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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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JoePa vs. Bobby: Clash of the legends
Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden share similar on-field success. Off the field, they couldn't be more different.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published January 2, 2006
FORT LAUDERDALE - In so many ways, Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Penn State's Joe Paterno couldn't be more similar.
They are coaches for the ages. They are the top two in wins in Division I-A history; Bowden has 359, six more than Paterno. Each has two national titles.
They are coaches for, well, the aged. Paterno turned 79 on Dec.21, and Bowden was 76 on Nov.8. In an era when coaches are fired in the middle of a season, each has had remarkable staying power in his 40-year career; Paterno hasn't been a head coach anywhere else and Bowden has been in Tallahassee the past 30 years. Neither has intentions of leaving anytime soon.
They are coaches who have been idolized and, in recent years, criticized, in part for promoting their sons to prominent positions on staff. And they are old-school coaches, espousing virtues such as loyalty and honesty.
"I believe in a whole lot of things that Joe believes in," said Bowden, whose No. 22-ranked Seminoles (8-4) meet Paterno's No.3 Nittany Lions (10-1) in Tuesday night's Orange Bowl.
"Why do you fall in love with your wife?" Paterno added. "(It's) the little things you admire, you respect. How they handle themselves in certain situations. I think Bobby has always had a dignity. There's just certain things about people you can identify with."
They have been fast friends for decades, seeing their "common threads," as Bowden calls them, strengthen despite the demands of a profession predicated on beating the other guy at every turn. Little wonder they gravitate toward one another during their annual Nike-sponsored events.
"We usually end up sitting at a table and Bobby ends up talking to Joe as much or more than any other coach there," Bowden's wife, Ann, said.
But in so many ways, from their backgrounds to their styles on and off the field and even with their lifestyles, Bowden and Paterno couldn't be less similar.
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Bowden's father, Bob, was raised on a farm in rural Alabama and later moved to Birmingham. Although he didn't participate in sports, he loved to watch and passed that passion on to his son, who dreamed of playing at Alabama but, being undersized, transferred to Howard and became a small-college star quarterback.
The elder Bowden, a banker who launched a successful real estate business, hoped Bobby would join him. But Bobby had other plans: coaching.
"I wasn't interested," he said of the family business. "He didn't press it. He said do what you want to do or need to do."
His father retired early, at 64, but a short time later an aneurism left him bedridden and slowly dying. In 1970, Bowden was named the coach at West Virginia, his first big-time job, and he went to share the news with his father.
"He probably could hear me but he couldn't do nothing," Bowden said sanguinely. "He lived another month after that."
Paterno's father, Angelo, played a little football in Brooklyn, N.Y., but spent more time as a boxer. He dropped out of high school to join the Army and was in Mexico "chasing Pancho Villa" then in Europe "with (Gen. John) Pershing," his son said. Back home, he finished high school, took college courses at night, went to law school and passed the Bar when his son was 44.
After serving in the Army the final year of World War II, Joe went to Brown University and, like Bowden, played quarterback and excelled despite his small stature. Still, his father had visions of his eldest son becoming an attorney and aspiring to greatness.
"His thing was always education, education," Paterno said. "I lived one block away from James Madison High School where Supreme Court Justice (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg went to school. One block away. My dad said, "No. You're going to a Jesuit high school.' I walked 10 blocks to get on a trolley and after a half-hour get to Brooklyn Prep. ... My dad thought he had a president of the United States on his hands."
When Joe told his mother, Florence, he was going to take up coaching, she said, "What did you go to college for?"
And his father?
"The only thing he said to me was, "Whatever you do, have an impact on something, just have an impact on something,"' Paterno said. "I've tried to have an impact on Penn State."
His father died in 1955; Paterno, an assistant at Penn State since 1950 who became known as an innovative offensive coordinator, finally became a head coach in 1966, succeeding Rip Engle.
"He might have said I wasted my time," Paterno said of his father.
* * *
Bowden has always exuded a down-home charm; a genuine folksiness to which people can't help but respond. His speech is peppered with terms like "dadgummit" and "bumfuzzled."
Paterno is pure big city, a dry sense of humor, a bit rougher around the edges in language and more frenetically paced than Bowden. He fretted that the news conferences for this game were 30 minutes from his team hotel, remarking he thought the game was in Miami, not Fort Lauderdale. When bowl officials asked both coaches to sign a few footballs for staff keepsakes, Bowden quickly grabbed a pen. Paterno passed.
Paterno, who for years met with reporters covering his team the night before games for informal talks, stopped that a couple years ago and has been more abrasive and confrontational.
Bowden, even when annoyed with the media or the scrutiny that comes with an off-field problem such as linebacker A.J. Nicholson's suspension, is usually genteel.
"Hey, you haven't been down here lately, have you?" Bowden said with a chuckle when asked about being more tolerant of the media than Paterno. "I'm sure I've been a lot more irritable this year than I've been last year and the year before and the year before. So I can sure understand Joe's frustration."
Both have dealt with criticism of their sons, Jeff Bowden and Jay Paterno, as play-callers. When together, Bowden and Paterno have talked about that situation and how to handle it.
"Oh, you mean that happened to you? You mean your son's the same?" Bowden said of their give-and-take. "We bounce a lot of stuff off of each other. ... Knowing Joe as well as I've known him, and I hope I'm the same way, I just will not let public opinion tell me what I'm going to do and what I'm going to say."
"I think Bobby and I are pretty much on the same page," Paterno said. "I have a son who has a very prominent spot on our staff, he works with the quarterbacks. Jeff Bowden is in a very prominent spot. I know my kid is a good coach, and Bob knows that his kid is a very good coach. I tell him, "Let them talk."'
Some of the talk between Paterno and Bowden is about age and how it's used against them in the sometimes cutthroat recruiting battles. Their approach is identical; tell the prospects honestly that they intend to be at the school as long as the players are there. Youngsters respect that and rave about the openness of their coaches; Penn State players call Paterno "Joe."
The coaches also share a common trait of being a bit behind the technology curve. Paterno said his school's president once asked him why he wasn't responding to his e-mail, and Paterno could only shake his head and say he didn't know he had e-mail. Asked recently about text-messaging recruits, Bowden said, "Did you say "test?"'
Products of their age, these two.
"Bobby's a true southerner and Joe's a true Brooklyner," Ann said. "But in the coaching profession, all coaches regardless of where they're from have one thing in common and that's the game. If they weren't coaches, there might not be that much that draws them together because they are from different parts of the country and have different backgrounds."
* * *
Even in football, they're different, especially as they've aged.
Bowden is more of a CEO these days, delegating significant responsibility to his assistants, which has helped prepare them for head-coaching jobs. (See Georgia's Mark Richt.) Bowden spends most practices watching action from a tower, squinting through stylish Oakley sunglasses and jotting down notes to himself.
Paterno, still wearing his trademark thick glasses that would be a fashion no-no for anyone else, is all over the practice field and will, occasionally, jump in and demonstrate technique.
"I don't do that as much anymore; I can't do it physically," he said. "You have to learn to pace yourself and learn what you do well. What I do well is I can critique a practice, I can say, "I don't like what we're doing.' I can sit there and they've submitted an offensive game plan or a defensive game plan and I look it over and (can say), "I don't like this. I don't like that. Why are we doing this?"'
* * *
So if they did retire tomorrow, what would they do?
Again, they're different.
"I don't like golf," Paterno said. "I don't like to fish. I tried to take my kids fishing when they were young and it drove me nuts. We have a place called Fisherman's Paradise right down the road from me. ... There's hundreds and hundreds of fish that you can see from the little boardwalk. I took them out there one day figuring they can throw their line in and get something. We were there 31/2 hours, nobody got a bite so I said, "Let's get the heck out of here. This ain't for me."'
Bowden does love golf, but is entertaining no thoughts about walking away for a good walk spoiled. He often jokes there's only one big event after retirement - death, which is what happened to his father and his coaching idol, Paul "Bear" Bryant.
"I kid about it, but I've kidded so much I'm starting to believe it," he said. "I think if I got out of coaching, I'd go find another job somewhere. ... Seeing (his father and Bryant) made me feel a little bit more conscious that a man needs a motive to live. A man needs something out there."
"I wouldn't mind working around a golf course," he said. "Just hoeing weeds out of the sand traps or sitting on one of them lawn mowers with that big straw hat on and smelling that good cut grass and after the week's over, go pick up that $40 check."
Not counting some free rounds.
"My wife (Sue) and I have talked a little bit about that and I think, like Bobby and Ann, we're not very flashy," Paterno said of life after football. "Somehow, and I'm not sure how I would do it, I would really like to take over a group of kids in an inner-city school, kind of mentor them and create a different atmosphere than what I see in inner-city schools. I would use some resources that we have, and Sue is a natural teacher. ... I think that is what I would like to do because I would hate to get out of the people business.
"But, unlike Coach Bowden, I don't want to cut grass."