Orange Bowl attention focused on Bowden, Paterno

Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno don't think they should be the Orange Bowl's main attraction, but they couldn't be more wrong.

Updated: December 30, 2005, 10:27 AM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- For about 45 seconds Thursday morning, in a dimly lit ballroom alongside this city's major marina, they stood together. Seven-hundred victories, 59 bowl appearances, four national championships and countless stories.

Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, flashbulbs all around, greeting one another with smiles, a handshake and a pat on the shoulder before going their separate ways. Bowden off to practice, Paterno up to the interview platform.

They are two men with an average age of 77.5 years. For many that is too old to drive, walk or cross the street, but it's not too old for Bowden and Paterno to lead their teams onto the field for the 2006 FedEx Orange Bowl.

Joe Paterno
AP Photo/Steve MitchellJoe Paterno isn't happy about being the center of attention.
Over the course of the last couple of years, they've been written off by countless experts -- too old, too out of touch, too plodding in their game preparation. How do they relate to players 60 years younger than them? How can they understand the West Coast offense when they don't understand e-mail? Why don't they win more football games?

Both coaches blocked out the criticism, refused to give up and now find themselves back here, near the center of the college football world.

"It's amazing -- out of all the possible bowl scenarios, you get Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden," Bowden admitted.

He's right. In the age of instant information, of e-mail, Wi-Fi and the BlackBerry, Bowden and Paterno are a toast to the past. They represent a throwback to an age when legends like themselves seemed everywhere -- Hayden Fry, Lavell Edwards, Bob Devaney, Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant, Bo Schembechler.

Now, there's only two. Fifteen years after they last met -- at the Blockbuster Bowl -- they will come together again. Thursday, when game week kicked off with the two head coaches addressing the media, one thing was quickly apparent -- these two couldn't be more different in their aging ways.

While Bowden basks in the spotlight and spins timeless tales about hitchhiking across Pennsylvania and growing up in Birmingham, Ala., Paterno growls during off-field inconveniences like interviews.

"Can we get started here?" Paterno asked the moderator as he read a few announcements Thursday morning. "Can't you print all that on a sheet and hand it out? I've got a lot to do today. I've got practice. C'mon."

That was preceded by Paterno's mumbling to himself about the 30-minute, police-escorted trip from his team's Miami-area hotel to the media headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.

"Who's running this thing?" Paterno asked. "Is it the Fort Lauderdale Bowl or the Miami Bowl?"

Bowden, on the other hand, is consistently full of smiles and stories. He plays the rubber chicken circuit like a veteran politician, coming off as an endearing elderly man who tells you what you want to hear without your ever realizing it.

Despite their different approaches, there is one topic that the two agree on when it comes to this year's Orange Bowl. The focus shouldn't be entirely on them.

"I am Exhibition A, Joe is Exhibition B," Bowden said. "Somewhere in between all of this there is a game to be played."

"I don't think about it," Paterno said. "I don't think this has much to do with Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno."

But they couldn't be more wrong. Their meeting in a BCS game on the night of Jan. 3 is a celebration. A celebration of commitment, dedication and never giving up.

Yet there Paterno and Bowden were Thursday, their skin wrinkled, their bodies aged, deflecting what this all meant. While Paterno essentially told reporters he could truly care less who the opposing coach is and wasn't wasting any pregame preparation getting wrapped up in the Grandpa Bowl, Bowden was a tad more reminiscent.

He first met Paterno back in 1962 when he visited Penn State to pick up some tips on the Nittany Lions' offense. Because of a tight budget, Bowden, then the head coach at Howard College (it would later become Sanford University) took a train to Lewiston, Pa., and hitchhiked the rest of the way.

"Got picked up by a lady with four kids in a station wagon," Bowden said.

It's a trip he said he'll never forget. He and Paterno remain close, with their families spending time together at Nike functions each year. Bowden said he's always looked to college football's eldest statesman as a "gauge" for how to coach at a time when most of their peers are fishing, playing golf or worse yet, dying.

"How to handle this, how to handle that, I'd ask him," Bowden said. "And Joe was always very straight forward. He is always a good gauge."

So it's only fitting that the matchup of these two college football godfathers will happen here in South Florida, the virtual Disney World for the elderly. Though neither coach has plans to retire anytime soon, they both admitted Thursday they've looked to the future. They've sat in their offices, pondered life without football and come to two distinctly different ideas about what that day might hold.

Bowden, who watched Bear Bryant die a month after he retired, said he'd need to get another job to keep busy. So he'd like to be a groundskeeper at a golf course, "hoeing weeds or sitting on a mower," for $40 and two free rounds of golf a week.

Paterno, on the other hand, dug a little deeper. His dream, if and when he gets this football thing out of the way, would be to work as a mentor for underprivileged kids in the inner city.

"It'd be hard to get out of the people business," Paterno said. "And that's about the only thing that I've thought about."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.

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