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Bobby Bowden gets a chance for a Florida State happy ending

Florida State will honor longtime coach Bowden, who was fired in 2009, during a pregame ceremony when the undefeated Seminoles host North Carolina State on Saturday.

October 25, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Former Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden will be honored before Saturday's game between the Seminoles and North Carolina State.
Former Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden will be honored before Saturday's… (David J. Phillip / Associated…)

Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden were legends and friends and headed for train-wreck finishes. There was no easy way to extricate themselves from the Penn State and Florida State kingdoms they ruled, so both men decided to hold on until fate intervened.

It did, and it was ugly.

Bowden was 80 in 2009 when he got fired. He wanted one more year after another 7-6 season, but was forced out by school President T. K Wetherell, who had been coached by Bowden at Florida State.

Paterno was a month shy of 85 in 2011 when he got fired under unimaginable circumstances. The Jerry Sandusky scandal was revealed in 2010 and it ravaged much of what Paterno had established. He died, heartbroken, the following January.

The difference between Bowden and Paterno is Bowden lived long enough to rewrite his last page.

Bowden was so bitter with the way he was treated he has not stepped foot in Doak Campbell Stadium since 2009. That will end Saturday, when Bowden returns to be celebrated before Florida State's game against North Carolina State.

Poor North Carolina State, which probably would have been a 32-point underdog even if Bowden had stayed home.

There won't be a vocal cord at rest when Bowden appears on the field 30 minutes before kickoff, surrounded by 300 to 400 of his former players. Bowden, who turns 84 on Nov. 8, will partake in the Seminoles' pregame tradition of planting the spear at midfield.

And there's your happy ending.

Bowden coached his last game Jan. 1, 2010, in the Gator Bowl. He coached FSU from 1976 through 2009, winning 12 Atlantic Coast Conference titles and two national championships.

Eric Barron, the new FSU president, thought it was time to bring Bowden back. Bowden agreed.

"They did what they had a right to do," Bowden told the Palm Beach Post last week about the circumstances of his departure.

It's funny how it all worked out for Bowden, who always used humor to smooth over the rough edges.

He left Florida State second behind Paterno on the major college list for football victories. Both men had to vacate wins because of NCAA sanctions, but Paterno had to vacate more, which made Bowden the leader at 377.

While Paterno died with Penn State headed for possible ruins, Bowden lived to see Florida State's return to glory.

He feared quitting because, he said, "after you retire there's only one big event left."

Bowden was worried he would drop dead a month after he left, the way his idol Bear Bryant did after he stepped down at Alabama. Bowden was wrong. He's led an active life since leaving, crisscrossing the country as a sought-after motivational speaker.

He returns to the field with his Seminoles at 7-0 and No. 2 in this season's first Bowl Championship Series standings. Florida State is riding a 10-game winning streak in the ACC, the longest since Bowden's teams won 24 straight more than a decade ago.

The Seminoles are separating themselves from the pack again, the way they did for so many of the Bowden years. Florida State entered the ACC in 1992 and went a remarkable 70-2 in league play its first nine years.

Bowden returns knowing he had a part in what's happening now. He hired current head Coach Jimbo Fisher away from Louisiana State to join his staff in 2007. Bowden wanted successor-in-waiting Fisher to wait only one more year before taking over in 2010, but no one can argue with the transition results.

The elixir of winning allows Fisher to joyfully lead cheers for Bowden's triumphant return.

"He was my hero too," Fisher said this week. "He made Florida State. He was Florida State. That's why we have this stadium, the facilities; that's why we have academics, that's why we have the school. That's why we have everything."

It will be up to Florida State now not to screw up Bowden's return. Fisher is worried North Carolina State (3-3) could be the trap game between last Saturday's emotional win over Clemson and next Saturday's game against archrival Miami.

Florida State was 5-0 last year when it suffered a shocking, 17-16 loss at North Carolina State.

"You want to play well for Coach Bowden," Fisher said, "but at the same time you've got to make sure the celebration for Coach Bowden is for him and the fans…I love Coach Bowden to death, but I think it's another growing stage for our program."

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