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College football

Let legends exit gracefully

By HUBERT MIZELL
Published October 19, 2003

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Sure, he wants to finish ahead of Joe Paterno, immortalized in bronze and marble as college football's winningest Division I-A coach, but Florida State's hero has his historical drive in low gear, not wishing to be flagged for overcelebration.

Working at not dissing JoePa.

Saturday night was Bowden's first catch-up opportunity. Bobby did it, his 'Noles outscoring Virginia 19-14. Conquest 3-3-8. No champagne. No end zone dance. No oratory.

Bobby is gun-shy. Refusing to talk with flair about competition between the aging thoroughbreds from Penn State and FSU. Fearing even slight twitches of satisfaction might be perceived as a snip at Joe.

Earlier this year, Bowden did a low-octane newspaper interview, saying how he and Paterno, with their wives, are best buddies. Frequent companions on offseason junkets financed by Nike, equipment supplier for both collegiate powers.

Bobby had fun with it.

But the FSU fellow read his comments and worried how the words might strike Paterno. I mean, this is not like gabbing about Steve Spurrier.

Bobby wondered if speaking of becoming No. 1 might be considered as chipping at Joe, as the Nittany Lions wobble through an extended slump.

A refreshing attitude. Pepsi doesn't worry much about Coke's feelings. Chevy has no qualms about needling Ford. But among coaching giants, it's warming to know that No. 2 cares about No. 1's feelings as Bowden executes a pass in the stretch.

Being fair with Paterno is just one bubbling challenge for Bowden as his 74th birthday nears. In a turbulent, painful 2003, troubles have bitten deep into Bobby's family.

Losing again to the Miami Hurricanes is one thing, but the FSU coach's life, overloaded with charms for so long, has become abundant with personal hurt.

By the way, there are two sides. ...

Paterno, when asked about Bowden, speaks kindly. To media. In public. I went to State College and Tallahassee three years ago and did a Joe/Bobby column. It was bountiful with roses and wine. Mutual admiration. But I hear there can be a less upbeat side to Joe's private feelings.

A longtime member of the Penn State football staff, a pal of mine, shared hundreds of one-on-one moments with Joe. Over the seasons, he heard far less than landslide Paterno endorsement of Bobby's methods as FSU coach.

Joe, talking with confidants, has admitted to being disturbed at what the 76-year-old icon perceived as less than acceptable Bowden management of off-field troubles involving FSU players.

Paterno and Bowden converse often on the phone. I wonder if Joe ever gets candid, questioning some of Bobby's ways. Friend to friend. Probably not. My wish is when both are done, that P&B will wind up tied in all-time wins. JoePa needs to get going.

Paterno has never felt strongly enough to go public about any objections to Bowden methods. Maybe he likes Bobby too much personally to risk a challenge. I don't see it ever happening.

So why do I bring it up? Because it seems an absolute part of what is going on. Something that needs handling. I want Bobby and Joe to always be cozy. To keep doing their Nike partying.

Let them, as victory numbers rise and then set, take appropriate bows. Exuding old-fashioned humility. That is a lock, both being very old school. Let them both have parades. Hold the rain.

During a week of nasty backwash from FSU's latest flop against Miami, a beating far worse than 22-14 indicates, Bowden did preparations for Virginia and then settled back Thursday night to watch TV football.

Clemson, coached by son Tommy, had a furious ESPN scrum with N.C. State, where longtime 'Noles assistant Chuck Amato is in charge. But it was an unhappy ending for Bobby and wife Ann, a somewhat embattled Tommy taking a 17-15 loss.

Friday morning, as the FSU team flew to Charlottesville, the Bowdens were on a private plane for Birmingham, facing family duties that were far from joyous.

Steve Bowden, eldest of six children, was being sentenced for fraudulent sales of securities. FSU's coach had been one of the victims, losing $1.5-million in his son's ill-fated program.

Ann and Bobby went to Alabama, with love and support, to see how Steve would make out. It went well, in a way. No jail time. Steve was put under home detention and ordered to pay $1.5-million in restitution, his case being eased by Bobby and some friends not pressing issues of personal money blown.

Finally, late Friday, the Bowdens made it to Charlottesville, for a mere football game.

Even if one with significant historic meaning, regarding the race with Paterno.

Then again, all Bowden things considered, Conquest 3-3-8 was far from the biggest thing going on in Bobby's life.

[Last modified October 19, 2003, 02:03:50]


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