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Clemson mother, FSU wife

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Let's say Clemson and Florida State go into Saturday night overtime. Doak Campbell Stadium is bellowing berserk. Millions of television eyes glaring. Seminoles grinding to remain a national championship possibility.

How will Ann Bowden feel?

Her husband, Bobby, is FSU's 70-year-old coach, a legend notably thirsty after a draining loss at Miami, hoping to wind up No. 1 for a second straight season and a third time in eight years.

But, another consideration

Their son, Tommy, is 46, in his second lap as Clemson's coach, having revived the Tigers, going a respectable 6-6 in 1999. Now potent at 8-1 with an opportunity to become the first ACC rival to finish a football season ahead of FSU.

So, it's OT, Miz Ann.

"Right now, our Seminoles need it more than Tommy," said the Bowden matriarch. "My leaning would unquestionably be for Florida State.

"Bobby's got only a few more shots. Next year, we'll be without (quarterback) Chris Weinke. We need this one more than Tommy. If he wins all the rest, that would be great."

Ann remembers what happened to another coaching son. Terry Bowden, with an 11-0 record his first season at Auburn, created outrageous appetites among fans of those Tigers. When fortunes subsided, he became a lavish target. Troubles mounted. Terry got fired. Today, he's an ABC-TV analyst.

"Terry had strikes against him at Auburn from the beginning," Ann Bowden said. "Tommy had nothing like that at Clemson. He will do well over the long haul."

Terry, will he coach again?

"He's been approached by a couple of schools, including one in the ACC" about returning to coaching, his mother revealed. Rumor is, it was North Carolina. "Now that's something I don't want, Tommy and Terry coaching against Bobby in the same conference."

It's a 52nd year of marriage for the Bowdens. They have six children, 21 grandkids. "Not an ugly one in the bunch," she crowed. "This is a good time. We don't have any financial worries. Everybody seems healthy."

Twice a week, maybe three times, Ann is on the telephone with the Tommy clan in South Carolina. Robyn Hines, eldest Bowden daughter, is also at Clemson, married to one of Tommy's assistants.

"It's true, that a coach can win too many too quick," Ann said. "But that Tommy, he'll work his heart out to win every one, especially this one." Mama Bowden passionately follows Clemson games. "Tommy lost his star quarterback (Woody Dantzler), so that really hurt, but the (Willie) Simmons kid from Quincy, Fla., is coming through pretty well as the replacement.

"We didn't go heavy on recruiting Simmons (for FSU) like Tommy did." Oh, sure, there is some Bowden-on-Bowden personnel head-butting.

"A lot of schools use Bobby's age against us," she said. "Even our own son would do it. I'm sure Tommy tells prospects, "You don't want to play for that old man. He's not going to be around forever.' "

She again reflected on Terry's sweet-then-bitter Auburn experience. "He was on top of the world," Ann said. "After his first season, Terry got the only coach of the year trophy Bobby has never won, the Bear Bryant Award.

"That was a funny feeling. Bobby, being a native of Alabama, always idolized Bear. Bobby would really like that (award)."

He and Tommy are candidates.

This is a big, warm, loving and competitive family. Bobby and Ann live in the house they bought in 1976 when he became FSU coach. A few years ago, she pushed hard to get a bigger spread, a nearby ranch where little grandBowdens could ride horses.

"It was 14 acres," Ann said. "Bobby could've had a golf practice range. But his financial adviser didn't like the idea. Bobby wouldn't go for it. So we're where we've been for so long." Oh, by the way, there's a new Bowden money manager, another of their sons, Steve.

For years, around the FSU football operation, I heard Tommy was the Bowden offspring who was most like Bobby. More of a personality match than Terry.

I got to know Tommy as he was busting into the big time, winning far more games than expected at Tulane with quarterback Shaun King. You do sense the parallels with a famous father.

"Tommy is a big joker, like his dad," Ann said. "If he can't communicate something, it becomes buried in a bunch of humor. Bobby has always been good at that.

"But there are some huge misconceptions about the makeup of Bobby Bowden. Despite all the booster gatherings and speeches and media conferences, he is not a socializer at all.

"Bobby is a naturally shy person. People may not believe that. He's very private. If we're home and somebody knocks at the back door, Bobby will run off to the bedroom. Hiding.

"He enjoys traveling with me. Going out to dinner, just the two of us. Bobby's true buddies are still the same guys he knew in high school at Birmingham. They get together every year, play golf and have some laughs."

A homebody, of sorts.

"A handyman, Bobby is not," she said. "When we bought our house so long ago, he looked all around it. Probably hasn't been back to some parts of it since. He has no idea where the hot water heater is. Or the electrical fuses. Bobby is old school; a bit of a male chauvinist.

"Bobby can have a short fuse, especially when it's about me spending money. I just redid our bedroom after 25 years. He's never said a thing. No comments. Bobby does know it's been done, because he had to send a check. At least I think he paid for it."

They're an intriguing bunch. Tommy could become a third Bowden to win some national coach of the year hardware, especially if he can upset FSU. If it's the Bear Bryant Award, it might be best if Clemson's gent just tucked it away, not flashing it around Mom and Dad's house.

Overtime ... it would be memorable.

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