Although he finished with 11 catches for 121 yards, Warrick dropped several balls.
"When you practice two days out of the last three weeks, that's the result you get," Bobby Bowden said.
Warrick did not speak to reporters after the game, but Bowden defended the school's decision to reinstate Warrick after a two-game absence.
"I hope people don't think that we haven't punished him," Bowden said. "You punish him, then you stop it."
Florida State was flat from the start, and Tommy Bowden was ready to pounce.
Trailing 3-0 in the second quarter, Clemson caught Florida State off guard with a fake punt and Ryan Romano's 25-yard pass to Braxton Williams giving the Tigers a first down at the Florida State 23. Seven plays later, Clemson took the lead on a seven-yard scoring pass from Woodrow Dantzler to Rod Gardner.
You didn't think this night was all about the Bowdens?
The fake punt was designed by Clemson assistant Jack Hines, who is married to Tommy's sister Robyn.
Clemson made it 14-3 with 2:09 left in the half on Dantzler's one-yard touchdown run.
Florida State was out of sync, but Tommy knew the game was not over.
"The thought was that they were going to come back," Tommy said. "That's why my father has 300 wins."
The Seminoles cut the lead to 14-6 in the third quarter on Sebastian Janikowski's 33-yard field goal and tied the game later in the quarter on a touchdown and two-point conversion.
The touchdown came on a Travis Minor one-yard scoring run, the conversion on Chris Weinke's pass to fullback Dan Kendra.
Florida State took the lead for good with 5:26 left on Janikowski's 39-yard field goal, and then held on to win.
Afterward, father and son embraced at midfield.
Tommy joked that he was not distracted during the game.
"I didn't see him one time," Tommy said. "He blends in. For some reason, they've got a lot of short fat people over there. Honest, I didn't see him one time."
The victory, close as it was, vaulted Bobby Bowden into the pantheon of coaching. In Division I, only Bear Bryant, Pop Warner, Amos Alonzo Stagg and Joe Paterno have won more games.
"I'm very happy my players and coaches let me win my 300th," he said.
Although he admitted coaching against his son was tough, father did not concede one inch.
"I feel sorry he lost the game," Bobby said of Tommy. "They played good enough to win it. Yet, I wouldn't have given him the win if I had to. I want the dad-gum win, although he probably deserved it."
For Bobby, victory No. 300 was neither impressive nor conclusive. It might cost the Seminoles votes in the polls.
"I don't think we played like we are," Bowden conceded.
But someday, the significance of Saturday will sink in.
"Maybe, as time goes on," Bobby said. "But I've got to play him every darn year."
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All-time Division I-A coaching victories:
1. Bear Bryant 323
2. Pop Warner 319
3. x-Joe Paterno 315
4. Amos Alonzo Stagg 314
5. x-Bobby Bowden 300
6. Tom Osborne 255
7. x-LaVell Edwards 249